Located in the shadow of the 700-year-old ruins of south Delhi’s Tughlaqabad Fort, the village of Tughlakabad holds its breath, anticipating bad news. The High Court has been monitoring the order passed by the Supreme Court in connection with the demolition of “encroachments” on roughly 1,000 bighas around the fort. In 2011, the apex court had ordered demolition of houses close to the fort, saying that the Delhi HC should not have stayed the eviction of Tughlakabad residents earlier.
As court hearings go on, residents keep a close watch on the case. Lawyers in the locality said that in August this year, the HC adjourned the matter to next month, asking DDA to submit documents on the region’s population and statistical data.
Cramped with three-storey buildings and thousands of residents, the settlement is one of the oldest urban villages in the city, believed to be as old as the fort, built by Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq.
Shashi Kangar, an advocate and a resident of Kangar Mohalla, says Tughlakabad village was a ‘Lal Dora’ area earlier, exempt from municipal and building by-laws. “Rajasthani Kangars have been living here for almost 700 years… they settled here when the fort was being built. Gujjars from neighbouring states came here later. In the last few decades, they built tenements to rent out to Bengalis, Balmikis and Biharis. But the Delhi government handed over 2,700 bighas of the village land to the ASI in 1995. The ASI demanded that tenements on roughly 400 bighas be demolished. This grew to over 900 bighas, with nearly 70,000 people likely to be affected when a survey was conducted more recently,” says Kangar.
Among those living under the threat of demolition are members of Sikh families who came to India from Pakistan after Partition.
Sabrai Kaur, 85, says, “I was a newlywed when my family and I had to flee our village after riots broke out. We lived in Bahawalpur, a settlement in Pakistan’s Punjab province. We managed to reach India in bullock carts.” For the next 15 years, Kaur lived in makeshift camps and houses across Delhi. She was eventually allotted a plot in Tughlakabad village. “Nearly 50 refugee families were given land which belonged to Muslim families that fled to Pakistan in 1947. For years, we survived on water from the wells inside Tughlaqabad Fort,” says Kaur.
In the years since, many Sikh families have moved out of Tuglakabad’s Sardar Mohalla, looking for a better life and an easier source of water. The depleted water levels in the arid ridges of the Aravalli, where the fort is located, has forced many residents to leave. The ones who stayed behind have to depend on water from tankers, which struggle to make their way through the narrow lanes of the village.