After DDA’s eviction notice, Mehrauli JJ dwellers in the line of fire

An impending demolition drive is causing anxiety among residents of jhuggi jhopris in south Delhi’s Mehrauli Archaeological Park

January 09, 2023 12:14 am | Updated 01:43 am IST - New Delhi

Wheelchair user Aftab Alam has been living in the jhuggi at Mehrauli Archaeological Park for 30 years.

Wheelchair user Aftab Alam has been living in the jhuggi at Mehrauli Archaeological Park for 30 years. | Photo Credit: Soibam Rocky Singh

In the jam-packed neighbourhood of south Delhi, the jhuggi jhopri (JJ), or slum, dwellers of Mehrauli Archaeological Park stare at an uncertain future after hundreds of them were served eviction notices by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on December 12, 2022.

The residents have been asked to vacate their homes, built on the government land.1

“We registered our houses here; many residents even sold theirs. These activities were allowed and in official knowledge; the staff responsible for these transactions should be taken to task first,” rued Aash Mohammad Khan, a retired MCD safai karamchari, who has spent his life here.

“Where were the authorities when the houses and sheds were being built? How can they raze them now?” he said in a burst of emotions. “ Ghonsla ghonsla hota hai, chahe woh ameero ka ho ya garibo ka (a nest is a nest, whether it belongs to the rich or the poor),” he added.

Not new to litigations

Mehrauli Archaeological Park is one of the largest archaeological parks in the country, and comprises over 100 significant heritage structures and archaeological remains, monuments, graveyards and mosques.

Several litigations on removal of encroachments have been fought over the years to protect its heritage structures, ownership of certain plots of land and concerns of its existing inhabitants.

After the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) had in July 2019 moved a petition, the Delhi High Court directed that the entire area under the park be secured and freed from encroachment. The court also cautioned that no construction activity shall be allowed in the area without its permission and every violation would be “viewed strictly”.

After receiving the DDA’s eviction notices, Mohammad Isreal and six other residents of the JJs moved the High Court, contending that they are daily wage workers living with their families and will be left homeless in the winter if the DDA was not restrained from carrying out the demolition.

They had argued that their houses cannot be demolished without rehabilitation as per provisions of the Delhi Slum & JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy, 2015 of the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB).

As per the terms of the policy, DUSIB is required to conduct a survey and workout a rehabilitation or relocation programme before carrying out the demolition, the JJ dwellers contended. The High Court, however, declined Mr. Isreal’s plea and instead gave him and the petitioners till January 15, 2023 to vacate their JJs.

Demarcation report

The DDA has defended its notices to the residents as compliance with the court’s directions. It has, however, assured the court that the removal of encroachments will not include religious structures and graveyards. According to the agency, a ‘total station survey’ was carried out on August 13, 2021, and the area of Mehrauli Archaeological Park demarcated.

The DDA has submitted that demolition would be done only as per the demarcation report prepared in 2021, and only encroachers removed.

The residents now live in trepidation of bulldozers and biting cold, with no one to turn to.

However, Abdul Rehman, the caretaker of an old private Mughal-era graveyard in the area, said he supports the eviction drive. Pointing to a plot of land that holds half-a-dozen JJs, the 45-year-old said, “These houses have come up illegally.”

Mr. Rehman, who began taking care of the graveyard around the turn of the century, said he was witness to the JJs being demolished twice earlier. “But after every demolition drive, they cropped up again.”

Wheelchair user Aftab Alam has been living in the jhuggi adjacent to another private graveyard for the past 30 years. If evicted, he will have nowhere to go. The 35-year-old said, “I have been living here peacefully. Where will I go now?”

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