Sarojini Nagar slum dwellers panic-stricken despite stay on demolition

Slum dwellers standing near their shanties in New Delhi’s Sarojini Nagar area

Slum dwellers standing near their shanties in New Delhi’s Sarojini Nagar area | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

The nightmare of her house being razed to the ground has kept 32-year-old widow Geeta Lal awake for several days now. 

“We have been living here for the past 12 years. If our house is demolished, my family won’t have a roof over its head. We’ll have to live on the road. How can you suddenly throw us away without giving us a place to live?” she said. 

Her family - two school-going children and her father-in-law - is one among the 200 families living in Sarojini Nagar’s slums that were supposed to be demolished by the Centre in an anti-encroachment drive early last month. 

Stay on demolition

In response to a petition filed by a few residents of the slum, including a class X student, the Supreme Court on April 25 stayed the demolition drive and on May 2 extended the stay till the third week of July. While putting the eviction drive on hold, the court had asked the Centre to “act humanely” as “expected of a model government”, till the residents’ plea for rehabilitation is decided.

The plea in the Apex Court challenged an earlier order by the Delhi High Court, which had refused to interfere with the demolition drive.

Constant fright

Despite the stay, panic has gripped the slum dwellers. The locals told The Hindu that while the stay order had renewed their hopes, they feared that the authorities could, without any notice, bulldoze their houses and render them homeless.

Ever since she saw the eviction notice outside her shanty, Anita, 30, has felt uneasy stepping out of her house whether it is to drop her children to school or to do her household chores.

“All of us here have been living in an atmosphere of anxiety. We have shown our documents going back to several decades to whichever official has come here still, they consider us as encroachers,” said Anita.

Ms. Geeta feels a similar sense of dread. She recalls the evening of April 4 when three government officers landed at her house and started taking pictures of it. 

“I asked them what was going on but they didn’t say anything and went back after pasting a notice outside my door. I am uneducated, so I asked my children to read it. They told me that the notice declared that we will be evicted from our house within a week and that it will be demolished,” she said. 

Ms. Geeta, who works as a sanitation worker, said her husband’s family has been living in the area for more than two decades and have all the necessary documents to prove their identity.

“I have two school-going children and a father-in-law who earns a meagre sum from ironing… I barely make ₹4,000 a month… they [authorities] are saying that they will not rehabilitate us. So then where will we go then?” Geeta wondered.

For Shashi Yadav, a construction worker from Bihar, his shanty in Sarojini Nagar has been his home since 2004. “Suddenly the government thinks that we have encroached upon their space because they want to carry out redevelopment and wants us to leave within a week. This is injustice. How can you throw someone out of their house without providing an alternate accommodation?” Yadav asked.

Yadav added that most residents of the slum are uneducated daily wage workers, who are not even aware of why the Centre wants to remove their shanties. 

“No one could understand the notice after it was pasted at our homes. We do not know why we are being kicked out or what are the technicalities. All we know is that we are poor people and do not demand more than a modest place to live,” Yadav added.

Sumitra, 60, too takes offence at the words ‘encroachers’ and ‘encroachment’. She has lived in her shanty for the past 25 years, she says, and never once been harassed or called an “illegal occupant”. 

Bipin Rai, a member of the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), a body responsible for rehabilitating the city’s slum dwellers, said as the land belonged to the CPWD, verification of residents will be carried out by a Centre-appointed nodal officer. “The DUSIB is willing to rehabilitate the slum residents once the verification is carried out,” Rai said.

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Printable version | May 26, 2022 12:08:21 am |