In September, the office of the Municipal Corporation of Dharamshala (MCD) saw a sudden flurry of anxious activity. People at the MCD doorstep, now lining up to apply for affordable housing under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna (PMAY), were residents of the city a few months ago. On June 17, 2016, the MCD forcibly evicted around 1500 migrant workers from the Charan Khad slums in the city where they had been living for over 30 years. As per a notice provided by the MCD on June 3, the slums had to be demolished and people evicted because of open defecation, an issue that could have been addressed simply by providing sanitation facilities.
Reports suggest that the eviction was carried out to facilitate the Dharamsala ‘Smart City’ project, a central government urban development program being carried out with support from the United Nations Development Project (UNDP). No rehabilitation was provided by the MCD, leaving about 300 children, pregnant women and the differently-abled vulnerable during the monsoons.
To make matters worse, on June 21, the MCD circulated a notice threatening those who provided accommodation to the slum dwellers with legal consequences under section 278 of the Himachal Pradesh Municipal Act. As a result, those who had found houses to rent and could afford to do so were left homeless once again.
The demolitions have left 1500 people vulnerable because of a central government project that proposes to provide better facilities for the common man. The official reason for the evictions – open defecation – continues owing to the lack of sanitation facilities and exposes the hollow reasoning employed by the MCD to grab land.
Of the displaced families, 115 have applied for housing under PMAY, a central government scheme to provide rehabilitation to slum dwellers through private participation. On being questioned about the status of the applications, Vikas Kumar, team leader/urban planner at UNDP and who is working the Dharamshala smart city project, said that houses under the scheme will be ready only after a year. He refused to answer queries about where those left homeless should live in the meanwhile and suggested the matter be taken up with the DMC. We then spoke to Sandeep Bharmaria of the DMC’s National Urban Livelihoods Mission, who directed us back to Kumar.
With no provision for accountability, the DMC and the UNDP washed their hands off the adverse consequences development projects like smart city and PMAY have on the marginalised. Meanwhile, the people remain homeless in the ‘divine city’ of Dharamshala.