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Tughlaqabad demolitions can devastate poor families, 'probably even cause' deaths

By Bharat Dogra* 

Thousands of people in Tughlaqabad, Delhi, will become homeless if the demolition notices served by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) are carried out within the next few days. These are working class poor people who pooled their savings and incurred debts in order to be able to somehow arrange their present shelter here. The threatened demolition is likely to take place in cold weather at a time when exams of children are close by.
Most of these people have already suffered much in recent times. Many women here are employed as domestic workers who suffered almost complete unemployment not just during the lockdowns but even for considerable time after this. As a result they had to take loans on high interest for survival. 
Keeping in view the difficulties suffered by these poor and vulnerable working class people in recent times and particularly since the advent of COVID, these demolitions can devastate these families and probably even cause several deaths. However the entire tragedy can still be avoided if the government takes timely action.
If the government is keen to avoid this terrible injustice, the threatened people can be drawn into a pioneering effort to obtain their cooperation for protecting, greening and beautifying the monument in better ways. The main ground for the ASI serving these demolition notices is that the Tughlaqabd Fort area and its historic legacy need to be protected. So instead of evicting people they should be involved in protecting the monument. 
They should be educated regarding this and encouraged to donate one man-day work per family per week for protection, beautification and greening work in the area so that the entire complex becomes green, clean, beautiful and protected. All existing houses should be regularized and provided essential facilities, while at the same time any new dwellings should stop onwards.
If this can happen, then massive distress to people can still be avoided and at the same time a pioneering effort to protect the monument with the involvement of nearby people can be started. Such issues of conflict have been arising elsewhere too and this pioneering effort here can be replicated elsewhere as well so that a new phase of protecting monuments and historic sites with better cooperation and involvement of people can be started.
The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights has already made a good beginning by asking for the demolition to be suspended till rehabilitation of children can be ensured. As rehabilitation of children cannot be separated from the rehabilitation of their parents, this in effect implies that rehabilitation of almost all families should first be ensured before any demolition.
While the concern voiced by this initiative should be welcomed, this is not adequate and a much bigger intervention by the Delhi government should extend full support to the urgency of entirely avoiding this eviction and also announce its support for a plan to protect the historic site with the cooperation and involvement of people.
Haldwani, Chandigarh, Faridabad, Delhi, Gurugram -- at how many cities are the most poor and vulnerable people of urban India bring threatened time and again with eviction and demolition (and a large number have in fact been already evicted in recent times), despite frequent promises by senior political leaders that evictions will stop and on-site improvements in slums and hut colonies will be encouraged instead. Isn’t it time for them to live up to these promises more sincerely?
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*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘When the Two Streams Met', ‘Planet in Peril' and ‘A Day in 2071’

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