About two weeks before Shakur Basti in north-west Delhi was razed down by the Railways, a small settlement called Belagon on the banks of Yamuna in the Indraprastha Estate was pulled down by about a dozen bulldozers by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA).
It’s easy to completely miss this settlement (one of the many on the stretch from Wazirabad to Okhla running through the 22km length of Yamuna) while one takes the Salimgarh bypass towards Rajghat. It is perhaps one of the perverted offshoots of the blinkered idea of development that our country seems to have taken that despite being right next to the bypass, part of the swanky ring road overlooking Indira Gandhi National Stadium, we always fail to notice it. That explains why it took me over two hours to find it, considering its bleak online existence.
The morning of December 1st saw DDA officials, accompanied by scores of policemen and armed with an order from the National Green Tribunal (NGT), prohibiting any agricultural or construction activity on the Yamuna flood zone, showed up at Belagaon and got over 150 shanties pulled down. This drive was apparently part of a larger demolition program carried by DDA, post the NGT’s order, from the last week of November to the first week of December under which they cleared about 106 acres of land falling in the Yamuna flood zone.
I visited a small stretch of land which extended for about 300 metres and accommodated two separate settlements, both going by the same name. Where one settlement houses families who rely on farming for their livelihood, the other one, with about 85 shanties, houses mostly labourers and rickshaw pullers. Locals living there argue that they have been living there for generations and they wouldn’t know where else to go if they are evicted once and for all.
They also claim that such demolition drives began only in 2006 when most of their pucca houses were razed down, following which they have been living in houses made of hay, wood and tarpaulin sheets.
“These demolition drives have been pretty regular since 2006. They come at least once every year to throw us out of our homes. But this year has been particularly bad. On June 17th, they came and ran bulldozers not only on our houses but on our fields and harvest as well. And this time in December, again they’ve done the same,” says Keeno, a 52-year-old farmer whose past two generations have lived in the same house.
For the time being, they have been allowed to set up their dwellings again and have been given 3 months by the authority to completely vacate the place. The residents, however, continue to live there with no alternatives in near sight.