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'Beautification' ahead of Delhi's CW Games

Last updated: 23 February, 2010
By Jason Burke,The Guardian: 22:13 IST

The people of the Hanuman Masdoor slum have enough to worry about already. If the women work at all they are poorly paid cleaners.

Most of the men are scavengers, gleaning a pitiful living from recycling the waste of Delhi’s 14 million inhabitants. Raw sewage flows past the homes – built over an open drain in the west of the city – and children play amid the rubbish and flies.

Now the 1,000 families who live in the shantytown have fresh problems. The national government has announced an unprecedented initiative: mapping India’s slums.
Though ministers claim the scheme will make life better for slum-dwellers, the inhabitants of Hanuman Masdoor are worried.

Supporters of the plan say it will allow municipal authorities to provide basic utilities where they are lacking and plan education and health services. But critics say the data gathered by the survey, almost certainly the biggest of its kind anywhere, will simply open up new opportunities for India’s notoriously aggressive land mafia.
The plan is ambitious. According to official statistics, a seventh of India’s urban population live in shanty towns. In cities such as Mumbai the proportion is much higher. The country’s slums – the result of huge influxes from poverty-stricken rural areas into the cities – have seen anarchic and unplanned growth.

Using detailed images shot from satellites, the government aims to establish once and for all where India’s slums are and how many people live in them. The plan is the brainchild of Kumari Selja, the housing minister, and will use technology developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation. “Most of the time the plans are based on projections rather than hard data,” she told reporters last week.

“We plan to map the whole country so that we know about the slums in each city.” A key aim, according to the minister, would be to map the “non-notified” or unofficial slums.
However, Ramendra Kumar of the Delhi Sramek Segathan organisation, which works with slum dwellers across India, said that the survey could serve only two purposes: to benefit the property developers by showing where potentially vacant land was or to show “where slums are illegal and justify the forced relocation of inhabitants”.

In a bid to clean up Delhi local authorities have intensified a programme of razing slums in the centre of the city or clearing them from roadsides. The Hanuman Masdoor slum, built like an estimated two-thirds of such communities on public land, lies alongside the road leading from the centre of Delhi to the international airport.

Last month bulldozers arrived with no warning to demolish a 5m wide strip of houses along one side to clear space for advertising hoardings that will hide the ragged shanty town.

According to Kumar, more than 300 slums have been relocated in recent years, but only half of the 250,000 people that he estimates have been forcibly moved have been found new homes.

Selja, the minister, has fuelled fears by saying that the new satellite mapping initiative will allow the government to take ‘timely’ action “while relocating slum-dwellers to places closer to their work”, though she added that the campaign would also allow authorities to “club two slums into one and free up land”.

The lanes of dilapidated but carefully swept homes, painted blue and green, have been built on government land at the base of one of Delhi’s many late medieval-era tombs, and inhabitants say they have been told the government wants the ground around the potential tourist attraction cleared before the start of the games.

“What comes first? Sport or food and shelter?,” asked Madan Lal, who drives a motorised rickshaw to earn money and has lived in the slum for 17 years. “There will be lots of foreign tourists coming and the government wants them to see the monument. But where will we go? How is a satellite going to help us?”

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