Hidden away under the Ring Road, along the banks of the Yamuna, are plots of land where vegetables, herbs and flowers used to grow. Now under the shadow of demolition, families in the area said that after decades of living here, there’s little choice but to move on.
Bela Estate on the Yamuna Khadar, with its five bastis — China Colony, Moolchand Basti, Bela Gaon, Mallha Gaon and Kanchanpuri — falls under the first phase of the Delhi Development Authority’s Yamuna River Front Development project, stretching from Lohe Ka Pul to the ITO barrage.
The project aims to beautify the riverfront and promote riverside tourism, with a green buffer zone, recreational parks, walkways and cycle tracks.To make room for the project, bulldozers arrived at China Colony on May 11 and started demolition. They proceeded to Moolchand Basti on May 14, following which a stay order was obtained from the Delhi High Court, which ordered status quo until the next hearing on August 17.
A DDA official said the first phase of the project should have been completed this month. “Work has been completed on 300 acres of the first phase. We carried out demolition on May 10, 11 and 14 but were not able to carry out the rest of the work because of resistance shown by encroachers and due to the stay order.”
The occupants of Bela Estate are small-scale farmers who grow sugarcane, rice, wheat, vegetables, herbs and flowers for commercial sale — right in the heart of the city.
The land they farm on was leased for collective cropping and grazing by the Delhi Improvement Trust (DIT) — a precursor to the DDA — to the Delhi Peasants’ Cooperative Society (DPCS), which in turn allotted it to parents and grandparents of the current occupants in 1949.
“The DPCS was formed to feed people of the city, and we have been doing that since the time this area was a jungle,” said Babu Ram (75), a resident.
The DPCS would collect rent from farmers to pay to the DIT, and the arrangement continued when the DDA was formed in 1957. The leases formally expired in 1966, and DDA sent out eviction notices to allottees in 1991. However, residents claimed the first major eviction drive took place in 2004, before construction of the Commonwealth Games Village.
Eventually, it was decided to allot land to farmers elsewhere. Some received demand letters for re-allotment in Bawana, others did not. Of those who received letters and made payments for land, most never received the allotment, residents claimed.
In the meantime, at least 15 eviction drives have taken place since 2004, Harkesh Kashyap (39), a resident, claimed. Because of the frequent drives, residents stopped building pakka houses and started living in bamboo structures. “Most people have accepted they will have to leave. But they are all waiting for land re-allotment to happen, even though relocation to a far off area will cut off access to work they have done their entire lives,” said Chetan (34), a resident.
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