Razing dreams and livelihood: Demolition drives in Delhi leave people in lurch

Demolition drives conducted by the civic authorities in the name of removing illegal structures have left people distraught, forcing them to piece together their meagre sources to earn livelihood anew

Published: 04th July 2022 09:03 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th July 2022 09:15 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

As little drops of rain began to fall outside the Lok Nayak Hospital in Central Delhi, Haneefa, 35, rushed to get a tarpaulin sheet to cover the tea cart, where she now works as a helper.

She serves matthi (snack), rusk and tea to the awaiting customers. Done with the order, she finds a moment to dial her eldest daughter, whom she has tasked with looking after her three siblings back at home in northwest Delhi’s Jahangirpuri.

She remembered how she had embellished her kebab kiosk at Block-C of Jahangirpuri with skewers, a coal furnace, and other paraphernalia before it was razed by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) during a massive demolition drive on April 20. The drive came just four days after riots broke out in the area. The Supreme Court had to step in to stop the drive.

“I used to make around Rs 200 daily from my kebab kiosk, which helped me feed my family. But the demolition took away my sole means of livelihood. As a mother, I cannot let my kids sleep on an empty stomach,” said Haneefa, who lost her husband earlier this year. She is the sole breadwinner for her family of five.

Uncertain about the future of her children, she said that this year’s Eid-ul-Juha (Bakr Eid) will not be the same as it was last year.

“I want to first reconstruct my kebab stall. Then, I’ll send my children to a madrasa for education,” she said.

Over the past three months, the MCD has been running anti-encroachment drives across the city to remove encroachments from public land, roadsides and pavements.

The MCD has claimed to have demolished more than a hundred illegal temporary as well as permanent structures across the city, including in areas such as ITO, Tughlakabad, Jahangirpuri, Mangolpuri, Shaheen Bagh, Madanpur Khadar, and Naraina Industrial Area, among others.

The affected people, a large section of whom are migrant workers and had been running kiosks or small businesses to make a living in the capital city or had houses in these locations for long, have been displaced without any sort of rehabilitation scheme proposed by the government.

Neither have they been provided any assistance to start any alternative business.

Unable to find ways to earn, many of them have returned to the same locations where they had set up businesses. Some of them have moved to other places in search of a living.

Dileep and Dinesh, who used to sell tea and pakoras (snack) in the back-lanes of Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, ITO, had to shift their shop to the nearby market at gate no. 5 of Delhi Metro’s ITO station. 

“We just opened up a new shop. Previously, we had several loyal customers who would frequent our shop every day for tea and snacks. Now, it is proving a challenge to find that kind of clientele. It will take some time for people to take notice of our new location,” said Dinesh, who had to borrow Rs 15, 000 from his friends and family to set up this new tea shop.

Given that his income has suddenly been halved, he is worried how he will be able to pay back his loan.

The story of 32-year-old Naseem is similar. He also lost his flower shop that was set up by his grandfather near the Jadid Qabristan Ahle Islam, the graveyard at ITO. 

Naseem used to sell flowers and incense sticks to the people who would come to pay tribute to their departed family members at the graveyard.

For Naseem, the shop was not only a source of earning but also a legacy of his grandfather.

“I still remember that during the weekend, we used to come here with my father. At that time, we also sold cold-drinks that came packaged in glass bottles. Till that time, this ITO lane was not as crowded with parked vehicles as it is now,” said Naseem, who doesn’t plan to go back to reset his business somewhere else.

At present, he is looking for a new job, said Naseem.

“I’m looking for a job right now. I can drive, so I’ll be happy to work in any parking lot; otherwise, I’ll have to sell flowers and incense sticks while hiding from the police that has to be paid each time you run a business,” he said.

The demolition drive at ITO was carried out on the orders of the Delhi High Court, which had demanded an explanation on unauthorised construction and encroachment in and around the graveyard. 

The MCD then started a survey and had been issuing notices six months in advance to shop owners, most of whom had been running these businesses for decades. The permanent structures, including shops, godowns, offices, and tea stalls were demolished with bulldozers. An area of around 1,800 square metres of public land was freed, officials said.

For 40-year-old  Baiju Rai and his wife Raj Kumari, 30, not being able to feed their 15-month-old child was life’s worst nightmare. “For four days, we did not feed our children properly. They kept weeping and getting uneasy from hunger, but we were left helpless,” said Baiju, who is a native of Sitamarhi district of Bihar and has been running a dhaba at Naraina Industrial Area Phase-1 for the past two decades. 

In the last week of May 2022, several shops were razed by the MCD in the area. The locals claimed that it was without giving shop owners any notice in advance.

In this anti-encroachment drive, he suffered a loss of Rs 15,000 while many of his utensils went missing. The couple had to shell out Rs 6,000 more to re-establish their shop.

“After the drive, we have lost those customers too. This is a double blow for us,” said Baiju, while serving rice to one of his customers. The family has also made a portion of the dhaba their home.

