Whose Delhi Is It Anyway?

The Struggle Against A Black Judgement

Aditya Nigam

On the midnight of November 30, work in most of the 167 industries listed for the first round of relocation came to a standstill. The silence of death and fear of impending starvation stalked the industrial areas and the workers' bastis of the city. All hell broke loose, thereafter. The city has hardly seen a single day since then, when some meeting, demonstration, sit-in or campaign has not been on.

Soon after the Supreme Court judgement of July 8, 1996, ordering the relocation of certain polluting industries out of Delhi, there was veritable joy among some of the bigger industries like Birla Textile Mills and the DCM Silk Mills, which have been, in any case wanting to shut down. The said order seemed to provide them with just the way out, whereby they could close down without having to resort to the usual formalities of a closure. The smaller owners very - often even the small self-employed individuals, working with some help - were of course badly affected. Worst, of course, was the plight of the workers who are completely dependent on others for employment and the meagre amounts that they get as wages - often far, far below the statutory minimum wages.

This order came as a culmination of a process that has been going on since March 24, 1995, when the court had issued orders to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) directing it to issue individual notices to some 8378 units, indicating 'That these industries have to stop functioning in the city of Delhi and be re-located elsewhere'.

The process that has been on since, came to a culmination when the apex court, on July 8, 1996, directed finally that the time had now come for the concerned industries to move out. The industries were told to stop production and move out by November 30. This order had provided for a mere one-year's wages as retrenchment benefit for the workers that they would be entitled to in case they could not be provided alternative employment in the new sites. The order had also provided a land-use package wherein the owners would be able to retain 32 percent of the real estate, 68 percent going to the government. This was a bonanza for the owners, given the land prices in Delhi.

Probably as a result of the pressure from the trade unions, the Additional Solicitor-General, Altaf Ahmed then filed an interlocutory petition on behalf of the Centre. The revised judgement that came on December 4, therefore made some amendments: it enhanced the retrenchment benefit to six-year's wages and made the availability of 32 percent land to the owners conditional on actual relocation. The closure option was thus made more difficult. In the first round 168 industries had been listed of which the abattoir has for the time being been exempted, leaving 167. In the next round, there are 513 more on the line. The total number, however, stands today at some 39,000 which would affect, on a conservative estimate, over ten to fifteen lakh workers.

The revised order, however, makes little difference to the bulk of the workers. At the ground level, the situation remains the same, because there is just no way such a massive exercise of relocation and resettlement of displaced populations can be done in a fair way, if past experience is any guide. Especially in a situation where most of the workers do not even exist as workers on the records of the employers, what does the mere raising of the compensation amount mean? Add to this the fact that the workers who have come into the city and have literally taken years to make some space for themselves in its alien, often hostile, atmosphere, will once again be made to go through the same process all over again.

The remarkable thing about the judgement and the subsequent discussion that has been going on in the media since, has been couched in the language of environment and pollution, where the issues involved turn around the axis of industry versus pollution/environment. Rendered completely invisible in this process, are the workers, their livelihood, their survival, their place in the city. Even if we leave aside, for the time being, the fact that industry accounts for only a small fraction of air and effluent pollution in the city, the question that still remains with us is: whose city is the city of Delhi anyway? Where, in its plan of things, is the space for the poor, the toiling sections that provide the vital services to the obscenely gluttonous elite who have arrogantly monopolised all its resources: land, water, electricity?

It was in this context, that various groups and organisations of Delhi's citizenry decided to join hands with some of the trade unions to fundamentally challenge the vision of the city that is increasingly being defined by the interests of the rich and the powerful. On December 11, at the invitation of the All India Federation of Trade Unions (AIFTU) a number of organisations got together to discuss the ways of intervening in the situation. After the first round of meetings there emerged the Delhi Janwadi Adhikar Manch (DJAM), comprising trade unions like the AIFTU, HMS, UTUC, Rashtriya Mazdoor Kisan Ekta, Mazdoor Sahayak Samiti, Delhi General Mazdoor Front, Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangham, Mazdoor Ekta Committee, UBSPD Workers' Union, students organisations like the DSU and PSU, civil rights organisations like the PUDR and the Human Rights Trust. Various other activist and cultural groups that became a part of the DJAM include: Aids Bhedbhava Virodhi Andolan, Saheli, Janpaksh, FOBD, Asmita, AMCC, NBSPD, Sampradayikta Virodhi Andolan, Journalists' Forum, Bihaan Sanskritik Manch, CADAM, Nav Janwadi Shikshak Manch, National Alliance for People's Movement, BGVS and the AIPRF.

