Thousands of Delhi’s most needy residents were left out in the cold on Tuesday. About 900 housing units in the Rangpuri Pahadi jhuggi-jhopari on the southern edge of Vasant Kunj were demolished on Tuesday leaving potentially 4,000 people homeless just as winter takes hold. They do not even have the comfort of knowing why, as the agencies involved — Forest and Revenue departments — bickered over who should have sent the slum-dwellers an eviction notice before the bulldozers moved in. The local RWA president, Inderpal, confirmed no eviction notice was served.
Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) said the Forest department of Delhi is the land-owning agency in Rangpuri. The Vasant Kunj (South) police officers reportedly received a request for force from the forest department at 11 am. At least 50 policemen, including women officers, were sent for the demolition, police said.
The residents, however, said the demolition was “completely unexpected”. Asha Verma, 38, who works as a domestic help, said no eviction notice was served to anyone. Her husband, a daily-wager, had bought their two-room set from a local property dealer for Rs 1.5 lakh two years ago.”
“I had borrowed money from my employers. I still have Rs 40,000 left to repay. Forest officials had promised us that they wouldn’t demolish our house,” Asha said.
As the couple looked on amidst clouds of dust, a bulldozer rammed into the lime-green walls, reducing their home to rubble. Clad in a navy blue uniform, Asha’s 8-year old daughter Vandana — the youngest of five siblings — sat clutching at her pet rabbit. It was all she could save from her belongings.
“The government says we have encroached on the forest land. If that is the case, why did they give us water and electricity connections? Our voter ID and Aadhar cards have this address. Even the bank accounts under Jan Dhan scheme were opened with this address proof two months ago.” Asha said. Others who lost their homes asked the same questions.
Mohamamd Shafiq, a painter, said, “They did not bother to serve us an eviction notice? Where do we take our children now in this cold?”
Chief conservator of Forest department, A K Shukla, said serving the eviction notice was “ideally” the responsibility of Revenue department.
“As per the 1996 Supreme Court order, the jurisdiction of reserved forests is with us. The revenue authorities have to clear the area of encroachment and hand over the land to us. If our land has been taken over illegally, we have the right to demolish those constructions,” Shukla said.
The revenue department, however, refuted the claim. “The land does not belong to us. So how can we serve an eviction notice? We are not aware of the demolition and never served any notice,” Sonal Swaroop, SDM, New Delhi, said.