The Geography of Post-Eviction Resettlement in Delhi, India

December 12th, 2014

DRAN Research Assistant Team

The predicament of the urban poor in India’s capital city mirrors that of tens of millions of people in the large cities of the global South: when local government has been unable and/or unwilling to adequately handle massive rapid urbanization, urban migrants have created shelters for themselves on riverbanks, drainage ditches, railroad right-of-ways and other marginal spaces that allow them access to nearby employment. Such settlements in Delhi – known as Jhuggi Jhopri (JJ) clusters – house an estimated one to three million people. Their distribution is illustrated in the map below.

Though they supply labor to Delhi’s wealthier households and industrial complexes, JJ residents have been systematically targeted by local government agencies for eviction in the name of health considerations, infrastructure development and urban “beautification”. During a surge in evictions leading up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games, an estimated 200,000 JJ residents were displaced as officials looked to recreate the core of the city as a sanitized, modernized landscape to impress tourists and foreign dignitaries.

In August 2014, a research team of seven graduate students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Urban Studies and Planning (MIT DUSP) traveled with Professor Balakrishnan Rajagopal and former UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing Miloon Kothari to Delhi to work with local NGOs that advocate for JJ cluster residents. During the one-month engagement, the research team conducted site visits and interviews to better understand the local nature of forced evictions and displacement and develop tools to assist JJ residents and advocates oppose destructive anti-poor policies. The class developed a set of data visualizations to be housed in a proposed online portal that would help local actors share information and disseminate knowledge to the public.

Since the late 1950’s local policies have sought to evict centrally located JJ clusters and relocate them – without housing – to resettlement colonies on the urban periphery. Only a portion – estimated to be as little as half – of JJ cluster residents receive parcels of land for relocation. Using data from government and NGO sources, the India practicum class produced visualizations to understand how this policy has impacted the shelter opportunities of the urban poor and promoted an unequal geography in Delhi.

This animation depicts JJ cluster evictions in Delhi since 1990, demonstrating a large concentration of evictions close to the city center. Evictions are not evenly distributed throughout the 23 years; note the increase in evictions in the years preceding the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

This animation documents the spatial pattern of the relocation policy, showing the systematic resettlement of JJ residents to the northern and western peripheries of Delhi.

With data from the Delhi-based Housing and Land Rights Network, the following visualization demonstrates the strong trend of outward expansion in which resettlement sites are constructed further and further form the core of the city over time. In recent evictions, JJ residents have been displaced from central locations to sites 3-4 hours away, necessitating long, expensive bus rides to reach employment opportunities and urban amenities.

In-Situ upgrading, in which JJ cluster residents stay in place during the development of their housing and services, offers an alternative to the current eviction-oriented policy. However, any inclusive approach to developing JJ clusters will have to confront the idiosyncrasies of Delhi’s arcane Master Plan. Below, current JJ cluster sites are colored to reflect their proposed land use under the current Delhi Master Plan. A majority of JJ clusters lie on land slated for residential use or park space.


As part of a practicum course in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP), seven graduate students studied the impacts of jhuggi jhopri cluster (JJ cluster) evictions and relocations in Delhi in 2014. During a month-long engagement in Delhi and Chennai, the team researched and created tools and maps/visualizations to support the work of organizations preventing and responding to evictions and displacement in Delhi. The work has integrated diverse sets of data and focused on an interpretation of the causes and consequences of large-scale displacement and resettlement in Delhi, the impact on the morphology of the city itself, as well as the key institutional and other barriers for making Delhi a more just city.

The practicum class and DRAN look forward to ongoing engagement with our partners in Delhi and thank them for being generous with their time and knowledge.

This work was produced by DUSP students Rachel Finkelstein, Leo Goldberg, Luxi Lin, Carey Ann Nadeau, Smita Rawoot, Fizzah Sajjad,  and Maggie Tishman, in collaboration with local partners in Delhi.