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Demand to stop all demolitions during Covid: 'Failure' to rehabilitate Jamia basti dwellers

Counterview Desk

Condemning the denial of timely rehabilitation to 700 residents whose homes at Dhobi House, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi were “forcibly” demolished by the Delhi Devopment Authority (DDA) almost four months back, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has reiterated its demand to stop all demolitions in the midst of Covid pandemic, which it made recently with regard to Chennai slumdwellers.
Supporting the demands by Dhobi Ghat Jhuggi Adhikar Manch women seeking implementation of the government promise Jahan Jhuggi Wahan Makan and compensate for all the losses suffered by them, NAPM said, “Actions of DDA are in violation of natural justice.”
It added, “DDA in its action has not taken into account or addressed established policy protection for the residents under Delhi Urban Shelter Board (DUSIB) policy 2015 – on procedures to be followed in case of forced eviction including adequate notice and clear rehabilitation arrangements.”

Text:

National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) is outraged at the continued callousness of Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to deny rehabilitation to more than 700 people whose homes at Dhobi Ghat, Jamia Nagar, were demolished in September and October 2020. We condemn the disregard for human life demonstrated by abandoning the residents to precarious lives and increased risk over 4 months, due to loss of shelter and livelihood in the midst of the Covid pandemic.
NAPM joins the Dhobi Ghat Jhuggi Adhikar Manch in demanding immediate quality rehabilitation at the site from where the people’s homes were demolished, and fair compensation for the losses suffered in the intervening winter months. The women’s andolan in the area requires widespread solidarity and support from all of us to end the abuse and harassment the community faces every day.

Demolition drives:

DDA carried out large scale demolitions in Batla House at Dhobi Ghat, Jamia Nagar, Delhi, on September 24, 2020. More than 700 residents were forcefully evicted and over 200 huts were destroyed during the first phase of the drive. On October 8, 2020, the second phase of demolitions was initiated by DDA where the bulldozers destroyed the rest of the jhuggis when most residents were out at work. 
In December, the DDA intensified encroachment on the land of the residents and dug it up in order to construct huge boundaries and elevated structures resulting in deep swamps where their homes once stood.
Actions of DDA are in violation of natural justice and their right to live with dignity. The DDA in its action has not taken into account or addressed established policy protection for the residents under Delhi Urban Shelter Board (DUSIB) policy 2015 – on procedures to be followed in case of forced eviction including adequate notice and clear rehabilitation arrangements. 
DDA also remains in violation of their own state governments demand promised in 2020 Delhi election for basti dwellers, Jaha Juggi Waha Makan (where the dwelling, there itself the house). A promise made for the Jhuggis (JJ clusters) in securing tenureship and protecting themselves from forced evictions.

Impact on lives and livelihoods:

Most residents whose homes have been demolished have been living in Dhobi Ghat for reportedly close to two decades and suffered massive economic losses. Not only have they lost their homes, but also their livelihood. Fear of contracting the Corona virus motivated many residents in neighbouring buildings, who were primary employers of both men and women living at Dhobi Ghat, to suspend their employment.
Upon learning of the unsanitary conditions in which the slum dwellers have been forced to live, the residents in neighbouring buildings subjected them to further loss of livelihood, discrimination and constant harassment. Displaced families, including the aged and the sick, pregnant women and young children are now forced to live in the open on the few spare acres of land which is not under water. Frequent rain often causes the swamp to overflow, flooding the jhuggis of the residents in the middle of an already harsh Delhi winter.
At a time when a new strain of the Coronavirus has been detected, the residents of Dhobi Ghat have been left destitute, with few means of redressal. There is severe shortage of food, government ration is supplied irregularly and consists only of dry grains. Electricity too is cut off in the area during the evening which only compounds the problem of cooking the minimal ration residents receive. Moreover, every time residents have attempted to rebuild temporary settlements for shelter, these are destroyed and they are subsequently intimidated by the authorities.

Formation of Dhobi Ghat Jhuggi Adhikar Manch

In response to the repeated illegal demolitions at Dhobi Ghat, the women have collectivized as Dhobi Ghat Jhuggi Adhikar Manch to fulfil the promise of Jahan Jhuggi Wahan Makan, home where the jhuggi was, in order to contribute to the relief efforts that are underway and streamline a process to ensure the urgent needs of displaced families are met. Till now, clothes, shawls, blankets along with ration kits and tarpaulins to protect the jhuggis have been painstakingly arranged and distributed to some of the families.
Yet, interim relief efforts cannot substitute for the urgent demand for long-term housing and rehabilitation of all slum dwellers at Dhobi Ghat who have been living in destitute conditions for nearly four months now. The formation of the committee itself, and their raising their voices against the DDA has led to incidents of attempted intimidation.
National Alliance of People’s Movements strongly condemns the illegal demolitions by the DDA, which have eroded the most fundamental rights of the displaced families at a time when the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown had already left them devastated.
We stand in solidarity with the affected people, in particular the women of Jhuggi Adhikar Manch, who have strongly organized themselves and are leading a valiant struggle amidst the crisis. We extend our full support to their demands that:
  1. All the residents of Dhobi Ghat, Batla House must be ensured full rehabilitation and fair compensation for all losses, with immediate effect by the concerned authorities.
  2. Pending rehabilitation, interim monetary grant as well as relief support be extended to all the families by way of food grains, domestic materials and necessary supplies. 
  3. Special attention must be paid to the nutritional, education and health needs of children and women in the area who stand affected by the demolitions. 
  4. An inquiry must be initiated against police personnel who used undue force against the residents including senior citizens, women and children and suppressed their rightful expressions of dissent as part of the Jahan Jhuggi Wahan Makan Andolan; and action be taken based on such an inquiry. 
  5. Given the history of ‘disruptions’ in the area in the last couple of years including the fire in 2019 and now the massive demolition, the actual motives for the demolition also be thoroughly inquired into.
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