Complexities of Delhi Housing and Politics

ACORN International Housing India Politics

            Delhi      It turned out after listening to a long presentation by Dharmendra Kumar and the Janaphal/ACORN team in Delhi, that understanding the intricacies of the housing situation in Delhi is a bit like the old parable of the blind men trying to describe an elephant as they touched different parts of the beast.  I thought I had a pretty good grip on this situation, but thanks to a more thorough chart-talk they prepared for ACORN’s affiliate in Scotland, I found myself furiously taking notes as Dharmendra was filling in the gaps in what I had understood.  Truthfully, even at the end of the day, it would still be the high of arrogance if I were to pretend, I totally grasped all of the nuances.

The Indian propensity to us abbreviations for all manner of programs and schemes doesn’t help someone like me trying to follow every twist and turn either, but here goes.  There are three primary categories of Delhi housing.  Formal housing is under the Delhi Development Agency (DDA) and that’s what Westerners would understand best.  The city provides infrastructure, owners have title, banks make loans, and so it goes, but this hardly represents a one-third of the available housing stock.  The second category is “unauthorized,” and here’s where the plot thickens.  Almost two-thirds of housing is in this category, and it is what it says:  unauthorized, meaning unstable and subject to evictions, demolishment, and general precocity.  Loans and title don’t work here and even if some could pay in cash, that doesn’t change the nature of the problem.  Delhi also has no infrastructure responsibility, which doesn’t mean there is none, but that it’s provided by residents and landlords.  Because the numbers of people living in unauthorized housing is so mammoth, they represent a significant political block, so every election parties kowtow to them with wild promises, including free water, which they largely have delivered, and free electricity, at least for the first 200 kilowatts, which is mired in controversy.  The third category is slums.  675 are registered with about three million inhabitants, and here the rubber hits the road with almost weekly slum clearing and relocation fights.

Before I dig deeper there, let me go back to the electricity issue.  Given ACORN’s fight for Lifeline Rates in the early and mid-70s in Arkansas, Missouri, South Dakota and elsewhere at a fixed rate and guaranteed access for 400 kw, I was following this closely.  The problem, as we recently discussed in Social Policy, is the conflict in interests between landlords and tenants.  The structure of much of the housing stock involves landlords on one floor and then tenants on two, three or more floors of the same structure.  The landlord has the main meter with the tenants on a submeter, so renters get no benefit from the free 200 kw program, leaving the landlord as the only winner there.  Various efforts to change this or credit it to the tenants have failed so far, leaving this still a hot potato politically.

The DDA also develops the 20-year Master Plan which has huge meaning for slums and unauthorized areas, because the plan elements legally mean eviction or elimination of their residences.  The existing plan covered 2000-2020, but the new plan for 2021-2040 is now already four years overdue, and likely won’t be finished given the politics until 2025.

Where we are most engaged in struggle over housing is with the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board or DUSIB.  They are the agency responsible for relocation when slums are cleared to other small spaces, when a new housing policy in 2015 mandated a “right to homes.”  We spearheaded a campaign called “We Make Delhi” which has gathered 42000 signatures that we’re using to create leverage between the central government and the city to pressure for what’s needed.

There’s no central landlord-tenant paradigm or big league financialization in Delhi, but a scrappy, hard-fisted fight every step of the way while balancing politics that are DC-like between Delhi Municipal Corporation and the central government where Delhi is the capitol.

The lesson for today is complicated enough, so I’ll stop there, and we’ll all keep scratching our heads over this puzzle.