Ironically, Saurabh Bhardwaj, Minister of Urban Development in the Delhi Government, said he has no information about the demolition and eviction drives taking place. “The demolitions are being carried out without any study and purportedly in the wake of the G20 summit among other reasons”, Sunil Kumar Aledia, Executive Director of the Centre for Holistic Development, said in a petition before the Delhi High Court
Ghazala Ahmad | Clarion India
NEW DELHI — The most marginalised segments of society and the have-nots are paying a heavy price as the authorities apparently are trying to spruce up the capital city for the upcoming G20 summit. Over the past six months, hundreds of eviction drives have taken place across the city leaving thousands of people homeless with the authorities razing their homes without giving any thought to their rehabilitation or resettlement.
The Group of 20 (G20) is a forum of the largest industrialised and developing nations in the world. Its latest edition will take place in New Delhi in September 2023 as part of India’s G20 presidency. It will be attended by leaders from the world’s largest economies.
Ahead of the G20 Summit, the Public Works Department (PWD) is revamping the stretch around Dhaula Kuan and surrounding areas connecting to the airport to welcome foreign dignitaries. PWD is redeveloping an eight-km-long stretch starting from Dhaula Kuan to NSG Junction to the airport road, media reports said.
The latest eviction drive was carried out in Moolchand Basti on Monday, 20 March, wherein nearly 50 houses, belonging to urban agriculturists and dairy workers, were razed to the ground. The inhabitants, all from the economically weaker sections of society, were occupying their houses for decades.
Moolchand Basti was home to nearly 50 families and now they all are forced to live on streets in makeshift shelters which offer little or no protection from the vagaries of weather and other dangers associated with living in the open.
Rekha, 39, a resident of Moolchand Basti, told Clarion India, “We were inhumanely dragged out of the houses. All this was done without any prior information or intimation to the residents, without even ensuring any rehabilitation or relocation.”
She said, “We have been living here for decades. We have all the documents to substantiate that we have been living here since 1913. But they just came with bulldozers and asked us to vacate our homes.”
Her voice choked as she recalled an official telling her: “Tumhare baap ki zameen nahi hai yeh, niklo yahan se (This is not your father’s land, get out of here).”
“Didi koi insaniyat nahi hai kya, aise kaise chale jayen (Sister, is there no humanity left, how can we leave like this?” she asked speaking to Clarion India.
The occupants said they were not given any reason before razing their homes. “They did not even let us collect our things,” Rekha said.
She alleged that Delhi Police were harassing her and her family and asking them to go to “rain basera”, temporary night shelters established by Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB).
Hira Lal, 49, who works as a painter, said his small, crudely built shack was still intact. But he is apprehensive that the authorities could demolish it any time soon. He said, “We were just sitting and they came with bulldozers and 19 families went homeless in a jiffy.”
A similar eviction drive also took place at Jawahar Shramik Sathal on Yamuna Pushta on Friday, 10 March. Here too, marauding bulldozers demolished at least eight night shelters near the Interstate Bus Terminal at Kashmere Gate.
The demolition drive met with stiff resistance from the residents who claimed to have been living in the area for generations and now have nowhere else to go. Human rights groups have also condemned the move, saying it clearly violates the rights of the affected residents.
Sunil Kumar Aledia, Executive Director of an organisation called the Centre for Holistic Development, told Clarion India: “This is being done to cover up the real side of India. The poor are being removed completely from the sight of the foreign delegates who will attend the G20 summit.”
“How come the urban development minister has no information on these eviction drives? How can he be unaware that all these people are going to be homeless?” he asked.
He claimed that everyone was involved: from DUSIB to DDA (Delhi Development Authority), and even Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who also happens to be the DUSIB chairman. He has the authority to stop these demolitions. He could have intervened.”
Just before the eviction drive began in Yamuna Pushta, Aledia sent a formal letter to Lieutenant Governor Vinay Kumar Saxena, seeking his intervention to stop the demolition of 10 porta cabins sheltering at least 1,135 people.
“Many of these shelters were established pursuant to orders passed by the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court,” Aledia’s letter accessed by Clarion India reads.
The letter says these porta cabins could accommodate 5,000 homeless people, mostly laborers who find it convenient to live in them.
“There was a shifting drive by the Delhi government wherein the homeless people from the area were forcefully taken away with the help of Delhi Police,” the letter claimed.
