Iron beams forming a crucifix hold in place a dilapidated roof that is giving away, owing to years of neglect. The side walls of a house, nearly hundred years old, have developed yawning cracks as it is unable to handle the weight of the new floors on the building.
Welcome to Chawri Bazar, where a disaster is waiting to happen. Majority of the houses in this Old Delhi locality are in a ramshackle condition and can collapse any time, but this has not dissuaded people from staying here. During the monsoon season, there is a greater risk of a building collapse as the rainwater seeps into the cracks.
It’s not just the corrupt Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) officials who are responsible for the pathetic living conditions in the Walled City, but also the unique tenant-landlord relationship that is taking a toll on the age-old buildings.
Akram Qadri’s house in Bazaar Ajmeri Gate at Gali Sahatara is more than 100 years old and in such a pathetic condition that wooden logs and iron beams have been propped up in every position to keep the dilapidated walls and roof from collapsing. "I have written to the MCD several times, informing them about the precarious condition of the building, but they have not taken any action. After the Ballimaran house collapse incident last month, in which three people were killed, I sent a fresh reminder to the MCD on July 16, but to no avail," said Qadri.
Qadri has given his house on rent and the tenant has converted the building into a dyeing unit. “The building can come crashing down any moment and it is stocked with dangerous chemicals," he said.
In the Walled City, the MCD officials are required to carry out surveys to identify worn-out buildings and issue notices for demolition or repairs — as the case maybe. "The exercise is to ensure the safety of the occupants, but the survey is an eyewash," alleged Sarfaraz Hussain, who runs an STD booth in Kucha Pandit.
<b1>Sarfaraz had bought a house in Gali Farhatullah while it was still on rent. "The building is in need of urgent repairs as cracks have surfaced in the load-bearing walls. I have been asking the tenant to vacate the premises so that I can redo the place, but he prefers to stay here and pay a measly rent of Rs 40 per month for a 1600-square-feet accommodation than move to a new location and pay a higher rent," said Sarfaraz.
In case of a privately owned building, the repairs/reconstruction has to be carried out by the owner/occupant and this is where the strained tenant-landlord relations come into play. "In most cases, the landlords have obtained court orders preventing the tenants from carrying out repairs on their own while the tenants have obtained stay orders against eviction," said a resident.
It’s a win-win situation for corrupt officials who take money from tenants to overlook dangerous buildings or from landlords to issue repair/demolition notices to force the tenants to vacate the buildings.
In case of buildings owned by the MCD’s Slum Department, the repair of a dilapidated building is the responsibility of the Corporation, but here, too, things move slowly due to lack of funds.
"We were running a small business unit from the house, but the place had become so dangerous that the walls started reverberating whenever we switched on the machines. We closed our units around two years ago and have been writing letters to the civic agency. It was only after several reminders to the Slum Department that minor work had been initiated," said Hafiz Mohammad Safi of Katra Phatak Bans.