Updated: July 11, 2022 5:00:55 pm
At Khori Gaon in Faridabad, Mohammad Hadish Ansari (46) sits on a makeshift bed under a tarpaulin while his wife cooks on a wood fire in a cramped corner covered by a tin shed. Every day, he cycles to a tube well 3 km away to fetch buckets of water for his ‘house’, which has no fan, cooler, electricity, gas connection or water supply.
It has been close to a year since Ansari’s home, along with hundreds of others in the Khori jhuggi cluster, was razed by the Municipal Corporation of Faridabad (MCF) on the Supreme Court’s directions, but he, his wife and their four children continue to live in temporary sheds on the debris of their demolished home. “Apni 15 saal ki kamai maine iss ghar pe laga di thi… ek jhatke mein tod diya aur humein beghar kar diya (I put 15 years of my life’s earnings on this house… it was demolished in a moment, leaving us homeless),” said Ansari, a daily wager.
On June 7, 2021, the top court had directed MCF to “take all essential measures to remove encroachments on the subject forest land without any exception”, giving the civic body six weeks to complete the task. It had stated that “there could not be compromise or concession on forest land”, and that “land grabbers cannot take refuge in the rule of law” and talk of “fairness”.
Demolitions had started at Khori on July 14, 2021, and locals and activists claimed at least 10,000 residential units were razed. The MCF had said those evicted would be rehabilitated as per government policy and given EWS (economically weaker section) flats in Dabua Colony and Bapu Nagar in Faridabad. However, one year on, the civic body has given allotment letters to only 1,009 eligible people and a majority is yet to move into the flats.
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A native of Bihar’s Chhapra, Ansari had purchased a 65 square yard plot in Khori for Rs 70,000 in 2006 and built a house. Over the years, he claims to have spent over Rs 5 lakh on maintenance. He claimed: “When I bought it, I did not know it was on forest land. The mining mafia that used to operate here sold plots to thousands. Over the years, we paid police and officials, who looked the other way… We got our documents and voter IDs made on these addresses — some in Delhi, some in Haryana. Many such colonies came up illegally in Delhi… wo ab pakke ho gaye hain (They have become regularised now). We had assumed the same would happen here.”
At Khori — a colony of encroached settlements in Aravalli forests — several like Ansari, who are mostly migrants engaged in daily wage jobs, continue to stay put in temporary plastic sheds at the basti spread over 170 acres across Delhi and Haryana on forest land. Some have rented 15-20 square yard flats in Lal Kuan and neighbouring colonies, but only to shift their belongings.
“We are poor. After our house was razed, we could only afford to rent a tiny room for Rs 2,300 a month. It cannot accommodate a family of six. So, we have kept our belongings there. The children sleep in the room when it rains, while we stay here amid the debris,” said a woman who settled in Khori in 2012.
Shyam Singh (69) sold his plot in his village in Bihar’s Saharsa and moved to Khori in 2010. After securing a job with a contractor of a private security company, he purchased a plot in Khori for Rs 2 lakh and built a house. In 2014, a paralytic attack left him bedridden and without work. Singh said he has no money now to rent a space.
“I am destitute. With the house, the last bit of my assets were gone. I sold bricks of my partially demolished house to get by. I have been sleeping in the open under a tarpaulin where my house stood since. When police and MCF officials come to remove encroachments, I hide behind a tree. Where do I go? It has been a year and the process of rehabilitation is still going on. No compensation has been given. Hamara ghar giraane se pehle humein flat dena chahiye tha (They should have allotted us a flat before demolishing our houses). I will die here,” he said.
Many said they had filled forms and submitted documents to authorities and on the e-portal, but their documents were rejected due to discrepancies. “My Aadhaar card was issued on a Delhi address since my children were studying in a school there. Now, I am not eligible under the rehabilitation scheme,” said a woman.
A senior MCF official said 500 of the 1,009 found eligible have taken allotment letters but only 130 people have paid the deposit and submitted an undertaking for taking possession. “For the remaining 4,840 applications, we asked them to submit their documents again and had set up camps for the same from June 20-29. We are reaching out to eligible allottees to take possession, but many are not coming forward. We have noticed people are reluctant to pay the sum.”
Regarding people encroaching forest land again, MCF officials said that they have been conducting enforcement drives regularly and removing the encroachments. “Only a few people have built temporary sheds and during our enforcement drives, we are clearing them,” the official said.
