DDA identifies 1,731 unauthorised colonies in Delhi awaiting bulldozers

Delhi has a staggering number of illegal settlements and commercial buildings. Start bulldozing such structures in posh Golf Links and Sainik Farms first, suggested lawyer Dushyant Dave in the SC

DDA identifies 1,731 unauthorised colonies in Delhi awaiting bulldozers

Amitabh Srivastava

Delhi, where bulldozers demolished sundry ‘unauthorised’ shops in the predominantly Muslim locality of Jahangirpuri this week, ironically remains a city of illegal colonies. Delhi Development Authority (DDA) under the Union Government actually lists the number of such illegal colonies at a staggering one thousand, seven hundred and thirty-one (1,731).

Unofficial estimates speak of 60% of Delhi being ‘illegal’. Large parts of even South Delhi including Lajpat Nagar, Sainik Farms etc. are full of unauthorised constructions. A majority of Delhi’s over three million private cars are parked at night on public land. Most of the public buildings outside the Lutyen’s zone, it is believed, are guilty of violating building laws and rules. A majority of commercial buildings are similarly guilty of violating rules for keeping open spaces and parking.

“Take me to any corner of Delhi and I will show you encroachments which have been there for decades. The famous Hanuman statue on Pusa Road is a case in point,” quipped an old Delhi resident this week in the wake of demolitions at Jahangirpuri. If documents authorising construction are sought, 80% of Delhi would be found illegal, an MCD official had confided in him, volunteered another.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has controlled the three municipalities in Delhi for the last 15 years and Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has been in the saddle for the last eight years. Why did they allow unauthorised constructions to remain all these years?

When bulldozers therefore rolled into Jahangirpuri on Wednesday this week, it was not new for Delhi and people were not perturbed. Bulldozers often appeared, made their presence felt and left without doing any damage. Negotiations, deals and fresh understandings would be struck and things would go back to ‘normal’. But not this time.

“Over 200 vendors were removed, their carts vandalised and 200 families lost their livelihood,” points out lawyer Kawalpreet Kaur. Most of them apparently had the COV (Certificate of Vending) issued by respective committees. Some had been vending there for over 10 years while at least one vendor claimed to have been there for 30 years with nobody ever raising any question. But many of them were shocked to see their homes and shops destroyed before their eyes.

BJP leaders a day earlier had demanded that illegal constructions in the area by ‘Bangladeshis’ be demolished. They argued that the ‘illegally’ settled Bangladeshis in Jahangirpuri had pelted stones on a Hanuman Jayanti procession on April 16 and, therefore, their homes and establishments must be razed.

DDA identifies 1,731 unauthorised colonies in Delhi awaiting bulldozers

On April 19 the Delhi Municipal Corporation asked for 400 police personnel for the drive the next day and Delhi Police obliged. Delhi Police which failed to deploy 400 policemen on April 16 to maintain peace had no problem deploying the policemen on April 20. It was, claimed Mayor Raja Iqbal Singh of the BJP, a routine drive. He also claimed that under the rules the civic body was not obliged to give prior notice before demolishing illegal structures.

Newspaper reports on the morning of April 20, and TV channels and news portals the evening before, reported that Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court would be moved on Wednesday against the threatened demolition. But the bulldozers rolled into the area early in the morning and the demolition started at 9 am and continued for the next four hours. Small establishments selling cold drink, peanuts and wafers were bulldozed. A paan shop owned by one Jha ji, was also not spared although targets were primarily Muslims.

Rules might have allowed the demolition drive without serving any notice, as claimed by the North Delhi Mayor, but which rules allowed officials to bulldoze and smash household goods, cold drink bottles, packets of wafers and peanuts etc. stocked for sale? Why was no time given to move the goods?

It required a special kind of insensitivity and cruelty to destroy homes and small establishments. It was cruel to render poor Muslims homeless during the month of Ramzan when they fasted through the day. Heavens would not have fallen if due process had been followed and adequate notices served. But that would have defeated the ‘purpose’ which was to use bulldozers as instruments of retribution, of punishment.

