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Dossier Climate Change, Corporate Accountability, Indigenous Struggles for Land, Mining Scams and Urban Displacement

Kathputli Colony: The Illusion of Rehabilitation

, by Intercultural Resources

Abandoning one’s home in a city all of a sudden and moving into an unknown destination, as a result of urban development, is one of the most excruciatingly painful experiences the urban poor undergo, especially in a developing country like India. The Kathputli colony, located on the western part of the national capital, Delhi is one such case, where thousands of puppeteers, magicians, snake charmers, acrobats, singers, dancers, actors, traditional healers and musicians from different parts of the country stand on the verge of being displaced. The “Kathputli Colony” got its name from string puppet theatre (kathputli), a folk art in India. Recently, the colony has become the centre of much media attention and political debate over the displacement of its residents. This article attempts to unfold the politics behind the urban displacement and rehabilitation issues related to Katputhli Colony and how the poor residents struggle against the might of the state as well as private developers

By Sadafut Tauhid

Urban Displacement

Urbanisation has provided a means of livelihood to millions of migrants; however, it has also created an issue of insufficient housing. Workers, who move from rural to urban places in search of employment opportunities, end up living in temporary settlements made out of plastic sheets and tarpaulin. They pitch their tents on limited spaces available on barren lands. A large number of migrants working in the informal sector are forced to live in slums due to the shortage in housing facilities. These workers have meagre incomes, due to which they cannot afford to live far away from their workplaces.

Cramped spaces and dark and narrow lanes are the basic features of any slum. The houses are built with mud and bricks; and the roofs are constructed with tin or any other cheap materials that can be used. These slums are not only deprived of basic amenities like water and sanitation, but the housing conditions are also pathetic and unhygienic.

The pressure of increasing populations in urban areas drastically changes the city boundary. In Delhi, the boundary has expanded to all the adjacent states, namely Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. This new stretch is now known as the National Capital Region (NCR). The NCR is home to about 715 slums, ranging from 300 to 5000 households. Slums, which were on the periphery of the city, now lie in central areas due to the expansion of the city. When the demand for land for housing and other infrastructure increases, the slum dwellers are evicted from their locations and shifted to distant places. The cleared land is then used for implementing ambitious projects that aid the development of the city. In New Delhi, the shifting of slum dwellers from Nehru Place to Madanpur Khadar and Nehru Place’s resultant development as a commercial, financial and business centre is a good example of this case.

Ex Situ Rehabilitation

The rehabilitation of slum dwellers to other locations is known as Ex Situ rehabilitation. This rehabilitation outside the city area, often done forcibly, alters their livelihood, education, and the social relations they have diligently built over a long period of time. Women, who mainly work in neighbouring colonies as house maids, are affected the worst. They are forced to look for alternate employment options, as eviction from their homes puts an immediate stop to their work. This relocation of slums creates a massive number of problems for the slum dwellers and for their social pattern as a whole.

In Situ Rehabilitation

RAY (Rajiv Awas Yojana) is a program launched by the Government of India in 2009, to provide housing to slum inhabitants. According to RAY’s provision, slum dwellers are given property rights for the location they reside in, instead of being shifted to other distant regions. The programme provided the concept of In situ rehabilitation, which means on site development. In case of In situ rehabilitation, the inhabitants of a particular slum are provided with properly built houses, and sanitation and water facilities on the same land where the slum is located. Apart from these, there are provisions for providing schools, health facilities, and market places around the housing complex. The program prohibits the relocation of slum dwellers to other places.

The Case of Kathputli Colony

Kathputli Colony is a slum situated in west Delhi and built along the railway line connecting the Sarai Rohilla Railway Station to the New Delhi Railway Station. It is the world’s largest settlement of street performers and is named after the traditional Rajasthani art of puppetry, Kathputli. The community is comprised of magicians, snake charmers, acrobats, singers, dancers, actors, traditional healers, musicians, as well as puppeteers. The entire colony resembles an open theatre of magic and reverberates with songs and music. Folk artists from Rajasthan, who moved to Delhi in the 1950s, settled down in this part of the city. Later, their temporary homes changed into permanent ones and artists from other states began joining them.

