Hazard Centre: Institution-building through community empowerment

Priyanka Jain, Delhi Community Manager
Delhi, 22 May 2015

Evictions related to redevelopment of slums have recently held sway as one of New Delhi's hot button issues. But what is often overshadowed in the conversation about inequities and basic rights is the persistent negotiation that goes behind building the capacity of the community so that they can articulate alternatives and gain access to decision-makers. This article tells the story of Hazard Centre and its role in a two-year-long consultation process with the residents of Kathputli Colony, which resulted in the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) admitting failure and proposing a more inclusive alternative redevelopment plan.

The process started in 2013 when the residents of Kathputli Colony — the first proposed in-situ slum redevelopment under the government's slum-free India plan called Rajiv Awas Yojana — approached the Hazards Centre with a public-private partnership contract between real estate company Raheja Developers and the Delhi Development Authority. The residents had received the contract through the Right To Information Act and wanted to understand it. The Hazard Centre team explained how the contract affected the rights of the local residents, described the roles of different government departments, and also helped them to articulate their demands.

The community was concerned that only 2,800 of the 3,400 families would be housed, in tiny flats in 15-story buildings. This was in contrast to the plots of land that the state department had been promising for years. They were further concerned by the fact that 40 percent of the total land would be used by the developer for profitable use, with a 46-story tower made up of 170 premium apartments. The community wrote to different departments in Delhi, including the Delhi Development Authority and the Ministry of Urban Development, as well as politicians and journalists.

In order to garner the full support of the community, the Hazard Centre invited residents from other resettlement communities such as Bawana and Bhalaswa. The residents shared their stories of evictions, the process through which they conducted their own surveys and eventually claimed the rights denied to them. The team also screened films, sharing the stories about eviction and the process of conducting a people's survey for the whole community.

In February 2014, the residents received a notice from the DDA for an immediate shift to transit camps at Anand Parbat. The Hazard team advised the community on legal actions and recommended a lawyer to petition the Delhi High Court. When the authorities responded with aggression, the Hazard Centre gave out information regarding redress of grievances. The community wrote to the National Human Rights Commission, the Election Commission, the Minorities Commission, the Women's Commission, and others to bring pressure to bear on the police to stop the violence and harassment.

The Delhi High Court Judgment on March 20, 2014 was a setback for the community and many considered it to be a defeat. Justice Hima Kohli refused to suspend the redevelopment project and asked for all efforts to be made to persuade the residents to shift to the transit camp in Anand Parbat. But the Hazard team helped the community find opportunities within the judgment. It required Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to re-conduct a full survey of all families, and allowed residents to inspect the transit camp and make suggestions to make it livable. The judgment also gave the community time to point out violations of the Master Plan by the re-development project. The residents immediately started the process themselves and submitted it to DDA. DDA couldn't reply to all of the issues in time, and the residents were therefore saved from eviction.

In April 2015, the DDA admitted that the project in Kathputli had failed because of the lack of cooperation by residents, and therefore published an alternative slum rehabilitation policy draft. On May 8, DDA organized an open house (khula darbar) at Vikas Sadan, where the developer personally appealed to the agitated residents of Kathputli, offering to build four-story structures if they could provide him with a plan.

The process at Kathputli Colony continues as residents draft their own plan to present to local authorities. The work shows that the true empowerment of a community lies in their ability to monitor and evaluate the development themselves. It highlights the persistent yet neutral stand that Hazard Centre provided, helping the community to find and trust their own voice rather than becoming their voice.

Photo: Hazards Centre

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