The residents of an unauthorised colony in Delhi battle all odds for a cleaner life
Rising above the muck
JUST 6 months ago, Vijay Vihar was a dirty blob on the capital's
ever-expanding map. The 5.67 ha of land on the outskirts of
north Delhi houses a dusty, unauthorised colony of 40,000
people. But today the residents have at one shot challenged the
government and the vested interests in giving themselves a
proper sewage system.
Bhupinder Singh Rawat, resident and social worker, says that local landgrabbers had set up the colony 13 years ago. The houses cost between Rs 5,000 for a dingy I -room affair, to Rs 15,000 for a 2-room set. Mill workers, vegetable vendors and petty traders set up homes here - a tiny sample of the Capital's marginalised minority constantly being centrifuged to the periphery. It was a colony sans sewage lines, electricity, roads, or even clean drinking water.
"In August last year, Delhi chief minister Madan Lai Khurana announced that unauthorised colonies would be provided with roads, drinking water and a sewage system provided they paid development charges to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi," says Rawat. But at 1984 rates, that would mean shelling out an impossible sum of Rs 10,405 per 100 square metres (sqm).
Meanwhile, the colony was sinking in its own mire. The sewage system was abominable. The sole source of water for each hOUsehold is a handpump, which runs alongside the toilet pipe connected to a septic tank. Sewage leaked into the drinking water sourcc, because the tanks had barely been insulated. Rawat SCOOPS Out a handful of water. The stench is unbearable.
The womenfolk say they use this water for washing clothes. Drinking water. comes from another handpump 3 km from the colony. Some women have constructed a cement pit just Outside their quarters, where they channel out the waste water. Every evening, this water is manually emptied into a vacant plot ofland nearby. There were endless quarrels over dumping of waste water among the residents.
"We initially decided to construct drains which would take this waste water out of the colony. But the rainy season showed that this was a mistake," says Rawat. Mud from the kutcha roads clogged the drains and slimed into the homes. For people in about 100 homes situated below the road level, life T became hell.
In December 1994, residents sought the advice of a private contractor, Puran Singh Adhikari. He estimated that sewage lines, roads and water supply could be developed at Rs 1,315 per 100 sq m. Adhikari's plan was to link all the toilets to underground sewage lines with manholes to clean out waste. Between December and to date, about 6,000 feet of lines have already been laid. But now they have run into trouble, because the lines have to empty into a 35 km-long nullah, which runs adjacent to the colony and disgorges into the Yamuna.
The flood and irrigation department of the Central Water Commission (CWC) is deepening and widening this nullah. Says R Sood, cwc superintending engineer, "We cannot allow untreated sewage to be thrown in. They will have to install a sewage treatment plant first." The contractor points to a deep pit near the nullah and says that he will construct a sewage treatment plant right here. Rawat alleges that the department has slowed down its work at the behest of local politicians.
"All of Delhi's sewers empty into the Yamuna. And here a sewer cannot empty itself even into another sewer. This is unfair," Rawat says. Other residents say once the sewage lines are ready they will, if necessary, use force to see their project through.
Madan Lal Sharma, who, residents say, is a landgrabber and one of Congress mp Sajjan Kumar's familiars, has a large plot of land adjacent to the colony. There have been frequent clashes between the residents and Sharma's goons and Sharma has threatened them with legal action.
But the experience with the sewage system has energised the residents. They want a decent living. "Once this is complete, we will begin our road construction pro) .ect,11 says Amravati Mishra. "As for Water, the government must first inform us how much river water it can supply us. If it is going to supply us with underground water, then we can dig our own wells. We don't need their help." Rawat says, "The government should understand that it is like a shop. If it cannot deliver the goods at the right price, we will go elsewhere."
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