Sunday, December 3, 2023

“Our homes were demolished by DDA and now…”: Displaced residents face double calamity as Yamuna floods ravage low-lying areas

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 A woman resident evacuates her home along with her children after the Yamuna River crossed the danger mark near Mayur Vihar in New Delhi on July 11, 2023. Photo: Ashish Kumar Kataria

Amidst the somber atmosphere of a gloomy Tuesday, a narrow alley leading to Bela Estate near the Yamuna floodplains of New Delhi became the scene of despair as local residents scrambled to salvage what remained of their lives. Beneath a flyover, the aftermath of a nightmarish deluge unfolded before their eyes. At around 4:00 am, the raging waters of the Yamuna River mercilessly breached their shanties, causing the occupants to hastily gather their belongings in a desperate bid to escape the advancing flood. Despite their valiant efforts, many possessions succumbed to the deluge, forever lost to the relentless current.

Seeking refuge under the flyover or huddled on the footpaths, the disheartened residents clung to one another, their faces etched with tears of helplessness. Men, women, and children tightly grasped each other’s hands, burdened by a sense of fate’s betrayal.

The residents expressed their frustration at the government’s inaction, emphasizing the lack of relief and shelter provided to them in their time of need. They speculated whether the authorities were waiting for a catastrophic event, an irreversible tipping point, before extending assistance.

In an anguished tone with teary eyes, an elderly man, Ramesh Kumar, who works as a cart driver, said to Maktoob: “At around 4:00 am while we were asleep, the water started entering our shanties; within no time, it rose to our knees, and we had to run for safety without taking anything out.

“We only took the belongings that we could have managed to take with us; the rest washed away with the deluge. We were not alerted by the police or any authority that there would be chances of a flood. As before, every time we used to get informed beforehand, but this time it did not happen. We are poor with no savings or income; our carts are even washed away, from which we used to earn daily. I do not know if I should blame my fate or calamity; we are left helpless and hopeless without any rescue, relief, or rehabilitation,” Kumar said.

While pointing towards the flyover, footpaths, and roads, Kumar went on to say: “See where we are taking shelter under the flyover, footpath, and road with no availability of food and drinking water and something to cover our heads. My family is living under a flyover right now. Where will I take them? Nowhere, rather than cursing my miseries and pain, I believe it is my fate as I am poor, and the government does not care whether we die or live as they are only for themselves and the riches.”

Two children sit under a flyover near Yamuna Khadar in New Delhi where their families have set a makeshift shelter to live after their shanties washed away in a flood on July 11, 2023. Photo: Mohsina Malik

Further criticising the government, Kumar adds: “In March, our homes were demolished by the Delhi Development Authority, causing hundreds of families to be displaced and live on the road. Now, again, the calamity has fallen on us. First, they took our land to make a park, on which we used to cultivate and earn money, and we stayed here only and lived in makeshift tents. Now these tents are also washed away, and we have nothing left with us. I cannot see my children starving, but what I can do is nothing. I am hoping I will overcome this as I overcome the demolition of my home.”

The residents claim that a few months ago, in March, their homes were demolished by the Delhi Development Authority, and they had made makeshift tents at the same place, which is now underwater. They have been suffering for the last three days as no rescue team has reached the area, and the residents are facing starvation. 

Another resident, Prakash, a 34-year-old man who works as a labourer, said to Maktoob: “Within no time, in front of my eyes, everything was under the deluge, and I could not do anything to save my tent. Where will I go, What help will I receive, and Will I get compensation? No. The government is feeding itself and the rich. We are left to die or look for ourselves on our own. Nobody came to see us under what conditions we are living, and no authority bothered to do so. Is it what the government has promised? We will turn Delhi into a beautiful city where there will be rivers, ponds, lakes, and landscapes. Is this what they are talking about? I think this is the beautiful city they are talking about”.

“We are not even provided with a tent; even if provided, how many can live under that, hardly one or two? What about the others? Where will they go? Live without a roof and on the road so that people can watch our misery and laugh,” Prakash adds.

Angered over the development across Delhi, Prakash says: “On our miseries, they are building empires; our children are left uneducated and starved to death; and we are excluded from everything, denied the right to live in peace and happily. Now that the floods are all across Delhi in most parts, what has the government done so far? What measures are they taking to protect the people? And is anybody listening to us? Are we provided with food? Our children are hungry as we have no cooking gas here to cook because our utensils and cooking gas are washed away with water, and the government is a mute spectator.”

Even the residents claim that the women are also suffering as there are no latrines provided to them, which is concerning their hygiene and other issues.

Rita Devi, a 45-year-old woman who works as domestic help, says: “The government has left us with no option; we have to look to ourselves and our children. We cannot see them like this, living on the roads and dying of starvation. We have no safety here; if anything happens to us, then who will be responsible? We cannot trust anyone, and on the road and under a flyover, a woman cannot be safe, and anything can happen. We are concerned about it.”

“There are not even latrines; where will I go for urination and other things? I cannot do these on the road; there is a sense of modesty. That is very important to us. The authority should at least provide us with the basic facilities that we need right now in this condition and also think about the poor and do something for us as soon as possible before any huge disaster falls upon us,” she adds.

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