Why Asia's biggest industrial relocation scheme failed to create a pollution-free Delhi

Bawana was created to shift polluting industrial units operating in Delhi's residential areas, but the initiative has benefitted factory owners at the cost of workers

By Prakash Chand Kandpal
Published: Sunday 15 July 2018
Illustration: Tarique Aziz
Illustration: Tarique Aziz Illustration: Tarique Aziz

The bawana Industrial Area came up after the Supreme Court ordered the relocation of small scale industrial units located in the residential areas of Delhi to a new designated place in the capital’s north-west. The directive passed in May 2004 had two objectives in mind: environmental protection and decongestion for long-term sustainable development of the city. The order affected over 0.1 million small-scale industries employing some 2 million workers.

For shifting the industries, the government acquired 770 hectares in Bawana at an estimated cost of Rs 11,000 crore. Divided into five zones, the biggest industrial relocation scheme in Asia was expected to benefit a workforce of 0.25 million. The plan was to relocate some 14,000-odd industries, some of which were sealed in 2000 for gross violation of environment protection laws. But has the relocation served its purpose? I conducted a study to find out the answers.

A defeated purpose

Though the Supreme Court judgement was a positive step towards healthy industrialisation, it has not benefitted the workforce at all. My study reveals that most workers in Bawana are still not covered under social security provisions like retirement benefits or insurance. Day after day, they toil for long hours in unhygienic conditions. Most of the factories in Bawana have no first-aid facility, drinking water provisions or any kind of firefighting equipment to douse a sudden blaze. The incident on January 20 this year is a stark reminder of the lack of safety guards. On that day, a massive fire at a factory in Bawana killed 17 workers trapped inside. The site, which is officially registered as a plastic factory, was used to store illegal firecrackers and employed contractual workers.

Apart from abject working conditions, the relocation has given rise to multiple problems for the workers. Many of them had to vacate their old accommodation or jhuggis due to long distance. Now, they are forced to stay in rented houses in Bawana village or other nearby places. Those who chose to stay behind in their old accommodation have to travel up to even 40 km one way to reach their workplace. These workers did not shift due to two reasons: first, many of them have their own houses and second, their family members are working close by. Take the example of Vishwanath. The 48-year-old commutes daily by cycle from Majnu-ka-tilla situated in north Delhi to reach Bawana, a distance of 35 km one way.

When the Bawana Industrial Area was planned, the Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (DSIIDC) constructed one-room flats for the workers. However, these flats have been grabbed by factory owners and the land mafia. I found that out of 1,343 flats constructed in Sector 5 in Bawana by DSIIDC, nearly 30 per cent of them are occupied by non-workers. Also, most of these flats have been rented out to beauty parlours, coaching centres and food joints. Some have been put on sale by property dealers at prices ranging from Rs 8- Rs 12 lakh. During my interaction with the workers, I found out that most of them do not even have the faintest idea about these flats. Factory owners, who were given industrial plots, ranging from 100-250 metres in size, have put them to other uses.

As far as basic amenities are concerned, drains in this area are poorly maintained. There is no proper street lighting, no parks, and the market is too far. As a result of the relocation, the social network of many workers has been ruined. It has made them isolated and frustrated. There is a palpable feeling of helplessness, neglect, deprivation and loss of self-respect.

Dual functioning

Another interesting fact surfaced during the course of my study. I found that most factories are still functioning from their old locations even after the owners were told to relocate to Bawana. I spoke to Ramdarash (name changed), whose plastic factory still runs at Moti Nagar in New Delhi. This means that the factories are functioning from two places instead of being closed at the old place.

Moreover, nearly 50 per cent of the factories in Bawana are still non-functional. During my discussion with Bhupender Singh, the president of the Bawana Chamber of Industries, he admitted that out of 14,000 units, only 7,000 factories are operational. Thus, the purpose of making Delhi’s residential areas pollution-free has been defeated. It shows the failure of the government to implement its schemes sincerely. It also puts the role of the judiciary under scanner for failing to set up a monitoring mechanism to oversee the rehab process. The overall result of the relocation just stares at your face. Shifting the industries has benefited factory owners at the cost of the workers.

(The article is based on a research work conducted by the author as part of his post-doctoral work under the UGC Research Awards)

(This article was first published in the 1-15th July of Down to Earth under the headline 'Victims of relocation').

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