People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 49

December 08, 2013






Delhi Elections and Promises of an Inclusive City


Archana Prasad


AS the voting day dawns on the citizens of Delhi, the focus of mainstream bourgeois parties was to mobilise the urban poor in their favour. The Delhi government (which has now been in power for 15 years) has laid down its vision for an inclusive city. The opposition and the government both promised shelter for the homeless, water, electricity and affordable health facilities for the residents, especially the urban poor. Almost all the manifestos tried to target the urban poor, but failed to speak of the manner in which they will fulfil their oft repeated promises. It is not surprising that the rhetoric of targeting the migrants for all the problems of the city gave way to more conciliatory overtures to the entire urban poor as an important political constituency. Such a hegemonic rhetoric challenged the democratic movement to look beyond the elections. In contrast the Left has been mobilising the poor for their legitimate rights. Experience indicates that in order to ultimately secure these rights the Left and democratic movement will have to strengthen the larger fight against neo-liberal policies that are increasing the inequality between the urban poor and the middle classes.




Around 16 per cent of the population of Delhi consists of migrant households. However, this number will be much larger if households with at least one migrant are taken into account. The character of the migrant population is determined by their reasons for migration. A survey commissioned by the Delhi government in 2013 and its Human Development Report (2013) show that more than half the migrants who come to the city come in search of employment. Of these, approximately 40 percent of the migrants constitute unskilled and low paid casual workers who have been living in the city for more than ten years. About a third of these are classed as ‘service workers’ who also comprise female domestic workers and live in slum dwellings. Though recent surveys record that there has been a slight decline in migration in the last decade, this decrease has largely occurred among the professionals who were earlier flocking Delhi for better jobs. Thus more than 65 percent of the migrants comprise of workers who can be classified as urban poor and therefore share common concerns with the working class of the city.


This expanding population of urban poor points to the growing inequities within the city. As the Census of India 2011 shows, the rate of growth of slum dwellings increased considerably in the decade 2001-2011. In 2010 the slum improvement board of the city estimated about 643 slum clusters with a population of approximately 20 lakh people.


However, this figure hides the character of the living conditions of slum areas. As per the Census of 2011, there are only 22 notified slums in Delhi with a population of about 7.38 lakh. The rest of the slum dwelling population, i.e., approximately 13 lakh, lives in identified slums that still need to be recognised and notified. This clearly indicates that such a population has little access to basic amenities. The promises of regularisation therefore surface before every election and the Delhi government, on its part, issued a notification for the regularisation of 895 colonies in September 2012, just a year before the elections. This clearly shows that despite the creation of institutions like the Slum Improvement Board, the government had no real intention for making a transparent and regular system for regularisation as it would increase the government’s responsibility for these colonies. This is evident from the experience of the last decade when the current government has been in power.




One of the main issues addressed by the manifestos of the mainstream political parties is housing and shelter. The Congress promised to make the city “slum free” by rehabilitating the Jhuggi Jhopri (JJ) clusters whereas the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promised to provide full facilities to all the unauthorised colonies. The Aam Admi Party (AAP), the apparent political alternative to these two, made the identical promise of rehabilitation with the consultation of the people. It is surprising, however, that none of these parties made promises for regulating and controlling the construction mafia of the city; rather the BJP gives concessions to the builder lobby.


These promises need to be evaluated in the context of the living conditions of the urban poor. According to the government’s own estimation, a third of the city dwellers live in non-permanent houses which are just about liveable. About 10 percent still defecate in the open and 7.1 percent use a public latrine. As far as water and sanitation is concerned, the conditions are even more abysmal, with only two thirds of the city having a proper, closed drainage system and one forth of the people having no access to proper drinking water. In terms of food security, the government promised 14.07 BPL cards for ration but only distributed 4.7 lakh cards in its last 15 years. Instead, it conspired with several opposition parties to pass the flawed food security ordinance and implement the cash transfer scheme which has been an ultimate failure in terms of addressing the problem of nutrition.


In this situation, it is proper to ask whether the public private partnerships being promoted by the government in regard to water, housing and electricity are any answer to its problems. Within such a policy, the access to basic surveys is conditioned not by the mere presence of infrastructure but also by the access of the urban poor to it through the regulation of profits and markets that have started determining the pricing of essential services.




It is clear that most of the mainstream parties have chosen to ignore this question and instead offer platitudes which would apparently solve these problems. Of particular importance is the proposal to extend the Bhagidari scheme by the Congress and formation of Mohalla Sabhas by the AAP. While increasing the people’s participation in governance will only increase the transparency in the system, it is clear that this will not be able to check the rampant profiteering in both electricity and water services. While a section of the resident welfare associations actually welcomed the privatisation of electricity, the urban poor got their connections along with huge electricity bills. In this situation the AAP manifesto stated that it would bring down the electricity bill by 50 percent and also provide 700 litres of water to every family every day. One needs to ask whether this can be done by simply decentralising the system or by controlling the penetration of the private sector in these sectors through auditing alone, as advocated by the AAP.


The promises made to the urban poor in the wake of the elections cannot and will not be fulfilled without strengthening the public sector which will play a key role in providing essential services to the urban poor. For this, the role of the government needs to be strengthened and democratised in order to politicise the urban poor against the takeover of urban resources by corporate capital. The fight against privatisation and for the defence of the public sector is thus a key to ensuring success in regard to bridging the inequities in terms of access to basic services like water, housing, electricity, health and education.