On February 14 evening, as the JCB arrived, three disabled siblings, Mohammad Aftab Alam and his sisters, watched their house being bulldozed to rubble, in a state of despair.
“Ab khula aasman hi aashiyana hai (now the open sky is the abode),” said Aftab, a disabled social worker, whose office – an NGO working for the disabled – too was destroyed in the Delhi Development Authority’s anti-encroachment drive in the Mehrauli archeological area.
Aftab’s family alleged that the demolition drive was “unjust” as they possess all legal documents for the house, besides paying utility bills for over 30 years.
“Moreover, my NGO Hind Yuva Viklang Mehruali Society is registered and have been working for people for many years, so how can all this be illegal,” Aftab asked.
While Delhi LG VK Saxena directed authorities to stop the anti-encroachment drive around 5 pm, several houses suffered heavy damage. But Aftab’s properties were completely destroyed.
Running roughshod over the capital’s poor, the drive has come a month ahead of a proposed G20 meeting at the park in south Delhi, which according to the DDA, has about 55 monuments under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India, state archeological department and the DDA.
Anguish and misery
“Gareeb ka ghar todne ke baad, gareeb kya karega (When the houses of the poor are destroyed, what will they do),” said Tabassum, one of Aftab’s three siblings, who spoke on the behalf of her disabled sisters.
“Do do jawaan viklang behne hai mere, unko sarak pe log kis nazar se dekhenge! Viklang behne khudko bacha bhi nahi paegi (I have two disabled sisters who wouldn’t even be able to protect themselves on the road),” she said.
Both sides of the road were strewn with the humble belongings of the villagers, who were being forced out of their houses as the JCB rolled inside amid heavy security. The area, which was once a quiet corner, and a shortcut to reach the tomb of Adham Khan, emperor Akbar’s general, was resonating with wails.
The residents of the village, which falls under the Ladha Sarai area, close to the Gandhak ki Baoli in Mehrauli, were slapped with a DDA notice to vacate their houses on February 9 for the demolition to begin from February 10. The villagers showed valid documents such as ration cards and water bills that are registered with the same address as that of their house and protested against the drive.
Their cause of taken up in the Delhi High Court on February 14 and a status quo was issued.
However, the demolition drive continued until the LG’s order came in few hours later on the same day.
On the court’s status quo order, SHO PC Yadav said that the cops “cannot do anything” until the hard copies arrive from the court.
“Unless we receive hard copies from the court and instruction from the DDA, we cannot stop the demolition drive. But we are responsible for the security of all,” he said.
Watching the demolition of Aftab’s house on the other side of the road and dreading the same for her own, Saniya Idris, a 15-year-old broke down in bitter tears.
“My CBSE 10th board exams will begin in two days and I am unable to study. How will I study? My books are scattered here and there. Some are now torn. My family has temporarily moved to a relative’s place at Vasant Kunj. But the whole time we are here, because we fear that our house will be demolished and we wouldn’t even see it for the last time,” she said.
A student of Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, Saniya said that she is mentally unable to calm herself down to sit for her studies. “Even if I try to prepare for my exams for one hour, I am so preoccupied with the thoughts of my home that I cannot focus,” she said.
Sitting beside Saniya, her aunt Sajreen, was inconsolable. “How will the children be able to bear all this? It’s traumatic even for adults, so for children, it’s unthinkable. They are constantly tensed and unable to sleep. How will they study,” she asked, while she gazed at all her belongings tossed on every corner of the road.
“Ab bachcho ke saamne ro bhi nahi sakte. Hum pet kaat kaatke ek ghar banate hai ji, aur ek jhatke mein aake sarkar tod deti hai. (We cannot cry in front of children. We have worked so hard to put together a house and now the government will destroy it in one strike). We are mostly all daily wage labourers. Authorities are not listening to the court, what will they listen to us? There is no humanity left,” lamented Sajreen. The only working person in her 6-member family is her husband, who works as a security guard in Kalkaji and is a cardiac patient.
