Razed and confused: An account of MCD’s demolition drive in Delhi’s Jahangirpuri
At around 11am on Wednesday afternoon, 12-year-old Asif started picking up whatever was left of his parents’ cold drink kiosk at Kushal Cinema junction in Jahangirpuri: empty bottles, broken pieces of wood, and torn fabric. He soon realised there wasn’t much to save, but nevertheless went on.
This was one of several kiosks, carts, tin sheds, staircases and balcony extensions that were razed in a demolition drive by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation -- without warning, and just four days after communal clashes broke out in the area.
Asif’s mother Rahima (36) could not hold tears back her tears. “I asked them (the authorities) twice in the morning if we should remove our kiosk , but they said nothing was going to happen to us. So we didn’t remove it. But at around 10:15am, they came and bulldozed our shop,” she said.
The kiosk, run by Rahima and her husband Akbar, was the first kiosk demolished by the authorities.
Their sons Rahim (16) and Asif salvaged what they could, while their one-year-old brother Shifan sat next to his mother, oblivious to what was happening. “I have a loan of ₹2 lakh and I had to pay an instalment of ₹12,000 today. How will I pay now? I have already suffered a huge loss,” Rahima said.
She said she provided water, sugar and salt to policemen patrolling the area on Tuesday , and that she didn’t expect the authorities to take a harsh action.
Right next to the cold drink shop was Ranjan Jha’s paan kiosk, which was also razed. “This is where clashes took place, and they wanted to make a film to show that action has been taken here,” he said, adding that store-owners normally remove their kiosks when the authorities tell them to. “Why did they not let us do that today?”
His sentiment was echoed by many -- that Wednesday’s reaction was in response to the weekend’s communal clashes in the area -- but denied by MCD.
The bulldozers then went to Sabzi Mandi road, and targeted pushcarts and shop extensions. Rokiya’s food cart, “Shaheen Seekh Kebab”, was among those destroyed on the main road. “A few people managed to put their carts inside but I couldn’t because it was heavy. I pleaded with them to let me remove it but they pushed me. The cart costs around ₹10,000; for us, it’s a huge amount,” she said.
On the same street lives Sameer Ansari, 30. His family runs four small shops selling chapatis on the ground floor and their residence is on the floors above them. Ansari said that sheds sheltering his shops, a tandoor, and the staircase from his home to the road were destroyed by the bulldozers. “We have elderly parents and our ailing grandmother. There’s no way for them to come downstairs. What if there’s an emergency? How will they come down?” asked Ansari. “This has happened here in this block because Muslims live here. Nothing has happened in G-Block where Hindus live. There’s encroachment there also,” he alleged.
Ansari said that the Supreme Court ordered a stop to the demolition by the time their structures were being razed. “We told them that the court has asked to stop but they said they didn’t listen,” he said, citing the court’s order that was pronounced before 11am.
A north MCD official, who was part of Wednesday’s drive, said that they could not have stopped the drive simply based on the news about the top court’s relief. “We need an official order court for such drives to be stopped. No formal communication was given to us or our seniors.”
The bulldozers then went to the main crossing in the area, and then took a right to a road where they razed extensions of shops right outside the local Jama Masjid , the spot where communal clashes broke out on April 16.
Ashu (36), a mechanic who runs a bike repair establishment there, lost his equipment and the shutter of his shop. “They are also removing what they feel is debris. At least they should leave that for us so we can sell it and earn some money. Eid is coming. Should I spare money for my children to get new clothes or get a new shutter?” he asked as he rushed to collect old tyres and see what else he could salvage.
The gate and boards of Sajid Saifi’s electronics shop, next to the Jama Masjid, were also bulldozed. “This is an act of revenge. It hasn’t happened in decades but it happens four days after violence,” he said.
The Jama Masjid’s front gate and porch were also razed.
Communal clashes broke out here following a Shobha Yatra on Hanuman Jayanti (Sunday), and then spilled to the streets of C, G and H blocks, leaving nine people injured -- eight policemen and a civilian.
A few metres ahead of the masjid is Dinesh Kumar’s mobile repair shop which was also razed. He wasn’t as upset about his own loss as he was about the prevailing situation. “I was born and raised here. I have been running this shop since November last year and mine is the only Hindu-run shop in this street. We have all lived here so peacefully. It’s wrong what’s happening,” he said.
Senior municipal corporation functionaries passed off the Jahangirpuri drive as a “routine encroachment removal programme.” North MCD Mayor Raja Iqbal Singh said that the drive was carried out to remove “encroachments and illegal constructions” that were in violation of building bye-laws of the city. “This is our normal routine work. Our plans to undertake drive on Tuesday did not materialize as police personnel were not made available. Such drives are carried out every month in various municipal wards,” he said.
Singh also claimed that the drive was not related to the letter sent the previous evening by Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Delhi unit president Adesh Gupta, calling for action against people involved in the Hanuman Jayanti violence. “We are not targeting any community,” Iqbal added.
North MCD commissioner Sanjay Goel said that was the fifth such drive in Jahangirpuri since January. “Just around 10 days ago, an encroachment removal drive was carried out near this exact area. Police gave us consent to carry out this drive. Nothing wrong has been done. Just look at the status of the roads in this area. They are heavily encroached with scrap material, and it hinders movement of people and traffic,” he added.
It was 12:40pm when the bulldozers finally stopped. No lives were lost, but by then, several livelihoods were uprooted.
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