In the last 40 years, the handful of people who were settled here, have now turned into a huge colony of around 3,500 households. This includes people of different occupations and residents of other states. As there was availability of land in this part of the city, migrant workers of other states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, and Bengal also got settled in Kathputli Colony. Now, the colony is divided into eight different camps; Rajasthani camp, Bihari camp, Gujarati camp, Marathi camp, Madari camp, Andhra camp, and Bangladeshi camp. A majority of the inhabitants earn their living through performing arts like acrobatics, folk dances, puppetry, etc. Some of the residents are also employed as industrial workers and labourers and the women of the community work as housemaids in adjacent colonies.

In Delhi, the redevelopment of Kathputli Colony is the first In situ rehabilitation project. For the colony inmates, it brings the promise of a better housing complex with all additional facilities like primary schools, secondary schools, primary health centres, essential commodities’ shops and markets. Earlier, slum development in Delhi was based on the relocation of a slum population outside the city area. In this new development plan, the slum population would not be shifted to another location, but would be provided with homes and other facilities at the same site.

The Master Plan

The total land of Kathputli Colony is 5.2 hectare i.e., 52,000 sq m of land. Out of this land, 60 per cent (31,200 sq m) was marked for the rehabilitation of the colony and the rest 40 per cent of land (20,800 sq m) was given to Raheja Builders. The Delhi government said in its Master Plan that 1 hectare (10,000 sq m) of land can accommodate 600 families. Therefore, the residents of Kathputli Colony, consisting of 3,000 families, would need 50,000 sq m of land just for houses. Further, per 1,600 families, the land requirement for different facilities would amount to 37,000 sq m. Once calculated, the total land requirement for all these families would come to around 87,000 sq m. This implies that an additional 37,000 sq m of land is required for the establishment of all facilities in Kathputli Colony.

In the case of Kathputli colony; the government has made all efforts to allocate merits to the Raheja Developers for inclusive development. For providing all the facilities in the limited available land, the land requirements have been restructured in the following manner:

a) The primary and secondary schools which require 2,000 sq m and 6,000 sq m respectively have been reduced to 200 sq m and 600 sq m respectively.
b) The community hall, local market, and vendors’ space, which together would need 6,000 sq m, have all been packed into just 1,000 sq m.
c) The park and children’s playground, which require 20,000 sq m have been brought down to a measly 800 sq m.
d) The water reservoir and health centre, which need 3,000 sq m, have been cut down to 1,000 sq m.

On one hand, programs such as RAY launched by the government have helped the slum dwellers adopt an improved life. However, on the other hand, the same programs are deliberately exploited and violated by the Government’s Master Plan. The government’s ability to manipulate policies in order to provide benefits to corporate giants is now being a lesson best learnt from them.

According to the In situ rehabilitation plan of Kathputli Colony, slum dwellers will be resettled from their slums to high rise apartments with all the amenities available for better living. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and Raheja Builders, which stated that 60 per cent of the land would be used to build a 14-storey building for the slum dwellers, which would have 2,800 two-room flats of 30 sq m each. The rest of the land would be used by the builders to create a commercial complex, which would then be sold at market price. In this remaining land of Kathputli Colony, the Raheja Builders plan to construct the tallest building in Delhi, containing 170 luxury flats and named the Raheja Phoenix. The ambitious project has been criticised by many, on the basis that the government has given land to the builders at a price much lower than the market price.

Uncovering a Scam

In March, 2014 the recently launched political party, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) alleged a scam of Rs. 1000 crore (US $16.62 million) in the Kathputli land deal between the DDA and Raheja Developers. The party revealed that the DDA had given the developers “undue benefits” by selling them land worth Rs. 1000 crore (US $16.62 million) for just Rs. 6 crore (US $997506). Party leader Ashish Khetan claimed that the DDA awarded the developers prime land towards the Metro line and the main road for the construction of 170 housing units on the pretext of rehabilitation of the Kathputli Colony residents.

