This week’s rains in India’s capital, New Delhi, have been unprecedented. And, amid the torrential rains, heart breaking images have emerged from Delhi’s Tughlakabad where people can be seen carrying their meagre belongings while bulldozers trample on their homes. An area that once housed over 1000 houses and thousands of people has now devolved into a vast landscape of devastation and misery. In the usual presence of barricades and police, a demolition drive in the Tughlakabad village of South Delhi has been underway since April 30 in the name of illegal encroachment, resulting in the demolition of nearly 1000 homes and the displacement of thousands.
The images can be viewed here:
In the name of illegal encroachment, nearly 1000 homes were demolished in Delhi’s Tughlakabad, leaving thousands homeless without any consideration for their resettlement.
Photos by @meerfaisal01 pic.twitter.com/JCQXIr4csO
The action came a week after the Delhi High Court directed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on April 24, 2023, to remove encroachments in and around Tughlakabad Fort within four weeks. The drive was carried out under the supervision of a team of officials from the South East Delhi district administration, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), the Delhi Police and the ASI.
Brief Background of the Area:
In 1995, an area of over 2,000 bighas around the Tughalaqbad Fort was given to the ASI by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) for maintenance purposes. Section 19 of The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (1958) clearly states that no one can construct any structure in this protected area. Additionally, section 20 of the same act prohibits any new construction within 100 meters of the protected area.
Background of the legal decisions surrounding the area:
These demolitions in Tughlakabad are not new. In 2016, the Supreme Court had ordered the ASI to prevent land grabbing and encroachment in the area. However, the residents claimed that they had received no communication from the ASI until January 11 of this year. In January 2023, the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) declared that construction in the area was illegal and that it was an archaeological site. A notice was served on nearly 1,000 families, representing 2.5 lakh residents of Delhi’s Tughlakabad Fort area, asking them to vacate their homes. Residents were initially asked to vacate the area by January 26, but after the Delhi High Court’s intervention, the demolition was halted. However, this did not last long.
Basing its decision on the 2016 Supreme Court order, the Delhi High Court later directed the ASI to “remove unauthorised construction as well as encroachers from public land” in February of this year. The court also stated that the ASI must provide rehabilitation for people living in the Tughlakabad area. However, no alternative living space was provided to the affected residents.
On April 24, the Delhi High Court issued an order for the removal of illegal encroachers, and on April 26, the citizen received a notice declaring that all houses in the area would be razed within four weeks. On May 1, the Supreme Court had refused to stay the demolition drive to remove encroachment from Tughlakabad area in South Delhi.
While the demolitions were to start on May 1, the bulldozers reached the area on April 30 itself. The demolition drive not only left hundreds of individuals homeless but also deprived them of basic amenities, education, and shattered their dreams. The ASI on Sunday and Monday, demolished more than a thousand houses in the Bengali colony in Churiya Mohalla Tughlakabad in Delhi, leaving thousands of homeless individuals without shelter. Many of these individuals were employed in menial work such as housemaids, labourers, drivers, and local chefs.
It is crucial to note that while the authorities were eager to demolish the houses in the area, they did not deem it necessary to follow the full order of the court and provide rehabilitation to the ones rendered homeless.
The current situation- the bricks, broken roofs and inhumanity
Visuals of people crying in Tughlakabad village, with some trying to save everything they could, and children seeking shelter from the pouring rain wherever they could, resulted in a sight that made the dark clouds over Delhi appear even darker. The helpless locals have expressed their rage at local politicians, accusing them of making empty promises and ignoring their plight.
This sight emphasizes the need for proper rehabilitation for individuals who have been impacted by such a drive, as people have now been forced to relocate to a nearby forest, living in makeshift tents, bringing forth a picture of the deplorable state of homelessness that these National Capital citizens are now facing. The majority of people in Tughlakabad come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. They work as domestic workers in affluent city households.
On the first day of demolition, nearly 50-60 houses were demolished. The ASI continued its demolition drive in the area for the second day, razing hundreds of houses, and these bulldozers have now run over nearly 100 houses.
Residents claimed that they did not receive any notice this time, but learned that the court had ordered people to leave the area immediately before the demolitions began. The displaced residents claim that they paid money to the police, ASI, and fort authorities to purchase these houses. Many of them had bills and other proof that they had lived at the same address for 20-30 years. While the procedure of law was used in approaching these demolition, the question that arises is why, instead of taking action against these innocent people, action was not taken against the officials whose negligence resulted in the encroachment of the land, as well as those who profited in the millions of rupees? As the people in the national capital sits in their comfortable homes, who will fight for the rights of these innocents, who will now have to plead and appease the authorities in order to get the compensation and rehabilitation they were guaranteed?
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