There have been no announcements of compensation for the damages or rehabilitation from the DDA’s side yet.
Papers to no rescue
As the DDA’s JCB struck 63-year-old Abdul Sattar’s house, the LG’s order for an immediate stop came in and the anti-encroachment drive was called off. But his house was partially damaged.
“This is at least a setback of Rs 40,000 to 50,000 for us. It’s a huge amount for us, but still I would say that we are happy that our house was saved as for now. At this point, damage is still better than destruction,” said Fardeen, Abdul’s son.
“Unauthorised houses don’t have papers. Our house and land are properly registered on government terms, so how can one fine morning it becomes unauthorised? The authorities are not even offering any compensation or rehabilitation,” said Arshad, Fardeen’s elder brother.
During Patriot’s visit, none of the residents could share the hard copies of their documents as they were submitted to the police and the courts. But they showed their documents in soft copy format.
“Yeh log aake gareebo ka ghar tod rahe hai, viklango ka ghar tod rahe hai! (They are demolishing the houses of the poor and that of the disabled). At least they should provide rehabilitation to the disabled,” Arshad said.
Mohammad Saleem’s house was the first one to be demolished. “Whatever papers we are producing, including Aadhaar and ration cards, the authorities are labeling them as invalid. We have no clue why this is happening. Despite paying all our bills legally and carrying out our businesses peacefully,” Saleem said.
He continued, “Arey jis kaagaz ke aadhaar pe aap kal tak bijli, paani aur har tareeke ka bill bhej rahe the, wo aaj achanak se farzi ho gaya? Toh aap kis hisab se yeh saare bill maang rahe the? Hamein pehle hi bata dete ke hum gair kanuni tareeke se reh rahe hai. Tees saal baad kyun? (The documents based on which authorities issued our water and electricity bills, suddenly they are invalid now? Then, on what basis were you sending the bills? We should have been informed way earlier if this is illegal, why after 30 years?
“Besides, there have been sale of properties here. People took loans from banks to buy houses based on the same documents. This is totally skewed and unjust in our eyes,” he added.
According to Saleem, the only glimmer of hope in the area was the communal brotherhood. “This area is thickly populated by Muslims, but our Hindu friends have been there with us since the first day. On the first day, they stood with us shoulder-to-shoulder to stop the JCB on the road. In fact, the ones who are standing right now in front of the JCB, along with the residents of this place, are our Hindu friends,” said Saleem.
Issue of demarcation
The AAP on February 13 had alleged that the demolition drive was being carried out in Mehrauli despite the city government cancelling the demarcation order.
Speaking on the case, Somnath Bharti, AAP MLA and the legal representative of the bereaved in the case, explained to Patriot the three stages of the demolition. “The first stage of any anti-encroachment drive is the participation of the residents. Authorities have to get the residents to participate and [consider] their objections to the drive because they will be directly affected by it. The second step is to put the demolition order in public view for scrutiny once it is finalised. The other stage is the DLR Act, which empowers the District Commissioner and Revenue Officer (under section 28) to make the demarcation. But in urbanised villages, the DLR Act is not applicable. Therefore, there was violation of all the three stages. Besides, the DDA did not even involve the Delhi government. Thus, it was an easy case for us,” he said.
Meanwhile, Naresh Yadav, the AAP MLA from the Mehruali constituency termed the LG’s order “victory of people’s resistance and the court”.
“The court is the only place where we can expect justice now,” he told Patriot.
“The houses that the DDA is destroying come under the authorised lands. The confusion began with the demarcation order that the Delhi government had issued in 2021. But now, the Delhi government has withdrawn the demarcation order, so why are houses still being demolished,” said Richa Thakur, a Mehrauli-based social worker.
“People are living here for decades. Behind these houses, there are those living there for 70-100 years. How can you just destroy them? They are paying their bills legally, but living illegally, how does that make sense. Children have exams, it is completely inhuman,” she added.
The Patriot reached out to the DDA, however, there was no response to the queries.