Letter of Deep Distress and Concern to
THE LG OF DELHI, CM OF DELHI, COMMISSIONER, MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF DELHI
Stop Unlawful Demolitions in Delhi;
Compensate, Rehabilitate, Restore Livelihoods
of the Affected Immediately
We, the undersigned, wish to express our deep concern at the bulldozer-led demolitions carried out by various municipal corporations in Delhi. As is well known, the first round of demolitions was carried out by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation in Jahangirpuri resettlement colony on April 20, 2022, soon after the communal violence in the area just four days prior to that. The recent visits to and subsequent statement by the SDMC Mayor regarding areas earmarked for future demolition points to the real and present danger that the actions in Jahangirpuri and Kalyanpuri over the past week will be repeated in these areas that have already been named – Shaheen Bagh, Jasola, Sarita Vihar, Jaitpur and Madanpur Khadar. It is deeply disturbing that demolitions in these areas have been put on hold only because the Delhi Police publicly asked for ten days’ notice in order to cooperate with the order. Massive presence of paramilitary forces in some of these areas as well as frequent processions of slogan shouting crowds led by BJP leaders are contributing to an overall climate of intimidation and terror.
It is appalling that the bulldozers hired by civic authorities are targeting temporary structures essential for livelihood such as handcarts and cycle carts, fruit stalls, gumtis, and wooden ‘shop’ tables. These structures are used all over the country by some of the poorest communities in the city – rickshaw pullers, fruit vendors, women running marginal and subsistence businesses, ragpickers, garbage sorters, vendors and hawkers. The brutality of the action to destroy the precious belongings of some of the poorest residents of the city is unprecedented in the history of Delhi. The affected are overwhelmingly unprotected informal economy workers who have already suffered sudden and severe destruction of their livelihoods during last two years of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown.
Jahangirpuri is not an illegal or unauthorised colony as has been reported in sections of the press. It is an official resettlement colony established by the government itself, and its residents have fulfilled the due process required by the process of resettlement which includes possessing all the paperwork for their residences and moveable and immoveable property. Are Jahangirpuri residents not subject to the same laws as all other colonies and residents of Delhi-NCT? Why are they now being targeted to the exclusion of thousands if not lakhs of such structures around the city and the country? The use of bulldozers point to discriminatory and arbitrary use of power by the MCD authority, the legality of which is under question.
Delhi’s development in the past century has always included a large number of ‘illegal’, ‘unauthorised’, and ‘regularised’ colonies, in both working class and affluent areas of the city. Far from curtailing this kind of development, the MCD Act of 1957, the DDA Act of 1957, and multiple Supreme Court judgments have put in place protective legislation for residents of the city who contribute to its impressive GDP and growth rates. The National Capital Territory of Delhi (Recognition of Property Rights of Residents of Unauthorised Colonies) Act, 2019, assured the residents of unauthorised colonies “their rights of ownership, transfer or mortgage.” In Sudama Singh vs Government of Delhi (2010), the 2015 Delhi Slum & JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy and a 2019 SC judgment, the law unambiguously held that demolitions without adequate procedure and due cause resulted in “a grave violation of the rights of life and liberty” of the residents. In the 2019 case, the Supreme Court in fact directed the Railways to compensate the residents of Shakur Basti for “the unilateral action of forced eviction.”
The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 in Delhi, requires civic authorities to survey street vendors and provide them with licenses and allot sites. Legally therefore, demolitions may be considered a last resort and can only be carried out after undertaking a proper survey, giving notice to the residents or vendors, allowing them time to respond and strictly following due process. Since these steps have not been undertaken in Delhi, how can the MCD claim to know that the street carts, stalls, etc targeted for demolishing in Delhi are “unauthorised”?
The demolitions are therefore a clearly arbitrary use of power by the MCD authority, the legality of which is under question as they target the rights to life and livelihood that has been upheld on countless occasions by the courts and the law of this land.
Further, the use of bulldozers for these demolitions appears to be a willful act of collective punishment to a vulnerable population. In fact, it is obvious that these demolitions are politically motivated. They were carried out by state authorities on the basis of communal sentiments expressed by several political actors and echoed in various media quarters. Evictions of street vendors have taken place since November 2021 in Connaught Place, Sarojini Nagar and Chandni Chowk. While these too were carried out with violence and destroyed hundreds of livelihoods, at these sites, unlike at Jahangirpuri, bulldozers were not used to destroy push carts and takhts. Now it has come to our notice that more such demolitions have been planned only in Muslim majority areas of Delhi – these include Shaheen Bagh, Okhla, Jasola and Madanpur Khadar. In Jahangirpuri, we have seen how long-time residents have been painted in this poisonous communal atmosphere as illegal immigrants, “Rohingyas”, “Bangladeshis” and “rioters” without a shred of evidence.
Further, an ill-informed, unsustainable and poisonous link has been implied between communal violence and the residents of these colonies. This narrative has been used to justify these unprecedented recent demolitions, presented in the national consciousness as a ‘punishment’, which is the exact word used by the BJP state chief Adesh Gupta who, according to news reports, pressured the MCD to carry out the demolition and continue it even up to an hour after the Supreme Court’s status quo order.
The terrifying bulldozers have destroyed precious basic infrastructure related to small businesses and taken away the livelihood of the most marginalised residents of our society. The critical question is: what is the urgency to evict poor street vendors, whether Hindu or Muslim or of any community, when they are suffering record unemployment and price rise and economic devastation after two years of the pandemic and lockdown?
This is certainly not how a caring state responds to its citizens in distress.
The demolitions must be acknowledged as communally and politically motivated, and are a part of countrywide actions by the BJP attacking Muslim lives, practices and livelihoods.
We call upon all the authorities
We also call upon all democratic forces in Delhi to raise their voices against this injustice and to stand with our fellow citizens against such threats to their lives and livelihoods.
Complete list of signatories