How Delhi’s resettlement colonies have set a new standard for peripheralisation

Delhi’s resettlement colonies lie within the framework of a ‘planned city’; yet they receive a treatment separate from planned colonies

By Anuj Behal
Published: Tuesday 01 November 2022
Savda Ghevra. Photo: Anuj Behal

Meena moved in 2006 to Savda Ghevra, a resettlement colony in northwest Delhi. Her basti (shantytown) in Nagla Machi, a settlement situated between the Yamuna river and Mahatma Gandhi Marg had been demolished.

The authorities provided her a resettlement plot of 12 square metres on lease for 10 years in Savda. It was approximately 40 kilometres from her demolished basti. Coming to Savda for Meena was a struggle, as she lost both her community ties and employment.

The resettlement of Savda set a new standard of peripheralisation in the history of Delhi according to a report by the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi.

During the first wave of resettlement in Delhi in the 1960s, 18 such colonies were established. In the 1970s, the Emergency brought a second wave of resettlement, leading to the formation of another 26 colonies.

These resettlement colonies (established between 1960 and 1970) were mostly located at a distance of 20 km from Delhi’s Connaught Place (now Rajiv Chowk). Savda is located even farther. Jhuggi Jhopri Clusters (JJC) residents were relocated to Savda Ghevra from communities located a substantial distance from the new colony.

The closest of these, Tagore Garden, was 20 kilometres away, while the farthest, at Lakshmi Nagar, was 44 kilometres away.

Residents also moved from JJCs at Karkardooma, Shahdara, Palam, Raja Garden, Lodhi Road, Nizamuddin, Geeta Colony, Dilshad Garden, Khan Market, Yamuna Pushta, Pragati Maidan (Naglamachi) and Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

Meena’s eviction site, Nagla Machi lies vacant now, even after all these years according to The Missing Basti project. The major reason for the demolition of the basti was the upcoming Commonwealth Games in 2010. People were evicted in the name of ‘beautification’ and creating a ‘world class city’.

This disruption in the name of resettlement in Savda was not balanced by improved services or security of tenure. Residents in such shanties were and are explicitly shifted since they are said to be ‘encroachers’. But their poor access to basic services continues and their property rights remain severely limited even today. 

What is certain is that when relocated residents arrived at Savda Ghevra in 2006 and 2007, they found no roads or services. Many locals reported that the location was forested, with vegetation and grass everywhere.

Meena came to Savda with her in-laws, husband and young children. She recalled how they cleared the ground and built their housing incrementally over this time period of 15 years.

In the initial days, the residents used a tarpaulin to make a shelter and later enhanced the structure with raw materials available in the surroundings like asbestos sheets, bricks, etc. The residents of the colony also reported the absence of any infrastructure essential for survival.

“There were no shops to buy daily commodities, no water to drink, no connectivity with the city, no toilets and absence of institutions like healthcare or education,” according to one of the residents.

“We were dependent on tankers for our drinking water. The allocated plot lands were neither levelled and everywhere was just weeds. The government just threw us over here with just allotted plots. We lost everything,” Meena’s husband said. 

Not a drop

Arranging food and water was most crucial for these new inhabitants and was difficult in the relative wilderness. This raises the question of why would the government evict its citizens, or how does the state plan housing resettlement when it denies citizens basic amenities like water.

Veena Bhardwaj is a housing and land rights activist who has been working in Savda with the Mahila Housing Trust from 2009. For the past 25 years, Mahila Housing SEWA Trust (MHT) has been working to bridge the gap between government and slum residents by mobilising communities and empowering them to demand better services.

Bhardwaj remembered how the residents had to collect water from the nearby settlement, which was Ghewra village, in the initial years. They had to walk up to 4-5 kilometres everyday to fill water and most of them used to be women.

“People used to be very conscious about even drinking enough water, as the collected amount would never be sufficient. For them, every drop was precious. “People can make arrangements for temporary shelter using thatch or Tarpaulin. But where will they find water? It was a rude shock for them,” Bhardwaj added.

Water tankers from the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) did not go the area initially as access to the site was difficult. Unlike newer resettlement colonies in Delhi, Savda Ghevra does not have community water stand posts or hand pumps.


Later, the DJB started a tanker service in Savda. But this amount was also not sufficient as there were only two-three tankers for 13 blocks of Savda.

There would be fights between people and a lot of water would get wasted. The frequency of the tankers was also not regular. People were not even able to sleep at night because of the stress related to filling up water the next day.

During Veena Bhardwaj’s first interactions with the community of Savda in 2009, the first and foremost demand of the people was the provision of sufficient water in the colony.

The MHT helped many households with micro-financing to install individual borewells for water. MHT lent the funds in groups of four to six to construct borewells in 2010.

But the DJB water tankers were still relevant in Savda. The relatively limited supply of water from DJB water tankers was used for drinking.

Borewells supplied the other needs since residents found the groundwater to be saline and polluted by fertiliser runoff from surrounding farmland. Nonetheless, it is sometimes used for drinking in cases of shortage.

Hence, the dependency of the people on tankers for drinking water continued. Later, the frequency of the DJB tankers also improved.

While there was no fixed schedule for the water tankers, each household was able to access a DJB water tanker once every two or three days and residents said this provided them sufficient drinking water.

Since 2013, residents were also able to buy drinking water from ‘water ATMs’, water dispensing machines installed across the colony by a private provider contracted by the DJB and Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board, as well as a kiosk constructed by a non-profit.

Piped water supply still seemed a distant dream. Through the continuous efforts of the community, the colony finally received piped water connection by 2020.

Uncertainty galore

It should be remembered that this duration of receiving a piped water connection (of approximately 14 years) is even beyond the lease time of their plot, ie 10 years.

“The extension of the lease is unclear, leaving no legal guarantee of protection from another eviction. This could push the residents into a constant cycle of acquiring amenities and then resettling to another site,” Bhardwaj said.

As one of the residents said, “The government will not take us seriously because we are punarvasi (re-settlers) and come from a basti.” Delhi’s JJCs, resettlement colonies and unauthorised colonies are largely without piped water supply.

Delhi’s resettlement colonies lie within the framework of a ‘planned city’. Yet they receive a treatment separate from the planned colonies and are overtaken by informal arrangements.

The policy that established these resettlement colonies was designed to impose a measure of planning, provide basic services and shape settlements in contrast to the JJCs they replaced.

Despite this intention, these colonies remain clearly outside the ambit of ‘planned colonies’, and most have received basic services only years after resettlement. It is high time that the state start looking into the housing provision seriously.

Resettlement must ensure the protection of the affected persons’ human rights to adequate housing, land, work / livelihood, food, water, security of the person and home, health, education and information.

This should be true in a new location or if these people return to their original locations. It should take place through a voluntary, participatory, transparent and time-bound process, which guarantees the protection of their right to live with dignity. 

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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