Updated: July 26, 2021 11:59:07 am
Ever since Najma (45) lost her job as a cook during the lockdown in 2020, she asks herself daily: “Sab ke liye khaana pakayein ya kiraaya dein (Should I make food for my family or pay rent)?” She lives with her husband, two sons, and daughter-in-law, in a two-room house on the first floor in Palam. All of them have been oscillating between being employed and unemployed for over a year now.
Najma is among five daily-wage labourers and a landlord who moved the Delhi High Court, citing a press conference by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on March 29 last year, wherein he had asked landowners not to pressure poor tenants for rent and said that the Delhi government would pay in a situation where the tenant cannot.
Stating that “right to shelter is a fundamental right”, the petition said “the government, having made a clear representation to the citizens, would be bound by the said representation”. It also said “the trust reposed on the constitutional functionary i.e., the CM, by citizens is completely breached if the government is not held to the promise made on its behalf by its highest functionary”.
Najma said she had heard about the CM’s promise, but it was only when someone in the locality told her that a petition was being filed that she almost immediately decided to add her name.
On Thursday, the court ruled that an assurance given by a chief minister “clearly amounts to an enforceable promise”, the implementation of which ought to be considered by the state. It has asked the Delhi government to take a decision regarding the statement within six weeks.
Najma said she prays every day that the Delhi government makes an announcement and covers her rent. Her message for the CM is, “If you do good for us, I will keep you in my prayers.”
At her residence on Saturday, she said she has to pay Rs 7,500 as rent every month even though they can barely afford it. Earlier that morning, she went to a colony nearby to find a job as a cook but said she is only being offered cleaning work which she cannot take up as her legs are weak.
Her husband is diabetic and has chest problems. Her eldest son, aged 30, used to work at a battery shop, but is currently unemployed. Her younger son, who works as a mechanic, makes Rs 15,000 a month. She said they are currently running the household merely on her younger son’s income.
Every time a lockdown has been announced, Najma said the family gets scared: “We have nowhere to go. So, we have to stay here.” They have no land in her hometown in Uttar Pradesh’s Shahjahanpur, and very little space and too many families in their home there.
Her concerns were echoed by Rehana Bibi, in her mid-20s, who lives on the ground floor and is among the petitioners. Rehana used to work as a domestic help in six houses and earned Rs 15,000, but now gets around Rs 3,000. Her husband, who used to take up odd jobs like working in a shop, is currently unemployed.
She has two children, aged 9 and 4. Without a smartphone, she said her son cannot attend online classes. She also has to pay Rs 3,400 as rent for her one-room house. Buried in debt and with nowhere else to go, she said: “I am looking for a house within Rs 2,500 but cannot find anything.”
Their advocate, Gaurav Jain, said, “The landlord too, does not want to pressure his tenants. Hence, he decided to file the petition as well.”
Gaurav said he first realised that people are unable to pay rent when he was distributing ration in the area last year. He then decided to represent some of the most needy people in the area. He and the petitioners that he represents hope for a policy change by the government.
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