More than three months after they showed up at New Delhi’s borders to protest the Centre’s farm laws, farmers and their kin have started raising pucca brick-and-cement structures on the highways at Singhu and Tikri, prompting authorities to intervene.
Both construction sites fall on the Haryana side of the border. While work has stopped midway at Singhu, it’s yet to halt at Tikri. Those raising the structures say they are preparing for the harsh summer months.
At Tikri border, the first pucca settlement came up on March 12 and a ‘griha pravesh’ was marked by tying an artificial green parrot to the window. Rohtash Gill, a 30-year-old from Jind, among the farmers who built the structure, said; “We have this tradition during house-warming ceremonies in our villages. Around 10-12 of us built the house over two days.”
Since raw material is readily available in shops at the Tikri border, farmers said they did not have to travel far. They purchased bricks and cement from a shop 500 metres from where the house is located. The roof is made of bamboo, purchased from a shop around 200 metres away.
Farmers said the ‘chhappar’ (thatch) was made in their villages in Haryana and sent to the border.
The structure has two windows — one of them frames a cooler placed behind it. The house was constructed keeping ventilation in mind.
Anil Malik, a 41-year-old from Charkhi Dadri in Haryana, said: “This is how we make houses on the fields as well. We have all made such houses in our villages. There are no professional builders here. We have always been told to build the walls with a few gaps in the middle. That way, we get cool air.”
During the day, farmers place their teacups in these gaps. The house doubles into a headquarters for farmer organisation Kisan Social Army, formed to coordinate social media activities, teach them how to use social media, and ensure that ration reaches those who need it.
Asked about building permission, they said they do not have it, and claimed that no authority has objected so far.
Around 100 metres away, another house was being constructed on Saturday afternoon as a team of around 20 farmers placed bricks one on top of the other.
A truck loaded with bricks and mud reached the border from Tikola village in Haryana. Ramesh Singh, a 63-year-old from Rohtak, said he will be among those to live in the house. The walls of the house are ready and a wooden door has been set up.
“The material is coming from our villages and some from nearby stores,” Ramesh said. The farmers said that the structure will be an ‘air-conditioned jhopri’. For now, they have arranged a cooler and plan to install an AC too. The construction will be completed by Sunday, they said.
Delhi Police said that since the structures are on the Haryana side of the border, it cannot take action.
Jitendra Kumar, Jhajjar District Collector, said: “The SDM and DSP, Bahadurgarh spoke to the farmers today and told them not to build pucca structures anymore, to which they agreed.” He did not comment on why construction was still on.
A Haryana Police officer said: “We asked the farmers at Tikri to stop construction and they agreed. But we have not taken any action against the structures that have been already built. We will do so if we get orders.”
At Singhu border, a group of men had started constructing two-storey houses at the border. Masons and labourers were called from Punjab to help with the construction. However, work has stopped for the time being after officials stepped in.
Deep Khatri, a United Kisan Manch member who hails from Punjab, said: “We can’t live under tents in this weather. The government did nothing to help us during the winters and we lost many people. We will now build houses for farmers so that we can protest here during the summer. It’s hot outside and one can’t stay in tents or in tractors. We will put ACs and coolers for the elderly farmers.”
Khatri and members of Samyukta Kisan Morcha said they are planning to finish the construction within three weeks and will accommodate 10-15 people in each house. All construction material is bought from factories and landowners in Kundli, a member of the SKM said. It’s being carried in e-rickshaws and tractors.
On Saturday afternoon, local police stopped the construction of the two houses and deployed personnel in the area to ensure it does not resume.
A senior police officer from Kundli said: “The construction is illegal. We have stopped it and won’t let the protesters make houses on the highway. Two FIRs have been lodged in the matter. These were registered on the complaint from the National Highway Authority of India and Sonipat Municipal Corporation.”
Anand Kumar, Manager Technical (NHAI), who works with the Project Director at NH-44, told The Sunday Express: “The highway can’t be used for making residential spaces. We received information from officials about the illegal construction and have asked police to take legal action. The permanent structures at the border are being made without our permission. A complaint has been lodged.”
The Sonepat Municipal Corporation has filed a complaint against the “digging” of roads for the construction of houses and borewell, police said.
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