Unsafe at home, safer on the streets?

In an attempt to follow the Lt Governor’s orders to identify and restore unsafe buildings in Delhi, the municipal corporations have carried out demolitions at short notice, forcing people out of their homes

Unsafe at home, safer on the streets?

Clothes hanging dry at an abandoned crumbling temple (All photos: Rohan Chauhan)

Following heavy rainfall and the multiple reports of buildings collapsing in Delhi, Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena had earlier asked civic bodies to identify buildings that are in imminent need of repair, should be demolished, and will be prone to damage and collapse in the upcoming monsoon season. 

Although the instructions were to identify such properties overnight, it took the MCD two weeks to carry out a survey, which revealed that there are 375 such buildings in the national capital. As many as 112 unsafe buildings were discovered in Paharganj, 14 of which were demolished. 

Over and above that number, 497 house owners were sent orders to fix their properties.

Collapsed buildings in Paharganj

The Municipal Corporation too was instructed to develop an action plan for an efficient disaster management strategy in conjunction with the District Magistrate to avoid mishaps in densely populated regions. However, there was no strategy in place for the citizens’ relocation.

Patriot visited Paharganj, one of the most dangerous localities with more than three prominent incidents in the last month, to check the on-ground situation.

The area has several buildings that are at a risk of collapsing. In this locality, one can get a room for a mere rent of Rs 1,000 for one month. person. In an area of 2.69 sq km, the estimated  population is 1,06,632. 

Crumbling temple

On reaching the location, Patriot found a notice outside a temple  stating that it had to be renovated in the next seven days.

The temple was registered under a trust and was in imminent need of repairs. The pillars holding the temple seemed like they would crumble at any moment. The sign board of the temple was damaged, and there were tall buildings with tenants alongside.

Not a soul could be seen in the temple, which had a small idol of Lord Shiva and long rope on which clothes were hung out to dry. 

A shopkeeper outside the temple premises says, “This shop has been here for the last seven years, and the condition of the temple has been like this since then.” No changes have been made whatsoever.

“Only a handful of people visit to pray daily,” he says. “No efforts have been made to restore the temple.” The public cannot contribute to the rebuilding as the bulk of individuals living here are daily wagers who do not have enough money for their basic requirements.

Caught unawares

A family living in the area had two walls of their house demolished by the MCD because they were deemed unsafe. Following the demolition, the family was instructed to restore the property within seven days.

Shyam, a rickshaw puller, was left homeless after a building adjacent to his house collapsed. As a preventive measure, two walls of his house were also demolished by the MCD.  

Shyam standing near his demolished home

“I realise that all of this is being done for the protection of my family, but what do we do now?”, Shyam asked.

He adds that his family is now forced to reside in a dharamshala with 60 other individuals. “There is no water facility. We’re living in a very crowded place with lots of women and children. It’s been almost 21 days since the last official update”, he says.”

The dharamshala is a large room with four fans and several individuals who are passively waiting for a change in fortune.

In one corner, their utensils are stored along with clothes. There is a small bathroom in the room with no toilet.

All these families are financially incapable of getting their houses repaired or rebuilt. 

Rendered homeless

Shyam, his mother, his five brothers along with their wives, and 14 children of the family are living in this dharamshala.

Pinky, Shyam’s mother says, “We had stayed in that house for generations. I recall living there for 45 years, and now, everything has been taken away from us. Half of our belongings are lost. We had to leave our luxuries, such as cooler fans and mixer grinders, with our neighbours. We don’t even have enough clothing. We were able to bring the gas cylinder with us so that we could cook and feed our children.”

Pinky adds that they have been visiting the municipal office regularly. “We requested that they create the roof and side walls, and then we’ll reorganise the home on our own, but we’ve been instructed to wait for that as well. It’s been over a month with no information from the MCD. The officials are unwilling to comprehend our circumstances and continue to avoid us”, she says.

Similar scenes played out in Karol Bagh, where a shopkeeper and the landlord of the unsafe building were asked to make the necessary repairs. Saying that they are incapable of doing so currently, the landlord says, “I’ve told the officials that I don’t have the money, nor am I going to do anything. We’ve been living here for a long time, and nothing has happened.” When Patriot contacted the officials in MCD, there was no reply.

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Rohan Chauhan
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