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In Jahangirpuri, bulldozers leave trail of despair: ‘What have they proved with this?’

The Delhi municipal corporation's snap anti-encroachment demolition drive, a few days after a Hanuman Jayanti procession in the area sparked communal violence, has left in its wake a trail of devastation and despair, cutting across fault lines.

Written by Sukrita Baruah , Anand Mohan J | New Delhi |
Updated: April 21, 2022 8:24:41 am
Jahangirpuri demolition, Jahangirpuri anti-encroachment drive, Delhi news, Jahangirpuri news, Indian express newsAnti encroachment drive at Jahangirpuri in New Delhi on Wednesday.

One was selling cold drinks to police until yesterday. Another had been running a store in the building where he was born 40 years ago. A third was saving up for the festival. None had any prior notice, none were given the right to respond — all were scrambling Wednesday evening to pick up the pieces of what was left.

Just hours earlier, as two CRPF officers took position atop Akbar’s home in Jahangirpuri and complained about the harsh sun, the 35-year-old shop owner had immediately split a red flex board into two to make a temporary sun shade. “All I asked was whether the encroachment drive will damage my shop and they promised me it was against scrap dealers,” Akbar said.

Barely an hour later, all that a bulldozer left of his small shop was squashed cigarette packets and cold drinks covered in dust. And all that this family of four was left with was an earthen piggy bank with coins and spare notes.

A few hundred metres away, Dinesh Kumar was adding up the losses, the metal awning over his mobile repair shop now a mere number: “Rs 50,000.”

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“But the biggest loss is here,” said the 40-year-old, pointing to his heart. “I had asked police personnel last night if my shop would be demolished, and if I should move everything out. But they had said no…Because of the mistakes of a few people, all of us are being punished.”

The Delhi municipal corporation’s snap anti-encroachment demolition drive, a few days after a Hanuman Jayanti procession in the area sparked communal violence, has left in its wake a trail of devastation and despair, cutting across fault lines.

At Jahangirpuri in New Delhi on Wednesday.

For Akbar, the end came after five days of brisk business. “My customers were CRPF, Delhi Police and RAF (Rapid Action Force). I gave them water and sometimes free sugar. I gave those CRPF officers shade from the sun by breaking my own flex boards,” he said.

A few months ago, with the onset of summer, Akbar had bought three chocolate-coloured refrigerators “after taking a loan of Rs 12 lakh”. “I had also bought cold-drink stocks worth Rs 15,000,” he said.

Akbar’s wife, Rahima shows an MCD vendor certificate issued in 2021. “We did nothing illegal. Why were we punished? This is our livelihood. For you, this may just be kabaad (scrap),” said the 30-year-old.

Their two children, Rahim (16) and Asif (12), were busy trying to salvage what they could from the debris. Asif picked up a packet of fruit juice even as sledge hammers dismantled whatever little was left of the shop. Rahim managed to save packets of chips.

According to Akbar, Rahim dropped out of school during the first Covid lockdown and now works as an apprentice at a mobile repair shop. “I was asleep when the bulldozer came. I saw my mother crying downstairs and went outside to help her save those cold drinks,” Rahim said.

Dinesh Kumar had opened his mobile repair shop in November 2020, “after working for 18 years in a managerial role in an NGO”. “I resigned last year because I was inspired by the Government’s push for entrepreneurship, and wanted to develop my own business,” he said.

The metal awning over his store, a “recent investment”, has been damaged. “What have they achieved? What have they proved with this? They could have just asked us to remove the awnings and we would have done it,” he said. “The shop was just some months old, but I was born in this building and have lived there all my life.”

In the case of Ashu, who runs a motorbike repair shop in rented space on the local mosque’s premises, the bulldozers damaged the metal awning, the shutter, and even three vehicles, including a bike that a customer had left to be repaired. Staring at the mangled remains of the two-wheeler, he estimated losses totalling “Rs 1.5-2 lakh”.

A father of two, Ashu was “saving up for Eid”. “Now, the customers will come after me. The shop has been closed since the day of the violence and there has been no business, and now there are all these losses. I never thought such a thing would happen. I have been running this shop for 16-17 years, and no one has raised any issue about the structure,” he said.

“The MCD did not give us any intimation and just demolished our stores. This was supposed to be the festival time, and we are left with this,” he said.

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