At a time when the Delhi government has granted legal status to 1,600 unauthorised colonies in the capital city,a cluster of villages in West Delhi,whose residents paid what was called chullah tax for more than six decades to live there,still cannot claim ownership to the land though steps to grant them that right were initiated soon after Independence. In the absence of ownership rights,the residents say they cannot even avail bank loans.
And now 66 years after Independence,the Delhi High Court has offered hope to these urban villages. In an order dated May 6,2013,the court asked the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to consider the application of the petitioners for grant of leasehold rights.
When the capital of India was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911,the British decided not to acquire the land of certain villages and let the residents continue to live there. In return,they collected the chullah tax once a month. Depending on the number of chullahs in a household,every family paid one anna per chullah.
But long after Independence,the villagers of Todapur,Dasghara,Arakpur Bagh Mochi,Jhilmil and Nangli Razapur in West Delhi continued to pay chullah tax to the government. Residents claim their forefathers paid the tax till 1975.
Though steps to grant them land ownership rights were initiated soon after Independence,it was only in 1983 that the government decided to grant the villagers land lease rights under certain conditions. One condition was that a family may be allotted land leasehold rights to plots not bigger than 167 sq.m.
More than 20 years after that notification,the DDA came out with a public notice in 2005,inviting applications under the scheme. At least 188 people came forward. But,all were apparently found ineligible.
Desh ko azadi mile 66 years hoone wale hain par hum aaj tak apne haq ke liye lad rahe hain (Its going to be 66 years since our country became Independent but we are still fighting for our rights), says Mahesh Yadav of Todapur village.
After several surveys since the 80s,the DDA is still trying to decide on the eligible families. The problem is that while the number of claimants in past records were only in hundreds,that number has grown to thousands now. We are now examining the matter. Large-scale encroachment has taken place over the years, one DDA official said.
One of the criteria set by the DDA is for the families to show chullah tax receipts of their forefathers. Residents claim they have preserved the receipts. We have records to prove that we are the original settlers. Obviously,the number of claimants will increase over the span of a 100 years, says Naresh Kumar of Dasghara.