As you walk towards the hillock in Khera Kalan village, there’s barely a single house that doesn’t have cracks — some big enough to put a hand through, others small but more extensive. The walk, perhaps, best explains why the village is deemed the most “dangerous” area under the North corporation — of the 118 buildings declared dangerous by the civic body, 91 are in Khera Kalan.
For residents of the village — located at a height of 40 feet and comprising 250 houses, some of them vacant — life means living in fear. But despite several notices from the corporation asking owners to vacate, many have stayed put, saying they have nowhere else to go.
Take, for instance, Sunita Sharma (40), who is shaken every time she hears a noise at night. A portion of the house next to hers had collapsed during the rain last year; her own house has cracks on the staircase, walls and terrace. “The cracks on the terrace were so wide that water seeped in. I got them filled with coal tar,” she said.
Sunita shifted here in 2000 as property rates were considerably cheaper. But she regrets that decision every day, having to spend upwards of Rs 50,000 per year on repairs: “The homes were cheaper but we are paying the price by living in constant fear.”
A senior corporation official said the foundation is uneven, making buildings prone to structural damage. He added that the soil has a weak bearing capacity as it is sandy. Villagers said the hillock used to be a refuge during floods, but over the last hundred years, people started living here permanently.
Kanwar Singh (67) has been getting a new house constructed after the old one collapsed six months ago. “I was lucky because my wife and I were at our children’s house, in the village below the hillock,” he said.
Area councillor Nisha Mann said former Chief Minister Saheb Singh Verma had, in 1996-97, offered a chance to the residents to move to another area, but many refused. “Some wanted to hold on to their land as well as the new properties. But many have now understood that living here is not safe. We request the Delhi government to do something to rehabilitate them,” she said.
A senior civic body official said , “We have issued notices to 91 houses depending on the seriousness of the cracks. Some have been asked to vacate, while some houses will be repaired. Every house on this hillock has cracks.”
Umeed Singh (55) points to another reason for the area’s woes: “People have abandoned their houses, but didn’t get the malba cleaned. So, water accumulates here during the rain. This further weakens the foundation of buildings. At least 15 collapses were witnessed last year.”
Dean (planning and development) at the School of Planning and Architecture, Virendra Kumar Paul, said, “Our team has seen this place. These are diagonal cracks — wherever the ground is firm, the soil settles, leading to uneven foundation… A geo-technical investigation is needed to study the nature of the soil and find a way to build houses here.”