The party based its arguments on the DDA Audit Cell Report, accessed through the Right to Information Act (RTI). The report clearly revealed that the DDA had been favouring the developers, and had allowed the use of prime land for a price much below the market rate. After the allegations of AAP, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), too, questioned the ruling party’s (Congress) involvement in the scam. The ruling party was blamed for not keeping the interests of the residents in mind and for not exposing the land scam. The BJP asked for a CBI inquiry into the illegal deal, and asked the government to put a stop to the relocation of the Kathputli Colony residents until the probe was complete.

The Rehabilitation Process

The rehabilitation of the residents of Kathputli Colony is the first In situ rehabilitation plan in Delhi. It seems productive and cost-effective as per the plan document; however, things are not as clear as has been stated by the DDA. For the stake holders i.e., the inhabitants of the colony, there is lot of confusion attached to the project. Interactions with the residents have revealed that they were not made aware of the details of the plan, which has thereby generated suspicion that the plan is a new method to evict dwellers from this central location.

As per the project plans, the slum dwellers will be shifted to transit camps for the two years that would be required for the completion of the project. The camps are located at two places; one at Anand Parbat, and the second in Rohini. These two regions come under the Red Zone of the Master Plan of Delhi, which means that the areas are not fit for residential purposes and are illegal. The current residence of the slum dwellers falls under the Yellow Zone of the Master Plan, which implies that it is a residential area. These transit camps are taken on rent for two years and if the project involved is not completed within those two years, then the displaced families are again relocated to a new place.

The slum dwellers have shown reluctance in transferring to these transit camps. They suspect that the camps will have no provisions for proper housing, and the resources for livelihood in Kathputli, which they have meticulously developed over the years, will be lost. They are also afraid of not being allowed back into the colony once they leave. Apart from this, most of the families are concerned that the cost of travelling from the transit camps to schools and work places will increase for the slum dwellers and their children. The process of shifting from their homes to the transit camps and then back to their new homes has not been properly explained to the stakeholders, and the DDA has not yet developed a proper mechanism to identify the beneficiaries at each stage.

However, it has been found that almost fifty households, mainly tenants, have left the colony and shifted to the transit camps. Interestingly, residents who shifted to the camps demolished their houses and sold all the materials like iron rods, stones used for roofs, bricks, and doors to carpenters and local shops at low prices. The transit camps are plagued with issues. There is a lack of sanitation facilities, water, and electricity. During a recent thunderstorm in Delhi, roofs of the houses flew off and the residents of the camps suffered huge losses.

To motivate the slum dwellers of Kathputli Colony to shift to transit camps, the DDA employed the use of hoardings and attractive photos of the camps. The camps were portrayed as well-decorated places with all the basic services like water, electricity, sanitation, drainage system, and gardens. Interviews of the people who had shifted to the transit camps were published in leading newspapers like the Hindustan Times. The residents shared their experiences of living in the camps, and compared their life in Kathputli Colony to the better lives they were leading in the transit camps. These newspapers and hoardings were placed at critical positions in the colony, so as to attract the people with interviews and photos, and to inspire them to leave Kathputli easily. The DDA also showed videos of the transit camps and the transformation of Kathputli Colony after the so-called In situ development by the public-private partnership (PPP) of the DDA and Raheja Developers.

Unanswered Questions

Apart from the confusion regarding the camps, the stake holders are not clear about several other issues. The slum dwellers have raised various questions regarding the eligibility criteria to obtain a flat after completion of the project, the number of years they have to spend living in transit camps, and most importantly, the economic activities that will get disrupted due to the high rise apartments. It is important to mention here that a slum is not only a place to live, but the narrow lanes in front of the houses also provide essential spaces for the development of economic activities. The residents’ concern about eligibility criteria is genuine and needs the attention of the DDA. The criteria for identifying a beneficiary is his/her ration card, voter identity card, and the house number allotted by the DDA to each household. Residents whose voter identity cards were issued after 2010 will not be considered.

Another crucial matter here is that the people with extended families will receive only one flat. Double storey houses will not get separate numbers; if a house is numbered 1345, then the upper floor will be 1345-A. All these complications are holding the residents to their places and making them unwilling to shift to transit camps. The most vital concern involved here is that the residents don’t trust the DDA and the builders. They are doubtful about the DDA’s motives and believe this project is a newfound way to evict them from their homes.

