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Demolish drive at Amartya aide door

New Delhi, April 30: The hut of Jean Dreze, Amartya Sen’s co-author who used to advise Sonia Gandhi on development issues, has come in the line of the Delhi demolition drive.

Dreze’s dwelling is among the 10,000 shortlisted for demolition in a slum near Delhi University, on the northern fringes of the capital.

Citing a court order, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has pasted eviction notices on the doors of the huts at Sanjay Basti, named, ironically, after the late Nehru-Gandhi blamed for the infamous drive against slums during Emergency.

“As per the directive of Delhi High Court… this land has to be vacated by 27/04/07. If not vacated by the said date, the houses will be demolished on 4/5/2007,” the MCD notice said.

Dreze, recognised as the spearhead of the grassroots movement that resulted in the Right to Information Act, has now turned to that law to find out if the government has a fall-back plan for the homeless.

The visiting professor at Allahabad’s G.B. Pant Social Science Institute could not be reached for comment, but his wife Bela Bhatia confirmed they had put in an application under the RTI Act.

Bhatia, a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said they had asked for a copy of a joint survey by the MCD and the Central Public Works Department to identify “illegal bastis” and whether there was a relocation plan under the capital’s new urban development blueprint.

“There is no word so far,” she said.

Dreze or John bhai — as the Basti that has been his home for several years knows him — and Bela live in a one-room hut with an asbestos roof and use the community toilet and bath. The hut does have electricity and water connection though.

Originally meant to house Type I quarters for Class IV government employees, this little hub of concrete was overtaken by the slums that proliferated around it and has serviced political parties lusting after “vote banks”. Some of these flats still exist, though dilpaidated, and are occupied by goverment employees.

Dreze is famous as the co-author of at least half-a-dozen books on the politics of hunger, development and social opportunity with Nobel-winner Sen.

But turned out in khadi kurta-pyjama and usually seen riding a bike, he fits the mould of activist better than academic. The Belgian-origin Dreze led the right to food and the right to information campaigns with Aruna Roy, the Magsaysay award winner from Rajasthan.

Brought into the National Advisory Council by Sonia, the duo pushed the national rural employment guarantee and information laws — but Dreze resigned soon after the jobs bill was introduced in Parliament because he thought it diluted the provisions in the first draft. Aruna also put in her papers later.

A student of mathematical economics at the Essex University and a Ph.D in economics from the Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi, Dreze has taught at the London School of Economics and the Delhi School of Economics. He is now an Indian citizen.

Barring Dreze and a few political activists, most residents of the Basti had no clue about the high court’s directive and thought the demolition was meant to pave the way for a “big mall” for the rich.

“We don’t know how this happened. We have lived here since 1978 and now where can we go'” said Naresh, a shop hand.

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