The Delhi High Court has directed the chief secretary, Delhi government, to call a meeting with other authorities to discuss a comprehensive plan for the resettlement of the residents of the Tughlaqabad Fort area, who are facing eviction pursuant to a demolition notice issued by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) last month.
A single judge bench of Justice Prathiba Singh in its February 1 order directed, “Accordingly, let a meeting be called by the chief secretary of GNCTD with the senior officials from the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), Delhi Urban Settlement Improvement Board (DUSIB), Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Delhi Police as also the concerned district magistrate on 20th February, 2023.”
“In the said meeting, a proper comprehensive plan for the resettlement/rehabilitation of the residents of Tughlaqabad Fort area be discussed and the same be placed on record within 4 weeks,” the high court said. It further directed authorities to ensure that the plan is submitted before the high court “without any delay”, failing which, the “court would have no option but to implement” a February 2016 judgment of the Supreme Court wherein it had unequivocally recognised the “identity of Tughlaqabad Fort” and the requirement to ensure that the said fort “is preserved as a protected monument”. The Supreme Court in that case had asked the ASI to take an action for “removal of unauthorised construction as also the encroachers from the public land”. The matter is now listed on March 10.
The high court was hearing a plea by Mazdoor Awaas Samiti, filed on behalf of more than 1,000 families residing in the Tughlaqabad Fort area, praying for alternative resettlement and rehabilitation for all the affected residents of the Tughlakabad village affected by ASI’s demolition notice of January 11, wherein they had been asked to vacate the premises by January 26.
Appearing for the Samiti, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves submitted that the intention of the residents is not to create any obstruction, by way of the present petition, in the action being taken by the respondents. He submitted that considering the large number of families which are going to be affected, some immediate rehabilitation/resettlement measures should be taken by the Delhi government along with the other agencies, including DDA and DUSIB etc.
While hearing similar pleas on January 25, the high court had noted that an aerial survey of the area had been conducted by ASI and other agencies as the physical survey could only be done in parts. The court also noted that a division bench of the high court in a similar plea had formed a committee consisting of the DDA vice-chairman and other authorities, including the ASI, for carrying out a survey of the structures around the fort area through its order dated May 17, 2017.
Gonsalves submitted that his clients were seeking rehabilitation unlike the other pleas where the challenge was to the demolition itself. He further submitted that it is not in dispute that the fort has to be treated as a protected monument. He argued that the Delhi government along with DUSIB and DDA may create a rehabilitation plan and place it before the high court so that the “phased movement of all the residents in the Tughlaqabad Fort area” can commence.
Appearing for the Delhi government, advocate Rishikesh Kumar submitted on instructions that the government intends to rehabilitate and provide alternative accommodation to the residents of the Tughlaqabad Fort area with the help of land-owning agencies.
At this point, Justice Singh said that “this is the best thing which should have been done earlier” and noted that 2.5 lakh people were residing in the fort area. The plea seeks directions to the state government to submit the survey report of the identified residents whose houses/structures/jhuggis would be demolished.
The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) has also called for the suspension of the ASI’s demolition drive in the area till the rehabilitation of all children residing there is ensured. Taking suo moto cognisance of the drive, the body said that taking away the shelter from these families in such extreme weather conditions was nothing short of cruelty.