The position that the DJAM has evolved after prolonged deliberations is that the whole dichotomy that is sought to be created by the official discourse must be transcended and the question must be squarely posed, as to who is responsible for turning Delhi into a gas chamber and who must pay the cost? The fact that the workers themselves are the worst sufferers of industrial and other pollution in terms of occupational health hazards and insanitary living conditions, is being foregrounded by the DJAM in its campaigns and it is being underlined that the hapless workers who are in no way responsible for the pollution are being made to bear the entire cost. The issue is being posed in terms of spelling out a new vision for the city of Delhi. The DJAM has called for the summary rejection of the Master Plan of Delhi that is being quoted as a holy text, and has called for the formulation of a new Master Plan with the involvement of the people's organisations and the conscious citizenry of Delhi.

It is also being highlighted that this is a question that relates not just to the relocation of a certain number of industries but in fact, it is a matter that involves the entire perspective of urban planning. Industries are planned, areas (conforming) are earmarked for the same, but not for once has it ever been asked where the workforce that is going to run these industries will stay. Where are the housing plans for them? What about health, sanitation, and education for the children of these workers? And precisely because workers have remained absent in the public discourse on urban planning, precisely because there is no space defined for them that there has been such an unplanned proliferation of jhuggi jhonpri and unauthorised colonies in the city. These colonies, where human beings are forced to live like animals, without water, electricity, and sanitation - even places to defecate - now are the next target of the planners and the administration who have always seen them as threats to the city.

As an immediate step, in order to make a visible protest, the DJAM organised a dharna at the Supreme Court on January 8 and submitted a memorandum to the Chief Justice and thereafter marched through the city to Red Fort. The dharna and march which was joined by about a thousand workers and concerned citizens, was initially denied permission by the police and every effort was made to cow them down. However they eventually relented to the determination of the Front to go ahead with the planned protest.

The dharna and protest demonstration were preceded by an intensive campaign in the industrial areas and bastis where over 40,000 handbills were distributed and meetings were held in Mayapuri, Lal Bagh (Azadpur), Samaypur Badli, Nangloi, Okhla, Kirti Nagar and other places. Artistes of the Asmita theatre group performed in these meetings and those of Bihaan Sanskritik Manch sang folk-based songs of struggle.

Already, the stand taken by the DJAM has promoted other groups to refocus the debate and is making a perceptible difference to the terms in which the issues are being posed. The Master Plan is being seriously questioned by many other groups too. The possibility has opened up, in the short time, of even further broadening the struggle so that the sensitive sections of Delhi's middle classes can be involved in the struggle. The issues arising out of the relocation issue can become, in the near future, the fulcrum around which the concerns of the intelligentsia and the middle classes can coalesce into a larger vision of a more human and democratic city.

In the next phase of the movement the DJAM is preparing a detailed report, in the form of a critique of the judgement, of the Master Plan and highlighting the politics of pollution and its insertion into the larger politics of the control over the city space. With this report, the second phase of the campaign is going to move into the universities and middle class areas of Delhi to counter the disinformation being spread by making the question of environment an 'apolitical' and emotive issue.

It is unfortunate that so far the response of the established trade union centres has been merely ritualistic and they have not even seriously tried to address the issues involved in the relocation question. The DJAM has been making efforts to keep them informed and to invite them to their meetings, but so far to no avail.

In the meantime, the National Alliance of People's Movements (Delhi Chapter) also organised a one day meet in New Delhi, to discuss the issues arising out of the situation. The first session of the meet was devoted to a discussion on 'Environment: Justice and Injustice', where various speakers from the green movement seriously tried to come to grips with their past manner of raising environment issues in isolation from the issues of equity and justice. The question of elitism in the environment movement and the need to fight it was also underlined by the various speakers. The second session was devoted to a discussion of the Master Plan where important issues were posed by way of re-drawing the Plan.

One by-product of the DJAM campaign that is likely to emerge in the coming months, if the various organisations are able to hold themselves together and not allow sectarian considerations to override the political imperatives of common struggle, is the creation of an alterative space of political action, of dissent, and of a different type of politics. The alliances are still tenuous but the need for strengthening them is generally recognised by most and animates their conduct in the resolution of differences.

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