As a young man, Jainath Mishra, now 36 years old, wanted to join the CBI. He gave the written test after completing his BCom degree, but during the medical test, he found that he was suffering from leprosy.
Jainath let go of his dreams and came to Delhi, working as a helper at a factory. A resident of the Tahirpur Leprosy Complex since 2002, Jainath says that he lost touch with his family in West Bengal and was denied rooms on rent in Delhi due to the disease.
“People think we are untouchable. My wife and I lived in a jhuggi on a pavement till last year. Now we stay in a room at the Tahirpur Complex. We have all our medical documents but the government has not given us a house or the pension that we are supposed to get,” he says.
Jainath is one of the hundreds of Leprosy Affected Persons (LAPs) living in the Tahirpur Complex, who have been struggling to get housing and pension benefits as promised by the government under various welfare schemes.
The complex includes several “ashrams” and “samitis”, with a total of 774 “quarters” for the LAPs created by the Hope Foundation, and others constructed by the residents. Since 2004, the LAPs have been fighting a legal battle to have “healthy persons” occupying land and houses evicted, so that houses can be allotted to the waiting leprosy patients.
Ram Babu, 39, had to file an FIR in December after a “goon” in the area allegedly beat him up. “I live at a toilet complex because we have no other place to live in. Last month, one of the men living in the area beat me up because he said I was blocking the way to the toilet,” says Ram Babu.
On Tuesday, the Delhi High Court came down heavily on the Social Welfare Department, after noting that a report by the area SDM in 2009 had identified that out of the 1,810 houses in the area, there were only 194 “legal occupants”.
The unauthorised colonies have grown since 2009, prompting Justice Manmohan to observe on Tuesday that the “rampant encroachment” was “a result of collusion and tacit support” by officials of the civic agencies and the Social Welfare department.
“The welfare scheme is standing on its head,” observed the bench, which took judicial notice of the fact that several LAPs are “found squatting on pavements, in public places and religious institutions” because there was “no accommodation left in the complex to rehabilitate LAPs” due to “rampant encroachment”.
The court in its order dismissed a plea filed by residents of the unauthorised colonies against the eviction notices issued to them. The bench has now lifted the stay order against demolition of unauthorised structures in the Tahirpur Complex, leaving several hundred houses in the “unauthorised” colonies open to demolition proceedings.