- Does the Dharamshala Smart City have no place for the poor?
- Are the poor and homeless not a part of the city?
- Is being a citizen of India not sufficient for homeless to be provided shelter?
At the time of independence, we as a nation adopted a constitution. This constitution states that ‘Right to life’ is the fundamental right of every citizen. The right to shelter is already vested in the rights to life and livelihood. The constitution considers all citizens as equals.
Once upon a time, there was was a settlement at Charan..
A year ago, on June 17, the Municipal Corporation of Dharmshala launched a slum demolition drive at Charan Khad evicting 1500 people. Residing in shanties in the Charan Khad area for more than 3 decades, these migrants from Rajasthan and Maharashtra belonging to the Scheduled Caste have been working as rag pickers, street vendors and daily wage laborers to earn a living. The eviction was carried out on the grounds that the practice of open defecation by slum dwellers was a public hazard when for last 30 years they have not been provided any sort of sanitation or basic facilities. The worst part is they were evicted without providing any rehabilitation. Post-eviction these families were scattered in the outskirts of the city – Seela Chowk, Dagwar, Chetru. Women, disabled and elderly were on the streets in monsoons whereas children had to be pulled out of schools in the middle of exams. Helpless under such circumstances, some of them set up shanties whereas others stuffed their families into one rented room close to 10 kms outside Dharasmshala.
A year after the rehabilitation about 45 families are still around and seeking rehabilitation. Organized under the banner of Charan Khad Basti Punarwas Samiti they are demanding rehabilitation or allotment under various housing schemes for the homeless. Their main demand is rehabilitation in or around the city so that they can access the city to earn their wages and support their livelihoods.
Authorities attitude towards the displaced...
In spite of numerous and continuous appeals from Charan Khad Basti Punarwas Samiti for rehabilitation, MCD and other district authorities have been silent. No response has been received on the applications filed under PMAY. MCD calls the demand of rehabilitation impossible stating the settlement was not a ‘declared’ slum under the HP Slum area act, that they are migrants and they were squatting on government land. Charan Khad Basti Punarwas Samiti on the above stated reasons has organized and responded that firstly after the declaration/establishment of Municipal Corporation Dharmshala, it was the responsibility of MCD to officially declare Charan khad region as Slum Area under the 1979 Slum Act, which was not done. People who had been settled here for 35 years cannot be called migrants. Usually, the poor (or even others) urban folk are generally people who have migrated from here and there. Lakhs of people in India reside in slums and shanties. Poverty stricken, helpless, with no other option, these people migrate from rural areas to settle in whatever space available in cities hoping to earn a living. A lot of policies and schemes have been specifically made for poor homeless communities so that each and everyone in the nation has a roof on his/her head. Strict action has also been taken by the High Court and Supreme Court on eviction cases carried out without rehabilitation. In 2008, Dharmshala under IHSDP received a fund of Rs. 3.68 Crore for slum habitation under which 198 people were allotted houses but not the Charan Khad Evictees. Meanwhile, a rain shelter (all weather rain basera) is also under construction in Dharmshala town, funded by the Shelter for Homeless scheme under the National Urban Livelihoods Mission. Struggling and living in shanties near Manjhi khad, these families, especially children, are under immense risk as the river floods during the rains and swells up. Last monsoon also, each time heavy rains hit, the people had to run and spent many sleepless nights on the roads and Chaitru Bridge to save their lives.
What kind of a city do we want to build?
The term “Dharamshala” means a rest house for travelers. Living up to this meaning Dharamshala has humbly offered space and shelter to people from and outside Himachal.
‘A CITY is such a conglomeration that it owes its existence to the contribution of ALL and has to make space for ALL – poor and rich, native and non-native; everyone is involved in making the city a TRUE CITY. Cities, to a large extent, do not let caste-class differences dominate and discriminate; socio-economic boundaries are supposed to fade away. If Dharmshala wants to establish its image as a SMART CITY, it is essential for it to establish and emerge as a PROGRESSIVE AND INCLUSIVE society; a city which has space for everyone, especially the poor and the homeless. The MCD by providing shelter to who need it the most has an opportunity to show that it is not a discriminating but a truly inclusive city.
Marking the one year since the demolition of their homes in Dharamshala, the community has launched the ‘Citymakers for Justice’ campaign with a message that we want Dharamshala to be an inclusive and just city. As a part of this we are carrying out a photo exhibition that narrates the story of the ‘Charan Khad’ community.
To get updates and news: follow the Facebook Page
In hope and solidarity
Kangra Citizen’s Rights Group