Even as campaigning for the municipal elections gathers steam in his neighbourhood in Paharganj, Shyam, a young rickshaw puller, finds himself facing an uncertain future.
Three months ago, he was evicted from his home after the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) acted on a study which found 375 structures in the Capital hazardous. The bulk of these buildings according to the study, conducted by civic bodies themselves in June, are located in Paharganj, Civil Lines and Chandni Chowk.
“My family is homeless; the problems are becoming worse by the day, and there is no ray of hope in sight,” Shyam told Patriot.
The authorities had asked the residents of the hazardous buildings to vacate their premises and rebuild them elsewhere.
However, those like Shyam who couldn’t afford to rebuild their homes, had sought financial help from the authorities. But their requests fell on deaf ears as the corporation got busy with the elections.
“No one has assisted us over the previous three months,” he complains.
Two walls of Shyam’s house were demolished by the corporation. Following this, the family was instructed to restore the property within seven days.
Because the family was financially strained, they requested financial assistance from the officials in order to re-establish a roof over their heads but were told to wait “while the situation was investigated”.
Shyam had to live in a temple subsequently after which he moved into his relatives’ house.
The family of twelve is currently living in a make-shift home provided by his relatives just 10 minutes walk from the Ramakrishna Ashram metro station. But it won’t be long before they have to look for an alternate accommodation since they have been asked to vacate the makeshift premises by their relatives.
“We continued going to the officials for assistance. They continued delaying, and when we last went there, they informed us that because the [process of] elections had begun the paperwork could not be completed. They told us to return [only] after the polls were completed,” complained Shyam.
“These folks are just concerned about their votes, not about us. You have no clue what my family has been through in the previous three months. I lost my older brother, we had to leave the hospice [where the brother was admitted], and we eventually opted to return to our devastated house. We’re now living in a house without a roof, with only a tarpaulin sheet over our heads,” said Shyam exasperatedly.
Shyam showed his dilapidated house, where his late brother’s family currently resides. There was no ceiling or walls in the little space on the first floor. A little charpai (cot) was kept away as a sidewall to protect the people from falling while sleeping.
Asked if he has tried highlighting the issue during the ongoing political campaigns, Shyam replied frustratedly, “Hum sab karke baith chuke hai, bhaiya koi sunwayi nahi hoti (We’ve tried everything but nothing seems to be working).”
In trying to prevent Shyam and others from living in dangerous structures, it seems the authorities have left them even more unsafe.
“This election is pointless for us. If they can’t even assist us in repairing our homes, why did they destroy it in the first place? They said that our house is unsafe. Are we safer now that the family members have been forced to live on the streets?” asked Shyam.
Nearby, in the election office of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was in power in the MCD till its reunification in June this year, no one was present to answer questions about the plight of Shyam and others like him.
Less than three kilometres away from Paharganj is Chandni Chowk, filled by a cluster of old buildings many of which have been deemed unsafe.
The example of safety problems came on Thursday when Chandni Chowk’s Bhagirath Palace area, which houses the markets for electrical goods and medicines, caught fire destroying over 50 shops.
The narrow streets and the fact that the shops are close to each other made it difficult for fire tenders to reach the scene.
“We have no idea what we are going to do next,” Gunjan Radheshyam, who owned an electric appliance shop in the Bhagirath Palace, told Patriot. “My shop was the third shop from the starting lane, and I have no insurance, and we have no idea how much loss we have incurred because the fire is still burning.”
He’s hoping for some financial assistance from MCD now that the elections are over. According to Radheshyam, “We have no hope of receiving outside assistance. If someone comes out and helps us, it will be like a bonus for which we will be eternally grateful.”
Tarun Jindal, another businessman who suffered losses in the Bhagirath fire, said, “We can’t hope for help from outside; it’s the shopkeepers who have to come along at a time like this because not just one but 81 shops are burnt. We have no idea what happened and how much loss we have suffered.”
Touching the lives of about two crore people and addressing concerns such as healthcare, sanitation, building and education which are the pillars of life, the MCD is the primary point of contact for most people.
The next week promises a fascinating spectacle full of power, drama, mind games, and blame-game in a battle for power to govern the civic matters of the country’s political capital. The Bharatiya Janata Party has a chance to score a hattrick and return to power for the third consecutive time, whereas the Aam Aadmi Party will be hoping to upstage them and govern Delhi’s civic body besides the Delhi government.
But the larger question of people without a roof over their heads in this biting cold, may still remain unanswered.
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