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Delhi hardlook: The bulldozer gathers pace


Two bulldozers were engaged in demolishing a house spread on around two acres in South Delhi’s Kalyanpuri last week. Watching from a distance, Shyam Pihal, who lives in a jhuggi cluster adjoining the road, made a phone call to his friend: “MCD wale aaye hain, sab log idhar aa jao, kahi ye jhuggi na todne ka sochein (People from the MCD are here, all of you come, they might just think of breaking the jhuggis).”

While the drive was carried out by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on court orders, the much publicised anti-encroachment drives carried out across the city by civic bodies have sparked fear in people’s minds. The year-round activity has also turned into a flashpoint between the BJP, which has been ruling the MCD for three terms, and the opposition Aam Aadmi Party.

The first big drive

The erstwhile North Delhi Municipal Corporation carried out an anti-encroachment demolition drive in Jahangirpuri on April 20, days after the area witnessed communal violence following a Hanuman Jayanti procession. It was stopped mid-way by the Supreme Court.

While Opposition parties hit out at the BJP for bringing in “bulldozer politics” of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh to Delhi, those in the party as well as a section of people hailed state unit chief Adesh Gupta for “teaching the rioters a lesson”.

Gupta had written to the North MCD Mayor demanding identification and demolition of “illegal encroachment” and construction by those arrested in the Jahangirpuri violence. He also ordered the three corporations to undertake more such drives to remove “illegal encroachments by Bangladeshis and Rohingya”.

While the AAP was not directly critical of the drive at that point, its MLA Atishi accused the BJP of helping settle Bangladeshis and Rohingya in different parts so that goondagardi (hooliganism) can be perpetrated. In the days since, a series of anti-encroachment exercises have been carried out across the capital, and the AAP has become more direct in its opposition to the drives.

Since Jahangirpuri

The MCD has carried out more than 25 drives, with an average of around one per day, in the past one month. These have been in areas such as Jahangirpuri, Dilshad Garden, Dallupura, Geeta Colony, Kanti Nagar, Mangolpuri, Najaf-garh, Hari Nagar, Chaukhandi, Vasant Kunj, Raghubar Nagar, Janakpuri and Dwarka. “These drives are conducted based on feedback and the nature of complaints. Most of them are to clear the right of way; there is no pick and choose,” said a deputy commissioner in the North MCD.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, meanwhile, has asked his party MLAs to hit the ground against these drives and show their support for people.

On May 9, South MCD officials tried to carry out an anti-encroachment drive in Shaheen Bagh but were stopped by residents and representatives of the Congress and AAP, who protested in front of the bulldozer. Three days later at Madanpur Khadar, the civic body barricaded the street and started tearing down the walls of four under construction buildings that were allegedly being constructed illegally.

Clashes broke out between locals and police and AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan was arrested. During DDA’s drive in Kalyanpuri, AAP MLA Kuldeep Kumar was detained by police.

According to data from the Special Task Force constituted by the MoHUA in April 2018 to clear encroachments and unauthorised constructions in the capital, the corporations along with other government agencies have removed 4,132 encroachments till April 15. As many as 4,319 properties have been demolished while there is a pendency of 7,522 cases.

A deputy commissioner with the South MCD admitted that the drives have intensified in the past one month, but attributed it to several complaints that had piled up over the past two years due to the pandemic and inability of the civic body to act on the same.

Earlier, he said, councillors too used to resist such drives as it went against popular sentiments: “Now they themselves are taking the lead, making our work easier.”

Some discontent

Not all within the BJP are enthusiastic about this. Two MPs that The Indian Express spoke to said the drive had started to backfire and the party should not associate itself with it as it is carried out by bureaucrats on a routine basis.

“This is not the Uttar Pradesh model. Yogi ji carries out these drives on criminals; here it is being done locality wise. While the Jahangirpuri drive was to send a message to rioters, what are we gaining by associating with the drives in Dwarka, Matiala, New Friends Colony?” said an MP.

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Another senior BJP leader said, “In the past, we have confronted the MCD during the sealing drives… our MP even broke the seal of a shop. Now, it feels like we are getting carried away by the media hype… Now that the special officer (of the unified MCD) has taken charge, he should undertake a course correction and stop such drives. Or the party should make it clear that it does not back them.”

Former Puducherry chief secretary Ashwani Kumar has been appointed as the Special Officer of the unified MCD, and took charge Sunday.
A senior BJP leader, who is also office bearer in the state team, said, “We should have disassociated ourselves after Jahangirpuri… or Shaheen Bagh.”

The BJP has now started to slowly distance itself from the drives. Gupta said, “We back only those drives where the mafia has encroached common land. The rest are routine exercises by the MCD and the BJP has nothing to do with it.”

The AAP, meanwhile, blamed the BJP for targeting the common man. While Kejriwal said that the BJP and MCD had put the lives and livelihoods of 63 lakh people, who live in unauthorised areas, in danger, AAP leader Saurabh Bhardwaj said at a recent press conference, “The BJP is targeting the poor and middle class… It has planned encroachment drives in Saket P block, Qutub Institutional Area, Chirag Delhi — do Rohingya live here? I stay in Chirag Delhi, where Jats and Brahmins live.”

For and against

It has largely been traders, jhuggi clusters and roadside vendors who are bearing the brunt of such drives. Lakshmi, who lives in a jhuggi in Trilokpuri, said she has been living in the area for the past 10 years along with her family of six. Though the MCD has not reached the locality, the fear remains. “Yaha todenge to hum kahan jayenge (where will we go if they break our home?). My husband drives an e-rickshaw and my son lost his job during the pandemic; he worked in an office in Noida… We do not earn enough that we can pay rent.”

About one-third of Delhi lives in substandard housing, which includes 695 slums and JJ clusters, 1,797 unauthorised colonies, and 362 villages. Among them, those living in slums and JJ clusters lack access to basic facilities like toilets and sewer connections.

Residents, meanwhile, said the corporation should focus on more pressing issues like sanitation. B S Vohra, who heads the East Delhi RWA Joint Front, said the corporation should widen roads rather than focusing on cosmetic actions: “Areas like Krishna Nagar see bad traffic snarls, causing pollution.”

At Shaheen Bagh, Shahazad Ali, who owns a furniture shop, said the garbage in the area is rarely cleared and the corporation should focus on this. Another resident of the area, Itteshan Azmi, said these encroachments would be back in a few days: “The bigger question is how these encroachments came up in the first place.”

Mayor Mukesh Suryan, however, said, “Ask people if they are relieved that encroachments have been cleared…”
A deputy commissioner in the South MCD added, “Encroachment is done by poor people, but the rich will not be spared — if their houses are on government land, they too will be demolished.”





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