The Case of Kathputli colony: The Entry Point to In Situ Slum Rehabilitation in Delhi

Kathputli colony
An overhead view of the Kathputli colony

God is the one who oversees humans, who have a soul and life in them, in the same way a Puppeteer oversees puppets and blows life into them, making him a God of one sort.

In an interview to the students of School and Planning and Architecture, Delhi a resident of the famous Kathputli colony Puran Bhatt cites the above lines.

As you move through the lanes of the transit camp at Anand Parbat, what you see is life blossoming in spite of the residence being temporary, all in waves with the artistic aura that has taken over and now surrounds this place. The people have decorated the camp, painting them in subtle hues of blue and yellow with patterns that go with them, birds and trees, splashes of contrasting colors and on one wall, and on one the handprints of little children that we see roaming around and playing in the narrow streets.

In continuation with the conversation, Bhatt tells the students that he knows that this camp is temporary and is not what everyone wants their home to be, so a little compromise is to be done. But he still sounds hopeful that the new place that they will get once the construction is finished will be at par with the expectations of the residents.

We would like to see an artist village developed, where we can live, and many different traditional skills can be preserved and taught, with performances in the evenings. A lot of kids don’t even know what a puppet is today. So we also need to educate people about these traditional arts.


A resident puppeteer
A resident puppeteer with his puppet

What does the Delhi Master Plan say about In Situ slum Rehabilitation?

The Master Plan for Delhi 2021, notified in 2007 introduced the concept of In situ rehabilitation as an approach for the slum redevelopment for the existing jhuggi jhopri clusters recognized in the city of Delhi. In this kind of Rehabilitation the slum dwellers are shifted to another area on a temporary basis while DDA constructs new housing, then shifts the concerned population back to the same place into improved housing.

The Master Plan for Delhi has provisions incorporated for Private sector participation in In-Situ rehabilitation/relocation with incentives to make the scheme more viable. It states that the minimum residential component of the land area for rehabilitation of squatters has to be 60% and maximum area for remunerative use has to be 40%. Mixed land use or commercial component up to 10% of the permissible FAR in the residential component of the land is also allowed. With these provisions, DDA took Kathputli colony as the first in situ slum redevelopment project to be completed on the public private partnership basis.

The Colony, an Introduction and a Brief History

The origin of the colony that inspired the magician’s ghetto in Salman Rushdie’s masterful Midnight’s Children dates back to the 1970s where groups of artists, mainly puppeteers migrating to the capital from Rajasthan settled down in west Delhi’s Shadipur region. Over time they were joined by artists from different regions of India mainly Andhra Pradesh and Mahrashtra and they collectively formed a squatter now known as the Kathputli colony, named after the string puppets these artists use to perform theatrics with.

The first case of demolition of these jhuggis came in 1976 as a part of the beautification drive of the capital during the National emergency and hence as a result the Bhoole Bisre Kalakar Cooperative was formed. It was the first time these artists had come together with the help of Rajeev Sethi’s NGO, Sarthi. The heads of 138 families cosigned a letter and pleaded for an alternative to demolition and resettlement. The letter states,

We feel it may benefit the government to build a culture and crafts centre and yet, with very little outlay, for where else would it find such skilled and centralized human resources. Maybe you the government can help us to organize ourselves as responsible citizens with land to live and work on. The question of resettlement itself would be no problem for us, but please let this not interfere with our aspirations. We the undersigned are willing to surrender the land allotments given to us as separate members in favor of an area where we can live and work side by side (emphasis added).

letter by Bhule bisre kalakar
The enclosed letter by Bhule bisre kalakar cooperative

 In the late 80s DDA began to take slum redevelopment with a stride. In 1986 the first talk of Kathputli colony with the plan of shifting them to South Delhi’s Vasant Kunj materialized. In around 1990 Anil Lall, an architect in DDA’s slum wing drafted plans for upgradation of the colony with the duplex model which was on the rage. In 1996 they planned to shift them to the Mehrauli area. In 2002, Minister of Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation, Bandaru Dattatreya stated in Parliament that 1478 Janta flats in Sector 16, Pocket B, Dwarka were reserved for the rehabilitation of residents of Kathputli Colony. That plan also did not take action. All these plans were rejected mainly because none of them complied with the original reason of settlement, the ease of access of work opportunities for the residents.

The Planning Process and the Final Plan for Rehabilitation

Finally in May 2007, DDA issued a tender notice calling for professional individuals to “explore and adopt innovative, futuristic ideas and cost effective technologies” for slum redevelopment projects. These individuals were to form groups of 5 to 7 i.e. a panel of consultants and help DDA by coming up with conceptual schemes with financial quotations for allotted project briefs of slum redevelopment projects.

Later in the year, DDA selected Gian P. Mathur & Associates (GPMA), an architecture and planning firm based in Delhi, to consult for the Kathputli project. After working together for some time they came up with the design and the developer’s contract for the same. A year later in September 2008, DDA, through a two stage selection process invited developers for working of the development of 21 sites that were identified for the in situ redevelopment of jhuggi jhopri clusters in Delhi.

