“Surrounded By Police Like We Are Criminals”: Kathputli Colony Residents Resist Eviction

Evictions began this week in New Delhi's Kathputli Colony, home to 3,500 families of street performers and puppeteers. (Photo Credit: AFP)

By Rina Chandran

New Delhi: Hundreds of residents in a New Delhi’s Kathputli Colony are resisting eviction by city officials and police in the third such protest this month, as anger mounts over a shortfall in housing for the urban poor, campaigners said.

Evictions began this week in New Delhi’s Kathputli Colony, home to 3,500 families of street performers and puppeteers, after authorities marked it for development as part of a plan to upgrade the city.

City officials say residents were notified of the plan which involves moving them to a temporary location while a private builder constructs modest high-rise homes for a nominal sum.

They say more than 500 families have already moved to temporary accommodation.

“Residents were given sufficient notice. The police are on hand to maintain law and order,” said JP Agrawal, a principal commissioner with the Delhi Development Authority (DDA).

But some residents said they were not given the option of relocation, and that they received no notice of the eviction.

“No one told us it would be this week. Suddenly one morning we woke up and found hundreds of policemen in the colony,” said Dilip Bhatt, head of an artistes’ cooperative in the settlement.

“We are surrounded by the police like we are criminals, and they have cut off water and power,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Police were seen in riot gear, holding assault rifles and shields as residents gathered around them.

About a third of India’s 1.25 billion population lives in cities, with numbers rising every year as tens of thousands of people leave villages to seek better prospects. Many end up in overcrowded urban slums.

A government plan to provide housing for all by 2022 is meant to create 20 million new urban housing units and 30 million rural homes.

But the slow pace of implementation is leaving thousands homeless, according to advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network.

More than 33,000 families living in urban areas across India were forcefully evicted since January 2015 to make way for redevelopment projects, Housing and Land Rights Network said on Thursday. In rural areas, more than 75,000 people were displaced.

Only 2,776 houses were built in urban areas under the housing plan from June 2015 to August 2016, Housing and Land Rights Network said.

In several evictions, violence and arbitrary detentions have been reported, and there has been little or no consultation, advance notice, consent or compensation, Housing and Land Rights Network said.

“It is a sad irony that despite claims of providing ‘housing for all’, the government has destroyed many more homes than it has built over the last two years,” said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of Housing and Land Rights Network.

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