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Clean sweep

The bold anti-encroachment drive in Noida has led to reclaiming of acres of valuable government land. street vendors displaced from pavements have been promised rehabilitation in special zones

In a bold step undertaken by the New Okhla Industrial Development Authority (NOIDA), an anti-encroachment drive has been carried out across Noida city. The crackdown brought nightmares for those occupying government land illegally as also  roadside vendors.

An anti-encroachment drive by the Authority is not new but the manner in which it has been carried out this time under the new CEO Ritu Maheshwari has made it a clean sweep as even makeshift shops and roadside eateries were wiped out.

For instance, the drive targeted an illegal banquet hall built in Sector 110. The land was acquired in 1995 and later on, a registered contractor Suresh Garg bought the land in his son’s name Vivek Garg, allegedly after producing a fake statement. They built a banquet hall named Paras Marriage Hall. Noida Authority had served notices over the illegal structure, to which Garg did not respond. After registering an FIR at the Noida Phase 2 police station, Maheshwari ordered the demolition of the hall.

In a news report, the Authority’s OSD MP Singh revealed that about 1,000 tonnes iron was used in the hall, in addition to which there was a false ceiling with air-conditioning ducts. The cost of the operation was to be recovered from the contractor.

Talking to the Patriot, the Authority’s General Manager Civil (K) KK Agarwal said that it’s not a new development. The Authority keeps on carrying out anti-encroachment drives as and when it gets the
information.

“The biggest problem we face today is the shortage of staff. We act upon the information we receive but due to less staff, it gets tough for us to communicate with certain channels and there remains a gap or delay in encroachment drive. We got a 13-hectare land vacated which was encroached upon by the locals and came under the green belt,” said Agarwal.

When asked about the swiftness in the anti-encroachment drive since the new CEO came in, Agarwal said, “It’s not like we were not doing it earlier, the only thing is this time the focus was to remove illegal encroachment. Much more reporting was done by the media.”

Detailing the future action plan, Agarwal said, “After making a vendor’s zone, the Authority, on the directions of Ritu Ma’am will be hitting the shops which encroach on the spaces meant for pedestrians and a line will be defined for them, beyond which no one can station their materials or expand their shop. We have sent notices to several people running OYO rooms. Now we will start the drive again.”

The new CEO has also cracked down on her own organisation. Two officials were suspended, while five others were asked to desist from attending to their duties with immediate effect. She found irregularities in their work in Noida’s Sector 55, 57, 62 and 63 respectively.

Besides Paras Marriage Hall in Sector 110, Rama Banquet Hall spread over 5,000 sq metre was also demolished on August 26. The ‘owners’ Suresh Garg and Brijpal Choudhary had allegedly illegally occupied the land. Both were associated with the Noida Authority as a contractor and engineer respectively. But the authority could not demolish the entire structure as the owners procured a ‘status quo’ order from the Allahabad High Court.

The value of this land is Rs 50 crore and it was acquired by the authority in 1995. Just adjacent to Paras, whose 3,500 sq metre plot was worth Rs 55 crore, the total cost of the entire land is more than Rs 100 crore.

Ritu Maheshwari has clearly ordered a crackdown on all the illegal possessions acquired by real estate agents, businessmen, vendors and Authority officials etc. and has said that “stringent action will be taken against those found guilty and an investigation will be done in all the matters.”

Public sector banks which have defaulted on rent also faced the music. Allotment of properties leased to three banks, namely SBI, Vijaya Bank and Canara Bank have been cancelled after they defaulted — SBI alone owes Rs 144.13 crore. Canara bank owes Rs 6.16 crore while Vijaya bank owes Rs 1.67 crore, both against properties in Sector 6. Two banks have paid part of the arrears.

The drive also targeted street vendors, who staged sit-in protests in front of the Authority office. The protest gained momentum when it garnered support from the labour and trade organisation, Centre of Indian Trade Unions of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Expressing their dismay over Authorities’ action, the roadside vendors said that their entire family survives on the makeshift shops and they will be on the road if something is not done.

Speaking to the Patriot, a daily vendor Dinesh said: “It’s my only source of income. Our children will not be able to go to school, as we will not be able to submit their fees.” About the drive in Noida’s Sector 58, says, “Every inch has been razed by the authority and some vendors’ materials were also taken away.” Denying the official claim of traffic congestion, Dinesh said, “Now after we have been removed, go and see for yourself if the traffic situation has improved. We could have moved further away from the road, had they given us any warning but that did not happen.”

A woman who had a stall selling tea and samosas in Sector 62 near Fortis Hospital felt Prime Minister Narendra Modi “should intervene and resolve our issues as we voted for Achhe Din (Good days).”

The Authority’s Agarwal, when asked about the removal of vendors from roadsides, replied, “CEO Rita Maheshwari has decided to create a vendor’s zone and more than 1,000 of them have already been registered and identified out of the 8,000 applicants.”

Agarwal adds, “These street vendors are also part of our society and fulfill the needs of the city. Right now it’s topmost on our agenda to accommodate them in a vendor’s zone.” He showed his notepad wherein the top three items included the vendors’ fate.

An accusation of protestors has been that the land is now being used as a parking zone. Patriot’s visits to Sector 1 to Sector 18 found this claim to be true as very few makeshift shops were visible but the entire area is occupied by cars and two-wheelers.

Asked about this, a shop owner said, “This is not an authorised parking lot. Everyone parks here at their own risk.” Agarwal assured, “Action is being taken against illegal parking as well.”