Police, meanwhile, denied allegations of connivance of officers with the land mafia. A Faridabad police officer said, “It has been alleged that the land mafia used fake power of attorneys to sell land to settlers at Khori. They offered them land at cheap rates and dealers gave them fake land deeds and bills. A probe is going on. We have not received any complaint of a police officer being involved in the nexus.”
Police said that in July 2021, they had registered 25 FIRs against at least 30 people for fraudulently selling government land to Khori residents after they had filed complaints alleging that land mafia had sold them government land and taken money from them.
Balraj, SHO, Surajkund police station, said, “As part of the probe, an SIT was formed a while ago. No arrests have been made so far. The chargesheet is yet to be filed.”
The MCF had carried out a drone survey of unauthorised structures in Khori, which identified a total of 6,663 units/structures by numbering the terraces as counted from drone pictures. In a status report filed before the apex court in October 2021, the MCF said the survey was carried out to plan a phased demolition drive and amid resistance to a physical survey by residents.
As per the housing plan for rehabilitation of Khori jhuggi dwellers, they were supposed to be allotted EWS flats in Dabua Colony and Bapu Nagar. The earlier criteria stated that residents with an annual income of up to Rs 3 lakh were eligible if they fulfilled one of the three conditions — if the name of the head of the family is registered in the voter list of Badhkal assembly constituency as of January 1, 2021; if the head of the family has an ID card issued by Haryana as of January 1, 2021; and if any member of the family has an electricity connection issued by DHBVN.
As per the earlier criteria, those who qualify will be given flats worth Rs 3,77,500, for a deposit of Rs 17,000 within 15 days of allotment, and monthly installments of Rs 2,500 for 15 years. The deposit was later amended to Rs 10,000 and monthly installments of Rs 1,950 per month for 20 years.
On March 31, while questioning the MCF over the alleged delay in readying alternate accommodation, the Supreme Court had directed the civic body to pay a solatium amount of Rs 2,000 per month to eligible persons until flats are allotted to them. It had also asked the corporation to complete the allotment before April 30.
The status report filed in court in April 2022 said that with regard to repair and maintenance of EWS flats in Dabua Colony and Bapu Nagar, interior work for retrofitting, maintenance and rectification has been awarded by MCF in February 2022 and repairs were being done on ‘war footing’. “The corporation is in a position to hand over possession of 852 flats in Dabua Colony with complete habitable amenities by April 30 to allottees,” it said.
‘Flats too far, in poor shape’
At Dabua Colony, some of the flats provisionally allotted to Khori residents were found vacant, with only a few families moving in. A few flats lacked basic amenities with window panes, doors, sanitary fittings missing and seepage in walls.
Umesh Kumar, an autorickshaw driver, said he moved into a flat last month: “Water and power connections are yet to be set up. The room is quite small, but what choice do I have? It is better than not having a roof above your head. Those still staying in Khori are living on hope.”
Govind Singh, a vegetable vendor, added, “The government has offered to put us up in EWS flats in Dabua Colony, which is over 16 km from here. We don’t know if we will find jobs there. Many here are employed in daily wage work and cannot commute such long distances. Our children study in the government school in Railway colony and a primary government school in Lal Kuan. We had a sense of community here. How can we suddenly shift?”
Vimal Bhai, from Team Saathi, a group of activists and academics working for people’s rights, and who have been helping Khori Gaon residents, said: “It is sad that the government is thinking of rehabilitation after conducting the demolition. Poor people lost their homes which they had built with their savings and now they are being asked to pay to move into uninhabitable flats. This is not rehabilitation. One year has elapsed and flats are yet to be handed over to many.”
Two MCF officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the flats in Dabua colony were habitable. “Since a majority of allottees are yet to take possession, the flats may require some cleaning but they are habitable. The department will facilitate the process for residents to apply for electricity and water connections. Other works of repair and maintenance are being completed,” said an official.
“The rehabilitation policy has been made so restrictive that it excludes the majority. Out of approximately 10,000 families, only 5,813 filled the rehabilitation forms by November 2021. From that list, they have accepted 1,009 families. And now, the committee hearing process will add probably 400 or so. So from 10,000 families, a mere 14% will be considered eligible,” said Ishita Chatterjee, an independent researcher who works on informal urbanism, housing rights and urban citizenship.
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