DDA authorities ignore court orders, threaten Dhobi Ghat slum dwellers with eviction

Contradicting Delhi High Court orders, DDA and Delhi Police reached slums at Dhobi Ghat, near Batla House in New Delhi, on Monday to inform them that their homes would be demolished again on Tuesday

Photo by Ashlin Mathew
Photo by Ashlin Mathew

Ashlin Mathew

Contradicting Delhi High Court orders, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the Delhi Police reached the slums at Dhobi Ghat, near Batla House in New Delhi, on Monday to inform them that their homes would be demolished again on Tuesday.

The Delhi High Court had observed that Dhobi Ghat jhuggi dwellers cannot be left on the streets to fend for themselves during the pandemic, as they find themselves being evicted from homes that they have been living in for more than three decades. The court ordered the Delhi Development Authority not to take any precipitate measure in the matter and had also instructed setting up of medical facilities, toilets and temporary tents in the area.

“The authorities came here on Monday to scare us away. We are poor people and we don’t have money to rent rooms. Most of us here have been affected by the pandemic. My husband is a painter and he has not been able to find regular work. I used to work in a house, but I have not been called back during the pandemic. If the officers don’t heed to court orders, what will become of us?” said Bibi Akhtari, a resident of Dobhi Ghat. She underscored that if the government wanted to evict the residents, they must all be rehabilitated.

Akhtari said her 15-year-old son was born in Dobhi Ghat and her parents have also lived there. She claimed that they have been living there for more than 20 years and have records to prove it.

Photo by Ashlin Mathew
Photo by Ashlin Mathew
Photos by Ashlin Mathew

The DDA had bulldozed more than 800 homes, without as much as a warning, in September 2020 and had prevented residents from retrieving any belongings. Since then, DDA authorities have demolished their temporary homes thrice.

Though they all had brick homes earlier, Akhtari and several others have reconstructed dwellings using tarpaulin fearing demolition drives by DDA. Though the authorities warned that they would reach the area again on Tuesday, Akhtari said they did not come only because the residents had informed political parties and workers of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) were present at Dobhi Ghat since morning.

The residents along with All India Central Council of Trade Unions member Suchita De went to meet the local MLA Amanatullah Khan. De underscored that Khan should not shirk his responsibility when his constituency's people were in distress. “These are people who need help. We only want him to tell the DDA to stop demolition until the Dobhi Ghat residents are rehabilitated. This is the least he can do,” said De.

Another resident Najma (name changed to protect privacy) rued that during elections, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had promised ‘Jahan Jugghi, Vahan Makaan’, but after he won, he has forgotten his words. Akhtari added that during the elections, several leaders had promised that they would not be harassed.

“We went to the area MLA Amanatullah Khan’s house. He has been avoiding us. We voted for him, so he should listen to our concerns,” added Najma. She was worried if they would have to move out because her family does not have money to rent a room. Her husband, a daily wage labourer, has not been able to find steady work and she was anxious about the safety of her two daughters.

Though the Delhi High Court had ordered DDA to ensure temporary relief for the residents, De alleged that the DDA authorities arranged for water tanks in the nearby night shelters. “The authorities clicked pictures of those tanks to show the High Court that they have made provisions,” said De.

Currently, the case is still being heard by the Delhi High Court and the lawyers, on Tuesday, petitioned for an early hearing because of the threat posed by the DDA authorities. According to the Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act, 2006, if any unauthorised construction has come up on or after January 1, 2006, authorities cannot carry out demolitions of dwellings without rehabilitating affected residents.” In this case, the DDA is liable for rehabilitation of people who are uprooted or evicted from such a land.

In June 2021, the Delhi High Court had ordered the Delhi Government or the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board to make necessary arrangements to house them and reimbursed by DDA. The Delhi High Court had ordered DUSIB to rehabilitate the residents of Dobhi Ghat. However, DUSIB deputy director (rehabilitation) RK Gosain said they can only do so on the request of DDA. The DDA chairperson is Lt Gov. Anil Baijal.

“The case is currently sub-judice. The DDA can also rehabilitate, and so can DUSIB. If they send us a request, we will take action. We cannot do anything without a request. DDA has not asked us to do anything,” claimed Gosain.

National Herald called several DDA officials, but no one responded.

The Delhi High Court had, in 2019, stated that alternate arrangements have to be made by authorities before evicting people from their homes in a case filed by Congress general secretary Ajay Maken for slum dwellers. “It is essential to first complete a survey and consult the jhuggi-jhopdi dweller. If no rehabilitation is feasible, then as and when the respondents are in a position to rehabilitate the eligible dwellers of a basti, adequate time will be given to such dwellers to make arrangements to move to the relocation site,” the court had directed.

The Supreme Court had, in 2017, upheld the Delhi High Court judgment in Sudama Singh case that prior to carrying any eviction, it was the duty of the State to carry out consultations and carry out a rehabilitation exercise.

However, Instead of following previous and current court orders, the DDA authorities have been intimidating Dhobi Ghat residents and acting arbitrarily.

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