Once a dream, now a reality: From jhuggis to polished flats

Slum-dwellers of the Bhoomiheen camp were on cloud nine in anticipation of the day, which is not far, they move in the EWS apartments that are equipped with all decent public facilities, inaugurated by the PM for the urban poor.

Once a dream, now a reality: From jhuggis to polished flats

The building's gates were surrounded by steel fencing on all sides and festooned with garlands. (Photo: Rohan Chauhan)

Thousands of urban poor received the invaluable gift of home on Wednesday as Prime Minister Narendra Modi distributed the keys to the 3024 homes under the ‘In-Situ Slum Rehabilitation Project’ to the residents of Bhoomiheen Camp in Delhi’s Kalkaji.

While handing over the keys, PM Modi called it “a big day” and “a new beginning” for many jhuggi dwelling poor families.

The newly constructed apartments are located two kilometres from the Govindpuri metro station, next to the bustling market. The apartments are noticeable from a distance and stand out in the surrounding neighbourhood.

Also read: The road is the abode

The building’s gates were surrounded by steel fencing on all sides and festooned with garlands. Entry inside the residential space has been barred as inhabitants are yet to move in.

From outside, public facilities appeared to be standard. For example, underground reservoirs for hygienic water supply, community parks, electric sub-stations, sewage treatment facilities, dual water pipes, and elevators have been installed.

All giggles

After the inauguration of the apartments, few, who will soon move in, were sitting with a wide smile on their faces admiring the infrastructure of the area that was about to be their home, while others were waiting outside the gate, enquiring when they would be able to shift.

“This incredible feeling is hard to convey,” Gulabwati Devi, 58, said. “We already endured some extremely dreadful circumstances. We were earlier living in hellish conditions,” she added delightfully.

“I have a family of eight, including my husband, my two sons, their wives, and my two grandchildren. For the majority of our lives, we have worked as labourers, and the pay for that is just way too little to even consider buying our own home, so this gift from the PM is without a doubt appreciated,” she said.

Forty-six-year-old Suresh Kumar has been allotted an apartment on the third floor of C block. Overjoyed, he said, “We’ll be moving in around the new year to begin our new journey on a happy note.”

All of these apartments were constructed in Phase One for approximately Rs 345 crore, with each apartment costing about Rs 11 lakh. Phase Two is for people from Jawaher Camp and Navjeevan Camp and relocating them to Jailorwala Bagh and Kathputli Colony, respectively.

The Bhoomiheen camp

Ten minutes walk from the Kalkaji Extension apartments, a line of jhuggis exist amid market stalls, vegetable stands, and meat stores.

The residents were waiting in queue to fill their buckets and other utensils with water from the supply tap. The area was overrun with people, more than it could manage.

The homes were no different from the roads, which included numerous improvised dwellings and densely packed, thinly populated regions.

However, despite the hardships, there was a palpable sense of joy among the slum dwellers.

In his late 40s, Chiraunji Lal Singh, a tailor by profession, said, “I’ve been living here for the past 43 years and I’m finally going to shift to a better area and live in better conditions. I’m not complaining, but there are a lot of issues here with no appropriate air or water. Every morning during the rainy season, there is a conflict for water. Our roof leaks, but we will now live in a clean environment with enough facilities, just like the rest of the world.”

Giving a tour of his room that was half occupied by his sewing machine and other eqipment with hardly enough space for sleeping, he bore a smile of liberation.

Gyanmati Devi, who has lived in the slum for the past 36 years, was relieved that people will now treat them with respect and dignity. As a mother of four daughters, she said, “People always used to have preconceived notions about the women in our neighbourhood. This became an impediment in getting my daughters married, but now we all will be treated with respect and dignity.”

“We now have a magnificent home in a wonderful neighbourhood, and all of the people of the slum will be eternally grateful,” she added.

On Wednesday, the PM claimed that more than 3000 homes have already been prepared in the first phase of Kalkaji Extension alone. “I am sure that these efforts of the central government will play a big role in making Delhi an ideal city,” he said.

Further, he said that the foundation of such developments and dreams is made up of the hard work and efforts of the poor. “Paradoxically”, he said, “these poor people have been made to live in deplorable conditions. When there is such an imbalance in one single city, who can we think of holistic development? In the Azadi ka Amrit Kaal, we have to fill this huge gap. That is why, the country is moving on the path of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas and Sabka Prayas for everyone’s upliftment”.

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