The lack of trust among the stake holders is mainly due to the dissemination of details about the project. The involvement of the community was very limited in the decision making process and hence, they are currently unable to grasp the benefits of this development project. The DDA only consulted the community through the local NGO Pradhanand. The amenity of transit camps was never discussed with the community; they were only notified of their shift to these camps. Moreover, the education of children and the employment of women who work in adjacent areas were not included in the provisions of temporary housing in the camps. The colony is divided into different camps like the Marathi camp, the Bihari camp, and so on; therefore, there are quite a few numbers of Pradhans (around 12) active in this colony. This not only limits the participation of the Pradhans (Chiefs), but also the division of ideas on their roles.

Community participation, which is an important component of any project, was entirely missing, as only a few meetings took place in the community. About a 100 residents were present for these meetings. It is important to note that there was a complete lack of women’s participation in the project, which has created a space of mistrust and suspicion among the residents of the colony. A paper titled Unpacking Participation in Kathputli Colony: Delhi’s First Slum Redevelopment Project, Act I written by Véronique Dupont, Subhadra Banda, Yashas Vaidya, and M M Shankare Gowda was published in the Economic and Political Weekly on June 14, 2014. The paper discussed the issue of community participation in the case of Kathputli Colony. In this paper, the author clearly explains how the DDA failed to develop a consensus among the stake holders of Delhi’s first In situ development project. Participation of the community in decision making is mandatory in the RAY program, because it not only provides for development, but also creates space amongst the stake holders for their future.


The first In Situ rehabilitation project of Kathputli Colony is a positive step towards providing proper housing facilities to urban slum dwellers. Through this project, based on the PPP model, urban slum dwellers will receive a high standard of living without any expenditure from the government’s side. As per the plan document, all provisions of the project seem to be designed to benefit the slum dwellers. But it’s too early to conclude what the project will deliver to its stake holders.

However, as evident from past projects based on the PPP model, the cost of the project rises around 30-40 per cent after its completion, as compared to the cost stated in the project plans. What will be the government’s solution if the same happens in this project? Will the government shoulder the extra costs or will the burden fall upon the developers’ shoulders? Will a new situation arise where the residents will have to live with sub-standard promises made by the government? It is not clear how the residents of the luxurious apartment will live as neighbours of the slum apartment. What will be the new relation between the residents’ apartments and the luxury apartments residing adjacent to each other? Will this glaring inequality give birth to some negative social and psychological phenomenon or will it provide mutual benefits to both parties?

It is too early to come to any conclusion about the status of the community after the completion of the project. The only available option now is to wait and analyse the promises delivered by the DDA and the developers. However, most of the doubts about the project have not been cleared till date, and the ambiguity created by the DDA has created confusion and mistrust.


Ali, M., ‘DDA granted undue benefits to Kathputli Colony redeveloper,’ The Hindu, 27 March, 2014. Online at:

‘Meenakshi Lekhi alleges scam at Delhi’s Kathputli Colony’, The Economic Times, 29 March, 2014. Online at:

Bhowmick, N., ‘The World’s Largest Community of Street Performers Is About to Be Torn Apart,’ Time, 4 March, 2014. Online at:

Dupont, V., Subhadra Banda, Yashas Vaidya, and M.M. Shankare Gowda, “Unpacking Participation in Kathputli Colony: Delhi’s First Slum Redevelopment Project, Act I,” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol- XLIX No.24, 2014.

Banda, S., Yashas Vaidya, and David Adler, “The Case of Kathputli Colony: Mapping Delhi’s First In-situ Slum Rehabilitation Project,” New Delhi: Centre for Policy Research, 2013.

Aam Admi Party, RTI report. Online at:


About the Author:
Sadafut Tauhid is associated with a Mumbai based civil society organization, YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action). For the last three years he has been engaging with displaced people affected by evictions and slum demolitions. He has also been engaging with hawkers and street vendors, in solving their issues through interventions at various levels. He has a Masters in Social Work and a diploma in Labour Law. He has been writing on development induced displacement issues.

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