The timing of the ‘routine’ demolition drive was also most curious. The area had witnessed clashes between two communities barely four days ago and the need of the hour was restoration of peace and public confidence. Nor did the drive appear to have followed any due diligence. The outer gate of the Jahangirpuri mosque was held to be an encroachment and demolished by bulldozers but the part of the adjacent temple jutting out to an equal extent was left alone.

The BJP controlled Municipal Corp. needs to answer a few basic questions:

• How many encroachments were identified by the municipal corporation over the years?

• How were they allowed in the first place and how long have the encroachments been there (some are said to have been there for 40 years)

• How many encroachments were demolished during the last few years, how many served with notice and how many regularised?

• Who decided where and when the demolition would start and which ones would be left alone?

• Will the NDMC undertake similar demolition drives without notice on larger commercial buildings anytime soon?

Successive governments have regularised illegal colonies in the past; and it is well known that unauthorised constructions come up with the complicity of the officials. Most building activities, repairs and modifications violate some building law or the other. But municipal corporations generally turn a blind eye and officials are happy to ignore the breaches as long as their pockets are lined.

Delhi’s elite and the middle class have been blasé about selective anti-encroachment drives. Demolition of the houses of the poor, often at night or during the monsoon rains, left them unaffected. Nor did mainstream media ever take much interest. But the demolition drive at Janhangirpuri this week was celebrated by sections of the media and some Hindus because, it was believed, they targeted the Muslims held responsible for the Apr 16 clash.

It was the third procession of the day. Unlike the previous two processions, this one stopped near the mosque. The timing coincided with the evening prayers. Processionists, mostly minor children and seemingly unemployed youth, danced in gay abandon to loud music.

Provocative slogans were raised targeting Muslims in the predominantly Muslim area. Swords were brandished and video clips showed ‘Desi Katta’ or country-made pistols being flaunted by some. Baseball bats and hockey sticks ((who play baseball or hockey in Jahangirpuri?) were also part of the procession. A few over-enthusiastic members of the mob tried to tie saffron flags on the gate and pillars at the mosque.

It was, Delhi Police conceded, an illegal procession. No permission had been obtained. But that did not prevent the police from lining the ‘traditional route’ and accompanying the procession. The question why it was allowed without permission remained unanswered. DCP Deependra Pathak defended deployment of police for the illegal procession by claiming that policemen were there as a precautionary measure.

What followed has been variously described as a skirmish (nobody died), a violent clash (eight policemen were injured with one sustaining gunshot injury) and a riot (the two communities pelted stones at each other, opened fire, vehicles were torched and shops vandalised). Whatever it was, it vitiated the atmosphere and provided an opportunity to both the Sangh Parivar and the Delhi chief minister to politicise it ahead of the crucial Delhi municipal corporation election.

As many as 23 ‘miscreants’, a majority of them Muslims, were arrested after scanning video footage, photographs and investigation. The stringent National Security Act was slapped on some including the alleged mastermind Md Ansar, originally from Assam and hence promptly labelled a Bangladeshi.

While the evidence against him is not clear, at least two video clips have surfaced on social media. In one of them, Md Ansar can be seen asking a teenaged boy who had sent him with a sharp weapon, reassuring the frightened boy that no harm would come to him. In another video clip, one of his neighbours, Kamlesh Gupta, is heard testifying his impeccable conduct. “He has been very cordial and helpful…if he saw me out at night, he would always enquire if I needed any help,” she says. She also claims that on the day of the violence, April 16, Md Ansar was at home when trouble broke out. It was the commotion that made him leave the house, recalls the lady. “Bhabhi, it seems the boys have got into a fight. Perhaps I can do some beech-bachav and drill some sense into them,” the lady Md Ansar telling her. Delhi Police clearly has missed seeing these videos.

Delhi Police did not quite enhance its credibility by first tweeting that a VHP activist, Prem Sharma, had been arrested for taking out the procession without permission; and then claiming that the offence was bailable and hence the RSS Pracharak was let off on bail after he had joined the investigation.

“These anti-social elements and rioters have the support of local AAP MLA and councillor and as a result these people have done largescale encroachment,” he alleged. “Therefore, illegal encroachment done by these rioters should be identified and there should be bulldozers run over it.”

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