Following a directive from the Supreme Court to evict illegal settlements in the Khori village of Faridabad, residents of the village face an uncertain future amidst the pandemic
On June 7, uncertainty gripped the minds of residents of Lakarpur Khori, a small village on the foothills of the Aravali hills in the Faridabad district of Haryana. The cause for this uncertainty? A directive to the Haryana government and Faridabad Municipal Corporation from the Supreme Court to demolish some 10,000 residential structures in the Aravali forest area, allegedly housing around one lakh population.
The court’s directive came with the observation that since the land on which these residential structures stand are part of the Aravali forest, land grabbers cannot refuse rule of law and stay put. The Court also sought compliance reports within six weeks from state government officials, and directed the Superintendent of Police to provide logistical support for the eviction process.
Despite the rugged terrain of the area, people living in these parts have made this their home and the directive has the residents in a difficult spot as they have nowhere to go. Prabhat, a resident of the village said, “Where will we go now? The villagers claim that even the water and electricity supply has been removed. We are drinking dirty water, and there is fear of Coronavirus. Police don’t even allow water tankers to enter this area,” he adds.
The police on their part deny the claim, saying that checkpoints have been put up only as a safety measure “We have just set up checkpoints for safety purposes, we are not halting anything”, says an ASI posted here.
Earlier too demolition drives were undertaken in the village amidst the pandemic. Back then the municipal corporation had razed illegal constructions following directives from the SC to the corporation to remove the illegal structures as the land was notified under section 4 & 5 of Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA).
This law initially applicable in Punjab was later extended to Haryana, where Khori village is located. As per the act, “Areas of northern Haryana along the Shivalik hills which are prone to soil erosion due to water flow in the rugged and sloppy terrain along with areas of southern and western Haryana which are prone to erosion both by air and water have been put under restriction of certain activities under this law.” Court now reiterated the earlier order.
Construction on the ecologically sensitive Aravalli region has forced the government too on a difficult spot. With high demand for housing in urban centres by the poor, rehabilitation of displaced poor residents is a big challenge.
Why was the settlement allowed in the first place
It is a mystery as to how such a settlement was allowed on forest land. Residents claim that they had bought lands here, after which they had settled.“Nobody here came overnight, people have been living here for more than 10 years — I have been living here since 2004, some have been living here since 2001, 2002. For many years nothing happened, but in the last six months they demolished our basti twice. Where should we go.” Samsher, a resident, told the Patriot in April.
The villagers claim that they bought the land because they were told that it will come under Delhi. The reasoning being that if the land came under Delhi, under which as per the Delhi Slum rehabilitation policy, slums that came into existence before 2015 can not be demolished without alternative housing. While Haryana’s own Slum rehabilitation act set the cutoff date to 2003.
Mamta, another resident, said, “We used to think that Khori is part of Delhi and if we were to get displaced, some other place would be provided. But now we are told that it is in Faridabad. We won’t leave unless we are provided with alternative housing, she stresses”.
Ishita Chatterjee, a researcher, wrote in an article, “Due to the absence of any border marker, the edge between Delhi and Faridabad has been an ambiguous zone. This ambiguity has been exploited by the land mafia, who sold the plots to the residents.”
People residing here are mostly migrant labourers settled between 1970- 90, who were involved in the quarry industry located close to the settlement. Now, labourers who migrated from almost all northern states have settled here and are involved in informal jobs like auto driver, domestic help, labourers etc.
“Fear of losing home”
Residents living in the Lakarpur Khori village fear they will be homeless if the eviction drive is undertaken. And with nowhere else to go, villagers are panicking. A 70-year-old resident Ganeshi Lal has died by suicide, allegedly due to fear of losing his house, that he built by investing his savings. “Many are thinking of taking such a step, where will we go?” says Adil Khan, a resident here.
“When we have built our homes here, the government wants us to evict. We haven’t got anything free here, we bought land, invested everything we had earned. How can the government now raze everything? There are hotels and complexes on the same forest land, what about it. Will the government also evict them,” said another resident.
“We have ration cards, why do they give us ration on ration cards? We cast votes, politicians promise us that they will build roads, and we will not be evicted, where are they now?”. Residents of the village have been given Aadhar cards with their place of residence as the village based on their voter id, they say that if their addresses are valid then why are they being evicted.
Residents claim that forest officials, bureaucrats and police officers were well aware that we live here. “If this land was illegal, why were we provided electricity and water? We bribed these officers, they are hiding their faces now. Why did they allow us to build a home then” said a resident.