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Delhi: Tughlakabad Locals Protest Against ASI's Eviction Order at Jantar Mantar Seeking Dignified Rehabilitation

Over a thousand families will lose their homes due to the eviction notice sent by the ASI.
Protesters gathered at Jantar Mantar

Protesters gathered at Jantar Mantar

Fifteen years back, when Suman (34) bought a small piece of land from the local dealer in Delhi's densely populated settlement of Tughlakabad, she clearly remembered the involvement of the local police in the process. The participation of a government employee in the process was an assurance that there was nothing wrong with the transaction she was making. However, on January 11, 2023, a notice from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) asked her to vacate her house. It called Suman's house an encroachment, thus an illegal settlement.

This notification was served to almost approximately 1000 families comprised of 2.5 lakh residents of the Tughlakabad Fort area of Delhi. It had asked the residents to vacate the site by January 26. At a call of Mazdoor Awas Sangharsh Samiti, hundreds of citizens of the area gathered at Jantar Mantar to protest against this notice and to seek better rehabilitation.

"We bought this land 15 years back from the local dealer in the policeman's presence. Both my kids are studying in a government school. If we leave this place today, where will they go? We have not built a bungalow here, it's just two room set where a family of four lives, and we bought it with hard-earned money. My question is, why should we leave it? The government should first vacate the houses of the people who sold us the land," said Suman, who works as a domestic help in the nearby area, which she calls Kothi.

The notification of ASI had cited the Supreme court's order to remove the encroachment around Tughlakabad fort. This order was made pursuant to the PIL filed in 2001 to protect, maintain, and preserve the historic fort.

After a lengthy legal battle and several years later, in February 2016, the Supreme court directed the ASI to stop land grabbing and encroachment. It's been six years since this order was in place, but the residents of Tughlakabad alleged that January 11 was the first time they heard from the ASI. The notice further said that any construction after 1993 would be considered encroachment and removed. However, the residents claim that the land-grabbing and selling business was going on even after 2016 and continued until recently.

"I have been living in Tughlakabad for the last 10 years. I bought the land in 2016. If the court had declared it an illegal land, why did the government let it sell? I bought it by taking a loan which I am still paying. The DDA had also surveyed our area, claiming that the government has decided to convert its status to an authorised colony," said 52-year-old Ratan, a security guard. He also shared the mail of the survey that the DDA carried out.

The people assembled here had two precise demands: the government should revoke this notice and convert it into an authorised settlement. If it fails to do so, then the government should have a clear firm policy under which dignified rehabilitation could occur.

Mazdoor Awas Sangharsh Samiti has been fighting on behalf of these families seeking proper rehabilitation in the high court. In its response, the Delhi High Court instructed the chief secretary of the Delhi government to convene a meeting within four weeks with officials from DDA, MCD, and ASI to discuss the resolution plan.

Nirmal Gorana, convenor of the Mazdoor Aawas Sangharsh Samiti, was also at the protest site. In an interview with NewsClick, he said, "The government officials are citing the Supreme court's order to evict the citizens of Tughlakabad, but is it(the court's order) saying there shouldn't be any rehabilitation? This is the government's responsibility, not the court's. The government is running this country, not the court."

When asked about the local Delhi government's (Aam Aadmi Party) role in this matter, he said, "The AAP has also staged a protest against this order in front of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) office. We believe whichever government is against this order will have our support."

The Tughlakabad area is primarily home to migrant workers who have come to the capital city in search of better employment and livelihood. Most of them work as domestic helpers, labourers, security guards and other unorganised sectors. Many have not returned to work due to the fear the government has caused through this notice. The notice further says that if the residents cannot vacate at their ease, the ASI will be entitled to recover the costs associated with demolishing their homes.

"We have a government electricity meter and ration card to prove that we are legal residents. Moreover, we have the voter id card on which I have been voting for the last 18 years. And now the government is saying that our houses are illegal. Through this protest, I want to remind the government of their slogan, 'Jahan Jhuggi Wahin Makaan,'" said Zubaida, a 34-year-old domestic helper who lives with her family in the area.

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