Aledia also alleged that a night shelter at Sarai Kale Khan was demolished on 15 February “without any prior information.”
Ironically, Saurabh Bhardwaj, Minister of Urban Development in the Delhi Government, said he has no information about the demolition and eviction drives taking place.
On March 10, as at least 1,200 people were rendered homeless with night shelters near Kashmere Gate being razed a week before, media reports suggested that Bhardwaj reached out to DUSIB officials asking them where from they got the orders to remove the shelters.
Calling it a serious lapse, Bhardwaj wrote a letter to DUSIB to seek information about the demolitions and directed the executive officer to take “explicit” permission from the chairman of DUSIB, Arvind Kejriwal, before carrying out any further demolition drive.
In the letter accessed by Clarion India, he said that he was shocked and dismayed to learn that approximately 1,185 people were made homeless without any notice.
The minister mentioned in the letter that night shelters at Yamuna Pushta were demolished by the DUSIB, an agency of the Delhi government responsible for civic amenities and resettlement of slums and makeshift settlements.
“There were hundreds of homeless persons who were further rendered homeless by this illegal action of DUSIB officials. Surprisingly, officials of DUSIB have acted without any information, intimation, or permission from the government”, the letter reads.
He said he was surprised by the unilateral action taken by DUSIB, violating all norms and the Supreme Court’s order to provide shelter to homeless people.
“Visuals of the eviction are available to see how homeless persons were dragged out of the shelter during the night,” the letter said.
However, V.S. Fonia, deputy director of the DUSIB, refuted the claims. Speaking to Clarion India, he said: “The action was taken only after informing the government, we didn’t take any action on our own.”
He said that these evictions and demolitions are not being done for the G20 summit.
“It was done at the request of the Delhi Development Authority and the horticulture department. They needed that area for some operation,” he said.
“We have ensured rehabilitation of the affected residents and will also give appropriate compensation,” he said.
When asked about the letter sent by minister Bhardwaj, the deputy director of DUSIB said: “We have sent a response to the queries and have made our stand clear.”
However, he refused to furnish a copy of the response.
“Will be able to send it on Monday,” he said.
Human rights groups, working in various areas to facilitate, rehabilitate and provide relief to these homeless people, have also raised concerns over the demolition process.
They argue that the government should have consulted the residents and provided them with alternative housing before resorting to demolition, at least on humanitarian grounds.
Neha Tiwari, a member of Awas Adhikar Manch (AAM), a voluntary organisation providing relief to those affected by the ‘arbitrary’ eviction drives, told Clarion India that “demolitions are taking place at various places, but the reasons are not clear.”
“We at AAM are trying to build a local solidarity network to fight these arbitrary bulldozer drives that are being carried out without any due process”, she said.
She further said her organisation is trying to help those affected through different ways, such as extending legal help in some cases, providing them temporary shelter, or giving them even immediate relief such as food and other essentials”.
Teams from AAM have provided voluntary services in several areas including Moolchand Basti, Mehrauli, and Kharak Satbari.
It is unclear why these demolitions are being carried out, but one thing is clear these drives have left thousands of people roofless.
“Now we are forced to live on streets and there is no rehabilitation on the cards”, said Rekha, whose extended family has over a dozen members.
The Court’s Intervention:
On behalf of 11 beneficiaries of night shelters, Aledia on March 9 filed a petition in the High Court seeking a stay on demolitions arguing that UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) had also emphasised on the need for adequate housing for the homeless persons and right to shelter is included in the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Thus, the petition said, it was an obligation of the State to provide shelter to homeless people.
“These demolitions are being carried out without any study and purportedly in the wake of the G20 summit among other reasons”, Aledia said in the petition.
The court allowed the counsel for the petitioner to inspect a new shelter for the relocation of these people and report back on March 14, but the demolition was carried out on March 10.
“They did not wait for the next hearing and demolished the cabins”, Aledia said.
The Delhi High Court dismissed the petition on March 14.
Aledia said the court ordered a rehabilitation of the affected people but nothing has been done yet in this regard.
But Fonia, the DUSIB official, insists that the affected persons have been shifted to other locations.
“We have shifted them to Rohini, Dwarka and Geetu Colony”, he told Clarion India.
When asked about the exact locations of resettlement, he again said he will be able to tell it only on Monday.