How far can man’s insatiable desire to acquire more with each opportunity relegate itself to a sense of meaningless consumerism? In an attempt to create a ‘world-class’ society, the harbingers of commercialization in India have elicited an irrevocable feeling of hatred and antagonism in the downtrodden populace. Is it appropriate to term the encroachment of private lands as iniquitous? Or, can such an encroachment be rationalized by the argument that it serves the purpose of a ‘higher good’? The need for development has led to an indiscriminate acquisition of lands, which has in turn, precipitated the lives of the proletariats. Today’s tumultuous times, call for the holistic development of the country, including infrastructural changes. But, do the benefits of such developmental strategies adopt a form of down-filtration and reach those who are unreasonably displaced from their homes and livelihoods?
The Commonwealth Games of 2010 dragged in an imperative need to demolish all those obstacles which impeded the construction of modern structures like high raised hotels and accommodations for our visitors. Ergo, thousands of inhabitants of slum clusters and shelters were rendered homeless. Out of the thousands displaced, a mere 15% were rehabilitated to other grounds. Yet, in the fight against the acquisition of their lands, they lost their livelihoods. The advent of malls- a harbinger of happiness to the insatiable shopper, posed a further threat to slum dwellers.
I had the opportunity of visiting one of the shanty colonies affected by this sudden developmental boom. Inhabitants of Saraswati Vihar consternate about the loss of their livelihoods when their homes were brutally snatched from them to make space for a shopping multiplex. Even those who were fortunately resettled lament over their precipitated state of life. Each family is provided with one bucket of water, while reality spells the need for a minimum of 15-30 buckets of water per family for daily usage. Electricity costs soar as high as Rs 100, while the meagre livelihoods of these people constrain them from being able to pay more than Rs 50. While, Ms Sita Raina, an advocate of social development in India reiterates the claims for bringing literacy to every corner of the country and thus setting up more schools in urban areas, there is a sad picture painted in the recesses of this goal. Sheetal Devi, an inhabitant of Saraswati Vihar laments over how her family was uprooted from their home, in the midst of her children’s final examinations in school. Having lost their home, her children had to discontinue their studies and help out with their rehabilitation. Their new settlements have no school in the vicinity and this has dampened all hopes of their children studying again. Does development continue to remain so even while it relegates large groups of people to lives of abject inadequacy and disillusionment?
In 2011, Supreme Court said that the right to property is a constitutional right and the government cannot deprive a person of her/his land in an arbitrary manner. Yet, the level of this arbitrariness is highly contestable. Has the articulation of Brand Delhi blinded our eyes towards the plight of the victims of this land acquisition? When we say that we have beautiful monuments and wish they see newer models to come up, are we willing to stake the livelihoods of the displaced? It is for one to think whether the acquiescence in such activities can derive moral and constitutional support or should it be abjured in the name of an unequivocal violation of the Right to a dignified life.