On driving down the main Chhatarpur road, there are resorts, restaurants, farmhouses, banquet halls and marble stores — all things urban — on both sides.
And one approaches the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary in the southern ridge, one would hope to leave behind all this and enjoy exotic plants, rare animals amid dense forests and water bodies. What comes across, however, is totally unexpected.
Malnourished children defecate in the open, women with dishevelled looks source water from abandoned mine pits and jobless men loiter in narrow, muddy lanes. There are two schools, a dispensary and a community hall — but without any facilities.Welcome to Sanjay Colony, a village of 25,000 people living illegally in the sanctuary without access to proper housing, toilets, drinking water and other similar amenities.
After a 2006 Supreme Court order, the Delhi government shifted two smaller colonies —Indira Nagar and Balbeer Nagar — from the sanctuary. But Sanjay Colony was never shifted because, with a 13,000-strong electorate, it is a potential vote bank in the Chhatarpur assembly constituency.
Environmentalist Ravi Agrawal, a former member of the ridge management board, said, “The forest department is also taking forever in finalising boundaries and settling rights of those still living in forest areas. Protest from the villagers is another reason.”
The Delhi government had declared the ridge a reserve forest 20 years ago but a final notification is yet to be issued, resulting in massive encroachment. Non-settlement of forest rights means non-forest activity continues in forests.
But the residents are unwilling to move out. Roshan Lal (60) said, “Congress leaders settled us in the mid-1970, long before the ridge was declared a protected area and the sanctuary came into being. Jaan de denge, yahan se nahi jayenge.”
Wazir Chand (49) said, “We have our ponies and donkeys. We cannot move into flats promised by the government. We need plots to build our houses.”
The villagers — artisans in stone-cutting and quarrying — migrated from Pakistan via Rajasthan. They mined quartzite rocks, which yielded high-quality silica sand — locally known as ‘Badarpur’ or ‘Bajri’. Mining continues in Haryana across the border and in some parts of Delhi.
“There are so many colonies. I need to look at the details before I make a comment” said Delhi’s urban development minister Arvinder Singh.