On the 6th of October 2009, Raheja builders, after entering the financial bid were awarded the first slum redevelopment project undertaken by DDA. It was a land parcel of 5.22 hectares allocated for Rs 6.11 crores and the deliverable to rehabilitate the Kathputli colony. The total expected cost was amounted to Rs 254.27 crores. (Banda, Vaidya, and Adler, 2013)

If we take a look at the project deliverables;

According to the consultant’s report prepared by GPMA—a project scheme later adopted by the DDA in its agreement with the developers—the number of EWS houses required to be constructed is 2800, each with a composition as follows: the dwelling unit is a minimum of 30.5 sq metres, including one room of 9 sq. m, one multipurpose room of 6.5 sq. m, one bath of minimum area of 1.2 sq m, and one kitchen of 3.3 sq m.21 The other amenities that would be constructed at this site is a primary school, senior secondary school, multipurpose community Hall, Basti Vikas Kendra, religious site, police station, Shishu Vatika, dairy and fair price shop and a kerosene store. (Banda, Vaidya, and Adler, 2013)

Along with the above construction based things the developer will also have to get all the clearances from the building section, Delhi Fire Services, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, Delhi Jal Board, Delhi Urban Arts Commission and the concerned authority for the supply of electricity. The developer will get the possession of the site only when a transit camp is built for the residents of the colony. The developers were also given the right to build 170 houses at commercial rates for a free hold tenure taking up the area of not more than 19471 sqm.

The Participation and Surveying of the Dwellers

After the project details, we should assess on what level was the community that resides in Kathputli colony was involved in the whole process. As a part of the curriculum, GPMA was supposed to do a physical and socio-economic survey which they completed in 2009. They submitted a report with 2800 households identified.

In 2010, DDA conducted another survey in 3 stages. At first in the physical survey they identified 3100 houses. In the second stage which was a biometric survey in collaboration with Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB). The third stage was video and spot photography survey. The photos of dweller families were taken while standing in front of their jhuggi.

Another important aspect to look into is the eligibility criteria for being able to get a house through this rehabilitation scheme. The possession of a ration card, voter I.D and a V.P Singh token were deemed essential for proving to be a resident in the colony. Along with the same the cutoff date of residency also has played a major role in the assessment of providing houses. The cutoff date initially considered to be January 31, 1990 where only 25% of the people could be accommodated, after a long haul now stands at June 4, 2009.

Cut off dates

After a long series of identification of sites for relocation and the resistance of communities that already resided there being a hindrance, in March 2011 Anand Parbat which is situated 5km away from the original site was finalized for a transit camp. The site itself is an empty DDA plot.

The transition had not been smooth as many residents were not ready to move out of the colony. They claimed that their fears of inadequate housing were not being addressed. On the other hand, some were happy about the transition and felt that the government is thinking about them and sending them to a better place. During the transition, the area was cordoned off by Delhi Police, Sashastra Seema Bal and Central Reserve Police Force.

The Current Scenario

But in the more recent scenarios in an article by the times of India from 8th May 2020 we came to know that the construction has been taking place amidst the lockdown with increased protective measures. Navin Raheja, the CMD of Raheja builders has said that possession might be given to the first batch of 120 families within 120 working days.

The currents status of the new flats
The currents status of the new flats

On the visit to the transit camp another resident of the camp, Hariram Choudhry says “When DDA came up with the scheme of Jahan jhuggi wahi makan, we thought a lot about it that if we get a house in place of a slum, then it’s a great deal. It’s like tomorrow if we have our own house with us, then we can submit the papers in the banks take a loan of 5 or 10 lakhs and think about our kids futures and other works of importance in other ways”

His words to us sound hopeful and in gratitude that the newer generations of his community will not spend their lives in a ghetto with narrow streets, open drains and unsanitary conditions. His kids will get a future that he wanted them to have; they will have a place to grow up in a better way and opportunities that he didn’t experience.

In the words of Prof. Dr Ashok Kumar, the best thing about this project is the fact that the residents will be given ownership rights. And by mortgaging their land they can take a loan and develop it as per their needs.

Puran Bhatt says that the most important asset to any artist is their art; he believes that an artist is more concerned with their art than what housing surrounds them. He tells the students that he has seen the plan of what is going to be developed for them and it makes him happy to see that ample space on the ground has been provided which will give them an opportunity to showcase their talent. There are numerous small platforms that have been designed, so if people want to meet the artists, have a look at their lifestyles of experience what they do, they can take a ticket of a minimum amount. That is what they want, not be called slum dwellers but to be acknowledged for their art, the devotion and work that goes into it.

Only time and final execution of the project will give us the bigger picture, but from what we can see right now, this scheme sure as been a source of hope in the eyes of the residents of the magician’s ghetto that will fulfill their aspiration of having a rightful place in the society, rather than to be considered a bunch of slum dwelling gypsies.

Author Bio: Saumya Swasti, a Physical Planning Undergrad who wishes to bring positive changes through the planning process. Loves to read and loves to talk, would always be interested in having discussions related to the Urban paradigm. Special interest in the field of sustainability and environmentally friendly practices

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