At least five residents, joined by a political activist, have sat on a hunger strike in Delhi’s Wazirpur slum cluster on Monday against the Supreme Court order of demolition of slum dwellings along railway tracks, even as a moratorium was imposed on any coercive action against dwellers for now.
The protesters, who mainly include women, demand a complete revocation of the demolition order, along with proper housing within five kilometres of their present residence. The hunger strike, that will last for 48 hours, has been called by Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation.
On Monday, the central government also informed the apex court that there will not be immediate removal of the jhuggis near rail tracks until a solution is found out with in four weeks by the Railways which is in consultation with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. The court was hearing the petition filed by Congress leader Ajay Maken, who sought rehabilitation of slum dwellers prior to the removal of 48,000 shanties, as directed by the SC in its August 31 order.
“The four week moratorium on slum demolition is only an eyewash,” CPI-ML Liberation said in a press statement, released on Monday evening, while echoing similar demands of revocation of the order.
Ravi Rai, state secretary, CPI-ML Liberation-Delhi, who was also abstaining from food along with the residents, told Newsclick that the moratorium on demolition can’t be seen as ‘relief’.
“Why couldn’t the central government submit in the court that there won’t be any demolition until rehabilitation of all those who will be affected?” Rai asked, adding that instead the government only “responded to the pressure that was building for days now against the demolition order and attempted to cool it down.”
View of the Wazirpur slum cluster where residents have sat on a hunger strike.
In addition to inviting flak from civil society groups and workers’ organisations, the slum demolition order – that is to reportedly affect nearly 2.5 lakh people – also sparked off a political blame game between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the national capital.
On Friday, AAP national spokesperson Raghav Chadha accused the BJP government for wanting to demolish slums in Delhi. In a letter dated September 10, the Delhi government-run Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) also requested the Northern Railways to not demolish the slums without first rehabilitating the dwellers.
“You are requested not to demolish the jhuggis situated on railway land without providing alternative accommodation as per provisions of the Delhi Slum and JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy, 2015,” Hindustan Times quoted the letter as saying.
On the other hand, the Delhi BJP has alleged that AAP has failed to provide housing to slum dwellers, even when close to 31,000 flats are lying vacant with the Delhi government.
Meanwhile, uncertainty grips the slum dwellers along the rail tracks who fear losing roof above their head amid the sprinting COVID-19 infection cases.
Shankuntala Devi, who has been residing in the Wazirpur slum cluster near Azadpur railway station, worries what will happen to her family – consisting of her husband and five children. “We have been staying here for a long time now. We work in the city. The government should tell us where will we stay if our house is demolished,” said the 45-year old.
Devi is also among the strikers, who are hoping their voices to be heard, for which they are ready to even remain without food for days and risk their health. She is joined by Sita Devi, another women whose family has been residing in the area for last 22 years – however, now frightened of eviction.
“We have not been given a pucca house till now by the government and now they are trying to demolish our jhuggi, she said, adding, “will they give us house in next four weeks that they have not given in last 22 years?”