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We are not encroachers but victims, say Khori Basti residents

A Khori Basti resident pointing at the houses that will be demolished.  

The husband and son of Bimlesh, a 48-year-old resident of Khori Basti here, had been in and out of work for a year now due to the pandemic. Pushed to a hand-to-mouth existence, the family, owning a small home in the colony, however, never had to worry about rent. But soon, arranging the rent every month could be their biggest concern once their home is demolished in adherence to a Supreme Court order.

The woman and her husband, a private security guard, had borrowed money from their relatives and put all their life’s savings to buy the plot for around ₹3 lakh a decade ago. The couple was happy to finally have a roof over their heads. But the court order earlier this month to demolish the illegal houses in the forest area has turned their world upside down.

“The people in the basti have lost their sleep and appetite over the fear of demolition. Just when the lockdown was being lifted and the people were gradually getting back to work, the administration pasted notices asking us to vacate our homes. Most of the people have been without work in the colony for a year now and are not left with any savings. The third wave of the coronavirus is around the corner. We don’t have enough to even rent a room. Where does the administration expect us to go in this situation?,” asked Bimlesh, in a choking voice.

‘No money’

Echoing her views, Nema Devi, sitting next to her, added that many had take rooms on rent in the neighbouring areas and shifted their expensive belongings such as refrigerators and television sets, and staying put in the colony with bare minimum essentials. She said rooms were hard to find and the landlords were quoting exorbitant rents – ranging from ₹6,000-₹7,000 – to take advantage of the situation. “It is very difficult for us to arrange this money since we have been out of work for almost a year,” said Ms. Devi.

The residents said the local administration had been making regular announcements asking them to vacate and two deadlines for demolition — June 9 and 15 — had already expired. The next deadline, said the residents, is June 21. “We have heard of at least three deaths connected with the demolition so far. While two people died by suicide out of fear of demolition, one suffered a heart attack,” claimed Bimlesh.

The residents said the power connections to their homes were snapped a week ago and now even water tankers were not being allowed inside the colony. Mukesh, a rickshaw-puller, said the residents were fetching water from neighbouring Prahaladpur in bottles and bucket for their daily need. “There are children, elderly and pregnant women in the colony. It is really getting difficult for them to survive without power and water,” he said.

The local property dealers with political clout allegedly sold plots to the residents, mostly migrants working as rickshaw-pullers, security guards, auto-rickshaw drivers, plumbers and masons, with powers of attorney and the promise of basic amenities. Saddam Hussain, a plumber, said he bought the plot hoping that it would also be regularised like Sangam Vihar in Delhi. “The plots were available at affordable rates. We are poor people. We could not get land at such cheap rates at any other place in the National Capital Region. So we bought a plot in partnership with my brother for ₹5 lakh,” said Mr. Hussain. He, however, blamed the administration for allowing the colony to develop on forest land and not doing anything to stop it for two decades.

‘None came to rescue’

“Be it the local police, the forest department officials or the civic body staff, all would come to us seeking bribe to allow construction. It was this ‘consent’ of the government officials which made us feel even more confident that our homes were safe. The property dealers also provided us power connections through private meters and would charge ₹14-₹15 per unit,” said Pawan, a mason. He said local politicians would come to them seeking votes during election, but no one had come to their rescue in this hour of crisis.

‘Rehabilitate us’

Faced with the threat of losing all their life’s savings in a single stroke, the residents are now demanding that action must be taken against the land mafia for duping them into buying forest land and that they be rehabilitated. “We have not encroached upon the land. We have bought it. We have been duped. We are victims. The government should bail us out and rehabilitate us. We are ready to be shifted to any corner of the city, but not rendered homeless,” pleaded Mukesh.

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Printable version | Aug 2, 2021 6:01:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/we-are-not-encroachers-but-victims-say-khori-basti-residents/article34874409.ece

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