Puppeteers on a string

In-situ approaches could be an improvement over the older approach to redeveloping slums, but the experience of Kathputli to date is worrying. Reports indicate that some residents are now seeking a stay on relocation and a firm assurance that they will come back to the same site, pointing to loose ends in project implementation. This settlement is a complex site for in-situ rehabilitation. The 15-story high-rises will have to accommodate communities of artisans and puppeteers originally from Rajasthan and various other communities who have settled there. Given their livelihoods magicians, rope-walkers, puppeteers and acrobats living spaces need to go beyond a uniform design. To add to this, the DDA has exacerbated such problems by avoiding community consultation. Ramakant Goswami, Delhi's labour minister, acknowledged last year that Kathputli's residents were not involved in the early planning stages.

To begin with, the DDA did not disclose the results of the survey that identified those in Kathputli who would receive a flat. Historically, surveying has been problematic and exclusionary. A response to an RTI petition revealed that surveying began in 2008 and had already ended by 2012. Moreover, it showed that neither the final list of beneficiaries nor the parameters to decide who would get a flat had been prepared. The initial project report specifies resettlement for 2,800 houses. Summaries of later surveys indicated that anywhere from 2,800 to 3,100 households were considered potentially eligible at various points. Finally, in early 2013, a list was released in response to an RTI petition, where the number is close to 2,800. As one resident said, this kind of suspense was unnecessary.

The DDA also does not have a clear process for specifying what the residents would receive in terms of quality and location of housing, and seeking their informed consent. This lack of community interaction goes against their own Master Plan 2021's requirement that community-based organisations be "closely involved in the resettlement process". It is not the only agency ignoring community consent. Under RAY, a draft model property rights bill has been released, based on which states can design their legislation for slum rehabilitation. Until May 2011, the draft model bill required projects to obtain consent of a "majority of adult members" before schemes commenced. However, the current November 2011 draft merely requires that residents be "involved". Of course, a consent requirement alone will not be enough and could lead to other coercive practices. However, according to residents and housing advocates, the experience in Mumbai, where such a clause exists, is that such a consent clause acts as a "democratic check on the policy".

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