Scattered lives

- April 6, 2023
| By : Muhammad Tahir |

Demolition drive in various parts of the Capital due to the upcoming G20 Summit has left hundreds of people homeless, facing uncertain future

PAPERWORK: Rekha, who has lived with her husband and children in Moolchand Basti for years, shows documents that are proof of her residence

On a warm day, Pappu Rajbhar, a 42-year-old labourer with no home of his own, sat on a wall near a place that used to be his only refuge in the Capital.

Over the last few days, hundreds like Rajbhar have been rendered homeless after the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) demolished all night shelters on the Yamuna Pushta.

“The police, without any prior information, came here with a bulldozer and started demolishing the shelters while we were sleeping at night. We had to rush to the nearby Yamuna Bazaar shelters. However, they were already full,” recalls Pappu, who is a migrant labourer from eastern Uttar Pradesh.

These night shelters were the only place where he could rest and sleep over the last eight years while working in Delhi. At the end of each day, he would turn up at the shelters provided by the government on the banks of the Yamuna near Kashmiri Gate Inter-State Bus Terminus (ISBT), between Nigambodh Ghat and Qudsia Ghat to get a good night’s sleep.

Muhammad Shehzad is another who was living in these night shelters for the last 4-5 years but now finds himself homeless.

STREWN: Belongings of residents of Moolchand Basti near the Geeta Colony lie scattered in the open

Shehzad, who hails from Bihar and makes a living doing odd jobs, told Patriot, “We are very disturbed. We have lost our work too. They have even removed the water tankers. We are unable to bathe. Now we are dependent on water leaking from the Delhi Jal Board pipe for drinking.”

Some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and langars have stepped in and distributed food among the people. A van of langar came at around 1 pm when Patriot was on a visit there. It distributed food packets to all the homeless there.

But the problem of lack of shelter at night persists.

“We are sleeping on pavements or bridges but the Police Control Room (PCR) vehicle often comes and removes us. Our wages too have been affected. If we get permanent work, then we can at least rent a room,” he added.

On March 11, bulldozers demolished eight night shelters for the homeless at the Yamuna Pushta.

Faridi, who works in weddings, has been living here for the last two years.

PROOF: Bhupendra Kumar, who lives in the Janta Colony opposite Pragati Maidan, shows his electricity bill as proof of his legal residence

“After demolition, I slept near a jhuggi (slum) and paid Rs 20 per night. Ye bahut bada sahara tha hamara (this night shelter was very helpful to us),” he told Patriot.

Deshraj, who hails from Jammu’s Kathua district, and Mahesh, who is from Bihar’s Bhagalpur district, also often sit idly on a well near the destroyed site nowadays.

They face problems similar to those encountered by Rajbhar, Shahzad and Faridi.

Preparation for big-ticket event

The demolition is taking place in light of the upcoming G20 Summit. India currently holds the presidency of G20, an inter-governmental forum comprising 19 countries and European Union.

The G20 Summit will be held at the Pragati Maidan in September and will feature foreign delegates and dignitaries.

Thousands of residents in Janta Colony near Pragati Maidan have already been served eviction notice which landed in the last week of January.

Bhupendra Kumar, 40, is one of those affected. He is concerned about his and child’s future.

HUNGRY STOMACHS: Food being distributed to the displaced people near the Yamuna Pushta

“We are unable to work properly, since children’s care is a priority,” he told Patriot.

Bhupendra, who hails from Bihar’s Khagaria district has been living in Janta Colony, Bhairon Road, outside the Pragati Maidan gate No. 1 for the last 25 years.

He runs a small grocery shop outside the colony on a cart while his wife runs the same inside the jhuggi cluster. He has challenged the eviction notice in the Delhi High Court.

“First, we filed an application to the CM (Chief Minister) and the LG (Lieutenant Governor) pointing out that the future of hundreds of students would be dark if we vacate. When nothing happened, I filed a case in the High Court. The hearing will be on April 6.”

Janta Colony is a mixed slum area, where people from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and other states have lived for three decades. It is home to over 300 people.

For the upcoming G20 summit, more than 50 jhuggis have got notices of eviction.

Bhupendra complained, “During the election, the government had promised – jahaan jhuggi, wahin makan, but ab kya hua (where there is a slum, there will be a house, but what has happened now). We have original proofs of identification — electricity bills, Aadhar and other documents. There is no improvement in the situation of the poor. Do we search for livelihood or teach children?”

A few days ago, a junior engineer from the authorities came and said that he will build a wall outside the jhuggi, isolating it. But before any demolition activity could be carried out, the Delhi High Court, on February 14, ordered a stay on the notice. It asked the government authorities to file a report.

Iliyas Malik, 51, has been running a tyre puncture shop since 1997. He is concerned about his shop and shows the eviction notice on his phone.

A notice by the Public Works Department (PWD) threatening action against residents of Janta Colony near Pragati Maidan

“If the government removes us, we will have to think about something else. But it has never happened like this before.”

Not just people, animals too

Besides the colony, a gaushala (cow shelter) has also got a notice to vacate.

Mahant Aditya Puri has been running this for the last 15 years.

“Our matter is also in the court. If the government will provide us with space anywhere else, then okay. Otherwise, we will send these cows to another gaushala. But we want the government to provide some alternate place to these people or shift them anywhere else so that they can lead their lives in ease.”

Last week, the DUSIB bulldozed Moolchand Basti in Shanti Van, near the Geeta Colony flyover.

Several farmers lived here and cultivated the floodplains. Like others, they are also now uncertain about future and are living under the open sky after demolition of their homes.

They also claim that they have been living here for over a century.

Rekha, 41, has lived here with husband and children for years.

“The officials came here with police force and bulldozer and demolished our homes. They did this for four consecutive days. Unfortunately, rain made matters worse and our stuff got wet due to it. How can we vacate this area when we and our forefathers have been living here for over a century. The government should, at least, provide us with an alternate home somewhere. If we vacate this site, our children’s education also will get affected.”

“They want to clean this area for the upcoming G20 summit and remove the slums. We are also Indians. Why is this injustice being meted out to us? The police come daily and tells us to leave and threaten to impose a case on us. They are disturbing us even now when everything has been demolished. The people of this basti have sent around 10 trucks of belongings to other places. We had filed a case in the court but the judgement did not come in our favour. Now we are filing the case in the upper court. We have lost hope but we will not vacate this place. Instead, we will sit on the road. Because we have no other way. We will either protest on the road or die,” she concluded.

WATER SCARCITY: Muhammad Shehzad and others fill cans from water leaking from the Delhi Jal Board pipe

Jagdish, 55, who was sitting on a charpoy near his bulldozed home, said in a tone of resignation, “We have been living here since 1913. My grandfather came here from Rajasthan but I was born here. We have documents from the British era. But they have destroyed everything, including the hand-pump and bore. They did not spare even the bags and books of children.

“We are unable to perform our basic needs. We go to Rajghat to procure drinking water. They have asked us to go to night-shelters. Can any family live in night shelters? We are so hurt and angry,” he concluded painfully.