Roughly 2,000 tents pitched beside the busy Pushta Road and Vikas Marg in East Delhi from the Mayur Vihar flyover all the way up to ITO are brimming with people of all age groups. They have emerged from the nurseries situated close to the Yamuna bank below the Mayur Vihar and Akshardam flyover.
The water of the swollen river had last Tuesday filled the houses of the inhabitants, consisting largely of workers and labourers of those nurseries, and farmers who till the river floodplains.
The thick water-proof canvas tents provide a virtual peep into the lives of the inhabitants – sheltering as they do a kitchen with utensils huddled with several clothes tied in gathris , domesticated animals like goats and buffaloes tied to the charpoys, clothing lines running from end to end, and bed-sheets, durries, blankets spread on the hot floor serving as sleeping area for four to 11 members in each tent.
Some tents have turned into shops selling gutka, cigarettes and readymade snacks. Children, largely semi-clad, slide on the sides of the tents as women sit on charpoys on the roadside.
It is hot and humid inside the open tent, so most men occupy the green areas under the metro station to sit and chat. Women mostly stay close to the tents.
While they have been forced to lead a cramped existence due to the flooding, few are complaining. In fact the flood-affected appear to have adjusted well to the new surroundings.
As 40-year-old Santosh Kumar says: “Ever since we have come, we have had a surfeit of food, water and clothes. In a day, 10 water tankers come and since Saturday we have been provided with ample food. Passers by donate clothes, footwear and eatables generously. Police patrols the area 24x7. This time the arrangements are far better than last year.”
Suresh Sharma, an auto driver, chips in: “The area legislator sent a police van to the nurseries half-a-day before the water level began rising. So most of the people were able to collect their belongings and rush to the flyovers and erect their tents wherever they could. Our MP has also been coming every day to inspect the arrangements.”
For women, the main problem is lack of adequate number of mobile toilets. “We have no problems of food and water, but we have to go far to answer nature’s call. We go in the early hours and towards late evenings as the number of mobile toilets is not sufficient,” complains one of them.
However, for some living near the Delhi Police Apartment bus stand the situation is far from comfortable. Many of the displaced do not have tents over them. All they possess are a few plastic sheets. Here water tankers and food are also in short supply. Ramshri, a 70-year-old woman residing under one of the plastic covers, says: “The tankers don’t stop here. They tell us they have not been asked to come to us!”
A few yards away, till the Ranney Well No. 7, the situation remains the same. Hungry children can be seen sleeping under torn plastic sheets or taking shelter in the shadow of a tractor parked by the road, while a billboard of Amul butter, ironically, overlooks them. “We are labourers in the nurseries on the Yamuna banks. The owners of the nurseries, most of who live in Shakarpur in huge buildings, have not come to see us even once. We are among the most unfortunate,” says an old man awaiting help.
Though the water levels in the river have gone down considerably, the inhabitants insist they will only move back in phases. “Those whose huts are at a high level will go first,” says Maulidhar, a farmer.
The police personnel on duty nearby offer a different reason for the extra stay. They insist that many residing in the tents are in no hurry to return to regular work. “They are getting free meals, oversupply of water, electricity and generous donations from passers by. Therefore, some people from nearby Chilla Village too have moved into the tents to live comfortably. A few local wine/beer shops add to their merry making. The whole day they lie drunk; they are having a great time.”
The Traffic Police personnel nearby have other concerns: “Children run to cross the road almost every minute. Their mothers don’t bother. We keep on catching them to avoid accidents. If something happens to any one of them, we will be held responsible,” says one of them.