Wednesday, February 21, 2024

“We are going to stay in this rubble only,” say Mehrauli residents

Photo: Nikita Jain

For Aftab Alam, a specially-abled social worker in Delhi’s Mehrauli area, losing his home was one of the most devastating moments of his life.

A bulldozer demolished Alam’s shanty on Tuesday by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). He was among the hundreds who have been rendered homeless after the DDA started its demolition drive in Mehrauli’s Kala Mahal area as part of an ongoing anti-encroachment drive.

The demolition drive started on Sunday and is expected to go on till March 9. In a significant development being reported from the national capital, the Delhi high court has put a stay on the demolition drive that was in place in Mehrauli. As per reports, the stay order will be in place till 16th February.

“I have been living here for the past 30 years. I am a social worker, and even as an especially able person have tried my best to help others. But look, now I have nothing myself,” he told Maktoob.

Alam lives with two of his sisters and a brother – all of whom are specially-abled. “I am going to stay in this rubble only, and I will die here because I have nowhere to go,” he added.

The demolition has left many families devastated who had been living here for generations.

Photo: Nikita Jain

The DDA is under the control of Lt. Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena. The demolition drive to clear encroached forest land in Mehrauli is being carried out allegedly without consulting the Delhi revenue minister and comes ahead of next month’s G20 meeting scheduled to be held at the Mehrauli archeological park in South Delhi.

People have also claimed that the notices were posted outside their houses without anyone knowing. Although a mixed population, the demolished houses, and shops belong to Muslims in the area.

Raees Ahmad, 50, whose house has also received notice, said that he had woken up one day to see a notice posted on his gate. “My family has been living here for generations. I have lived here for nearly 50 years, and now they want to demolish my house. Without any survey or order, they are ruining the hard work of our lives,” he said as his wife broke down.

According to the DDA, nearly 1,200 square metres of government land was reclaimed during Friday’s anti-encroachment drive in the Mehrauli Archaeological Park area.

Meanwhile, those who lost their homes in the drive claim that they are bearing the brunt of differences between the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre.

“Our only sin is that we gave vote to AAP in MCD elections,” Roshan, who stood outside her sister’s home, said, crying.

In a statement to the media, Kailash Gahlot alleged that no notice was served to the occupants before the demolition of the buildings.

“It was observed that the department had not issued notices to the said individuals while carrying out the demolition exercise, among other fallacies in the process. Revenue officials admitted that before the demarcation of the khasra (land record) numbers in question, no notice was served to the occupants of the said khasra numbers, and obviously, there was no participation of the said occupants at the time of conducting the said demarcation,” Gehlot told reporters Sunday.

Many people have registration and other papers to prove the land and house belongs to them. 20-year-old Zainab was standing outside her house with a blue folder in her arms.

“You can see all the papers; we have it all here. Why are they not even looking at the papers and straight away from demolishing our home,” she said.

In the afternoon, Delhi L-G V K Saxena directed the DDA to stop the demolition drive at Mehrauli and Lado Sarai till further notice. This came after a delegation of affected residents met him and sought relief, citing anomalies in the demarcation of land carried out by the Delhi government in 2021.

Meanwhile, the L-G directed the Vice Chairman, DDA, and local administration to stop the demolition drive immediately and assured the residents that their grievances would be looked into and the anomalies, as pointed out by them, would be examined.

While many houses were saved, others were not so lucky. Mohammad Arif’s shop was grazed to the ground despite the order.

Arif used to sell air conditioners and pipes; he had been working in the area for generations. As he had gone to the court to seek relief, he received the news that his shop had been demolished. “It is nothing but rubble now,” he said, holding his head.

“We are pawns for this government. They play politics in our name and leave nothing behind. How am I going to feed my family? These people did not even let me take out my stuff,” he added.

Despite a government order issued Sunday, the demolition drive continued Monday and shops and houses located at Mehrauli Bus Terminal were pulled down by earthmovers under heavy police and paramilitary presence, even as residents repeatedly pleaded with the authorities to stop the demolition.

“I have also lost hope in the judiciary,” Arif said.

When the order reached the area, many people had left their homes in a rush. “My neighbors have left their homes in fear that their houses would be razed to the ground. But I do not have anywhere to go,” Nasir, a resident of the area, who has also received the notice, told Maktoob.

Sukhwinder Kaur’s house was razed to the ground, and she was crying inconsolably. “We have been living here for generations. Why did this suddenly happen? If they had asked to see the papers, we would have shown them to them,” she said.

There was heavy deployment in the area, with police also using force to control the crowd. According to sources, while stay has been given for some wards of Mehrauli, many may see demolition as they do not come under the jurisdiction.

AAP leader Somnath Bharti who brought the notice to the police after which the demolition stopped, thumped the party’s chest, saying it was them that stopped it.

However, Alam said it was nothing but a political stunt. “Why was my house demolished? They could have come on time and given the notice to stop the demolition, but because I am poor, my house was razed,” he added.

Reliance was placed on an order passed by the Delhi Government’s Minister of Revenue on February 11, directing a fresh demarcation of the whole area. The counsel submitted that despite the order, the SDM was not carrying out the fresh demarcation, and DDA was conducting demolition based on a previous demarcation conducted in 2021.

It was submitted that since there was already a direction from the Minister of Revenue to conduct a fresh demarcation of the area, no further demolition.

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