A recent order from the Supreme Court directing the possible forced eviction of 48,000 households on railway land. The order is currently stayed with the railways promising no “coercive action” for four weeks. The court has tasked the railways, the Delhi government and the central government to instead come up with a comprehensive housing plan for these households.
settlements are not just houses, but housing. The difference between the two is how workers survive in cities despite low wages. Housing requires not just a pucca structure but the possibility of employment and affordable mobility. It is linked to admission for children in local schools, employers’ homes that domestic workers can walk to, public institutions were trust has been built, arrangements for child-care with known neighbours, and streets that vendors and rickshaw drivers have mastered as markets. This is why both the central and state governments are right to promise “jahan jhuggi, vahan makaan”. A house can be resettled, perhaps, but housing cannot simply be transplanted.
Resettlement plans similarly must not limit themselves to the sites already in progress. Instead, they must leverage all available land — land that the three largest landholders in the city certainly have — and remain strictly limited to the five km rule. A pandemic is raging. More have already left our cities than during the Partition. Evictions and peripheral resettlement would mean that we have learnt little from it about the exclusionary nature of our urbanisation.
Delhi has, in the recent past, found land for large infrastructure projects, transport, stadiums and malls. Jahan jhuggi, vahan makaan is possible. The decision is not if it can be done but if we are willing to do it.