Like him, Prince Singh, who runs Sardar Singh Ka Dhaba, at the same place, said that his shop remained closed for more than a week and he had to re-invest Rs 50,000 to start it afresh. “Whatever money we have saved all these months, all got spent in re-establishing it,” said Singh. He added that the officials confiscated half of the items from his shop like cash counter and tables, and to get the items released from the officials, he had to spend Rs 8,000 again. Singh and his family have been running this shop for more than three decades there.

The people who have lost their earning structures to the demolition drive say that it’s always the poor are at the receiving ends of such harsh measures.

“It is poor people who always bear the brunt of such actions by the administration. First, the Covid lockdown affected our livelihood and now MCD’s anti-encroachment drives have broken our back. After MCD bulldozers rolled over my shop, I had to borrow money to run my business anew. Now, I have to pay Rs 100 as the loan installment,” said 52-year-old Kameshwar Bharti, who has been running his pan shop in the area for the last 35 years.

He added that the MCD officials took everything from his shop except a tarpaulin sheet which he uses during the summer and in the rainy season.

Another face of woe-begotten persons is Chandrabhan Sharma, who used to run a roadside salon in the area for the past 37 years. He said that he is still trying to set up his shop.

“I don’t have money for it. It will take at least six months to reset the business,” said Sharma, who has to support family of six.

The crisis is no different for Mohammad Ashraf and Naresh Kumar, who have set-up their shops near to Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range, in Tughlakabad. On May 4, the MCD bulldozed their shops.

A makeshift dhaba after the demolition at ITO. (Photo | Express)

“Had I gotten to know about this drive a bit earlier, I could have saved the materials inside my shop from getting destroyed,” said Ashraf, who used to run a juice corner near the shooting range.

This small business was feeding around 16 members of his large family.

Ditto is the story of 38-year-old Naresh Kumar, who has been running a pan shop, for the past 23 years on the footpath of the area.

On May 4, he was attending a marriage in Tundla, UP, when his shop was demolished. It took 3-4 days and Rs 4,000 to re-establish his small shop. The loss weighed highly on his family of 11 members.

What Do Officials Say?

A K Jain, 74, who retired as commissioner of planning from the DDA, said that the illegal structures are usually built around transport terminals and office spaces.

“The office crowd needed tea, food and other essentials as concerned authorities did not provide them with such things. Such local shops began to flourish at such locations. Then, a system was developed there which was loosely known as ‘hafta’ (weekly charge) and things continued for years,” said Jain.

Demolition drives are usually politically-motivated, Jain said. During elections, authorities take such actions and later these shopkeepers return to the same site.

He highlighted the example of Pradhan Mantri Unauthorised Colony in Delhi Awas Adhikar Yojna (PM-UDAY) scheme announced by PM Modi with slogan “Jahan Jhuggi Vaha Makan”. 

Under this scheme, more than a lakh unauthorised dwellings were approved by the Central government. Concerning the resettlement, Jain claimed that the law directs the authorities to provide rehabilitation for those who suffer because of such demolition drives. 

However, a senior MCD official, who did not wish to be named, said that the motive behind such an anti-encroachment drive is to set the footpaths and roads free from illegal occupancy.

“We have been receiving complaints from people about the difficulty they face when the footpath and roads are being encroached.

There is no provision for compensation, since the shops being set-up were illegal and it is the duty of civic bodies to remove such structures,” the MCD official said.

Nirmal Gorana, a human right activist, who has been working for the past 15 years for the rights of informal sector workers, said that removing such shops is illegal, according to the Street Vendors Act, 2014.

He says, “The survey work for deciding vending and non-vending zones in Delhi has not been completed yet, which will provide certificates to these shops for running their business in the defined area.”

He added that this demolition drive has become a regular work of MCD which is affecting the livelihood of poor people.

Bulldozing lives & laws

A 2019 Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs notification lists 1,797 unauthorised colonies in Delhi. The list includes 69 affluent class societies such as Sainik Farms, Freedom Fighters Enclave, Vasant Kunj Enclave, Saidul Ajab extension, and Chattarpur enclave among others.

In 2020, before the Delhi assembly elections, the central govt announced PM-UDAY, a scheme to confer property rights to residents of unauthorised colonies.

Over 1,600 applications of unauthorised colonies are pending regularisation. As per the Master Plan of Delhi 2041, such areas are seen as those with the potential for providing affordable housing and must be reinforced for the same reason.

None of the applicable state laws — the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957 or Delhi Development Act, 1957 — allow the government agency to demolish buildings and structures without giving an advance.

In February 2010, the High Court laid down that before any eviction, it must conduct a survey to identify people eligible and carry out a meaningful rehabilitation. This was later upheld by the Supreme Court in 2017.

According to CM Arvind Kejriwal, over 80% of the land in Delhi encroaches as the city is not planned.

He alleges that the MCD is planning to bulldoze over 63 lakh people of the city.

Amit Pandey and Zaid Nayeemi report


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