NEW DELHI: Months after several jhuggies were removed from railway land, they have returned along the tracks of Delhi’s neglected Ring railway. As of now, alsmost 35 acres have been encroached by hutments. Over the past years, these encroachments have grown in size and have begun affecting the laying of new railway tracks. To compound the mess, some night shelters for homeless people have been set up under railway bridges. NGOs managing such shelters had raised a hue and cry earlier, when they were demolished by the railways in a bid to maintain the necessary safety zone from the tracks.
The location of the shelters so close to the tracks is a logistical nightmare for maintenance of essential transport services. A public interest litigation (PIL) followed the demolition of a shelter in 2009, and the matter is pending before the Delhi High Court. The Delhi government in its submission before the court last week, has stated that shelters cannot be permitted near railway tracks for safety reasons. The Court has now sought a detailed status report on the number of night shelters and their maintenance. The NGOs running night shelters are given `30,000 per month per shelter for maintenance from the Delhi government, and `3 lakh for construction of a shelter.
Encroachment on railway land is an old problem, but there is cause for concern if illegal hutments mushrooming across the city halt transport development in its tracks. Remodeling of the Delhi Cantt station, addition of lines between Nizamuddin and Tughlaqabad and laying of the fifth and sixth lines between Tilak Bridge and New Delhi has been held up due to widespread encroachment.
An hour long journey on the almost forgotten Ring railway of the national Capital reveals hutments and rubbish strewn across some platforms. Lines of fresh laundry, cattle, scrawny toddlers and brick huts greet passengers aboard the railway. The ring railway was built nearly three decades ago and some of the halts on its route include Nizamuddin station, Lajpat Nagar, Sewa Nagar (near Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium), Safdarjung, Chanakyapuri, Inderpuri, Naraina Vihar, Patel Nagar, Old Delhi (Delhi Junction) and New Delhi Railway station. “At present there are three trains in the morning and three in the evening,” said Ashwini Lohani, Divisional Railway Manager (Delhi).
A source in Northern Railways reveals that though they clear the unauthorised jhuggies from near the tracks, the poor who live in them return within a few months, cocking a snook at all attempts to remove them from their ‘homes’. In some areas like Inderpuri, Naraina and Daya Basti, people are living virtually on the platforms, and cycle rickshaws and scooters can be found parked nearby. Small shops have also begun operating from these ramshackle units.
There are around 26,937 jhuggies in Delhi, covering over 130 acres of railway land. Out of these, around 9,000 fall in the safety zone along the tracks in the capital. The 35-kilometre Ring railway has 7,028 illegal hutments spread over an area of about 35 acres. Human excreta on the rails results in faster rusting and corrosion of the track, thus pushing up maintenance costs for the Railways. There is a pressing need to build at least 100 kilometres of concrete boundary walls, topped by curled barbed wire to protect railway property, but shortage of funds for the construction is delaying the work.
The Ring railway is widely used by those working in Delhi but residing in neighbouring towns or the outskirts of the city. Commuters switch trains at Delhi Junction, New Delhi Railway station and Nizamuddin to reach the outlying areas like Ghaziabad, Narela, Ballabhgarh, Rohtak, Panipat, Meerut and Mathura. Passengers who have been using it for the past two decades prefer the local train over bus and Metro as it works out far cheaper and more convenient for them. A monthly pass for a fixed daily route comes for as cheap as `110.