In a potential flashpoint, residents of the J-K labour shelter flats in three areas of the city are facing a renewed threat of eviction as J-K's assistant labour commissioner (ALC) in Chandigarh has yet again sought ouster of the "encroachers".
Meant as night shelters leased to the J-K government for labour, the 85 flats are instead housing entire families of workers from Jammu and Kashmir and others since the 1980s. The houses have even been rented and in at least one instance, the occupant "sold" the houses on mutual deed.
In a latest letter to the deputy commissioner-cum-estate officer on April 25, also sent to the UT home secretary and the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM), east, J-K ALC Parveen Kumari said she had underlined that not only have the workers overstayed by years but some have even handed over possession of the houses to non-J-K natives.
When contacted, she cited a 2012 order of the Punjab and Haryana high court that had held the stay of the workers and families as illegal.
Meanwhile, SDM (E) Danish Ashraf is learnt to have held a meeting earlier this week with the enforcement staff to plan the next course of action. The first step could be a public announcement seeking voluntary eviction. However, residents plan to fight it out.
Bashir Ahmed Khan, 65, an auto driver and also vice-president of NGO J-K Hindu-Muslim Ekta Manch in the Sector-29 colony, said: "We have been residing here for two decades. How was it a temporary arrangement as we were told to get the houses renovated too after the ALC and other staff literally picked us off the streets for rehab? We have voter I-cards and even electricity meters in our names here." At present, after modification of the houses, over 200 families live in the flats. On paper, there is a rent of `100-1,000 a month but it's rarely paid.
THEN AND NOW
The UT estate office had leased 60 two-room flats in Sector 29 (known as Kashmiri Colony now), another 16 in Bapu Dham Colony, and 10 single rooms in the Sector 26 transport yard to the J&K government in 1984, said Kumari. One of the flats in Bapu Dham Colony was gutted in an accident and 85 remain encroached. Asked what action her department had done for years, she said: "The action as such has to be taken by the UT. We have been writing letters."
SDM Ashraf, when asked about planned action, replied, "I have received a complaint and we are working on it."
The litigation started in 1987 and it was in 2010 that the court also refused to give relief to residents. Their petition in the high court was dismissed in 2012 by a double bench, saying: "In the absence of any letter of allotment or conveyance deed or other document in favour of the petitioner, it would be difficult to uphold the right of continued possession…"
But the HC had added: "There may be hardship involved in the eviction process or humanitarian issues involved yet it is for the UT administration, as owner of the property, to consider the feasibility of carrying on with the purpose of the quarters as a serai for migratory labour from Jammu and Kashmir in the background of further exodus from the Valley over the years. This is, however, a question of policy and … it may yet formulate a policy where genuine and bona fide needs of migrant labour are temporarily met."
Khan remarked: "When the HC too talks of a humanitarian approach, we appeal to the administration to give us ownership on the Chandigarh Housing Board rates prevalent at the time of possession. Some of us lost family members to militancy; some have grown very old; that should be considered."
Subhash Randhawa, 48, who has risen from being a labourer from Jammu to an established contractor and resides in a renovated flat in the Sector 29 colony, added: "We will get the J-K government to stop this whole thing about eviction once and for all. The deputy chief minister, Nirmal Singh, had visited on May 3 and we have an assurance from him."