Demolition has reared its head in Shakur Basti again, two- and-a-half months after the Delhi High Court ordered against any eviction there before arrangements for rehabilitation are made.
On May 31, twelve shanties in the outermost portion of the large jhuggi-jhopdi (JJ) cluster were torn down in the afternoon under directions of the Indian Railways. Residents of neighbouring shanties said they too had been asked to gather their belongings and vacate the area.
On Metro pillars a short distance away from the homes, residents found a piece of paper on March 23, signed in the name of the Indian Railways, stating: “You are all informed to vacate the railway land before March 24, otherwise strict action will be taken through railways administration and land will be cleared. You will be responsible for difficulties caused by the action.”
Residents say this is the first demolition exercise which has taken place in the settlement after the December 2015 demolition — also carried out by the railways — wherein around 5,000 people had lost their homes and during which a six-month-old baby had died. A petition in the High Court had resulted in a stay on all such activity, until the judgment in March this year made it clear that there was no imminent possibility of the eviction of residents until a survey is conducted, arrangements for their rehabilitation are made, and if relocation is required, they are given adequate time to move to a new site. This principle was to be followed in the case of any eviction in the city.
Structures destroyed in last week’s eviction were made of tarpaulin, cloth sheets and sticks — the uncertainty of the last few years meant that the residents had not rebuilt pucca homes since 2015.
“A bulldozer and policemen came at around noon and tore down 12 homes. Why do they need bulldozers to tear down these flimsy structures? We haven’t been given a reason why this happened again,” said Mohammad Mustakeem (30), whose home was among those destroyed.
His wife and four children are currently living in the open, as the capital experiences a harsh summer. The homes demolished are in Shakur Basti’s A block, which has a total of 70 homes, residents of all of which have been asked to leave.
On Monday, Virendra Kohli, pradhan of the settlement, distributed Hindi copies of the High Court judgment among residents of the block. “We are still living here because of the court. We met our MLA Satyendar Jain the day after the demolition and he told us action will be taken, but we haven’t heard anything after that. We will have to go to court again and will do so soon,” said Kohli.
When contacted, the Divisional Railway Manager said: “There is a difference between ‘soft encroachment’, which comes up from time to time, and that of a longer term which the High Court’s order is regarding. We regularly carry out clearing of soft encroachment, which often poses a safety hazard, on our land. The homes which were cleared must have been of that nature.”
Residents however claimed to have been living there for at least 15 years, and most of them earn a livelihood loading and unloading cement sacks from trains which arrive at Shakur Basti station.