Pangs of displacement in Jewar

Jun 14, 2021 02:30 PM IST

Villagers in Jewar, whose houses are being demolished for the development of an airport, say their displacement is an emotionally distressing experience and will forever alter their cherished rural lives

It is a sweltering June afternoon and Ranjeet Singh, a resident of Nagla Ganeshi, a village in Jewar, is sitting surrounded by the rubble of what was his ancestral house till two months back. A few household items — a dressing table, a desert cooler, a few chairs, a charpoy and old wooden doors — are strewn around him.

A man stands on the rubble of demolished houses in Jewar’s Nagla Ganeshi, one of the seven villages that have been acquired for construction of an international airport. (HT Photo)
A man stands on the rubble of demolished houses in Jewar’s Nagla Ganeshi, one of the seven villages that have been acquired for construction of an international airport. (HT Photo)

“These doors are from our baithak (drawing room), which used to be here,” says Singh, his face pensive and perspiring, pointing to a heap of broken bricks. “Everything in the village, the streets, the shops, the houses, chaupal, are now just one massive mound of rubble”.

Indeed Singh’s village today looks like a bombed-out war zone, with all its 125-odd houses having been razed to make way for an upcoming airport — in Uttar Pradesh’s Gautam Budh Nagar district, roughly 80 kilometres away from Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport.

Families, including Singh’s, have for now shifted to rented houses in neighbouring villages, but his new rented home was not big enough to accommodate all his belongings and cattle. “So, I sold all my cattle, and until I can figure out what to do with these belongings, I will come and sleep here every day. We had to move out in a hurry as the officials said that the work on the airport cannot begin until we vacate, as the airstrip will come up in our village,” says Singh. In the distance, one can see a few other villagers collecting bricks from the demolished houses and loading them on tractor trolleys.

Nagla Ganeshi is among seven villages — Nagla Sharif Khan, Nagla Phool Khan, Nagla Chhittar, Kishorepur, Rohi, and Dayanatpur Kheda — in Jewar where land has been acquired for the airport, officially known as the Noida International Greenfield Airport. The villagers, whose houses need to be demolished, have been allocated plots in an upcoming integrated township on the outskirts of Jewar town, about 11km away from their villages.

The administration has set a June-end deadline for the people to move. While all the houses in Singh’s village lie flattened, with almost everyone having shifted, the process of demolition is on in other neighbouring villages. In all, over 750 of 3,003 families whose houses are to demolished, have already moved out.

But villagers, most of whom complain of being given little time to shift, say demolishing their ancestral houses and leaving behind a cherished life in the village where they were born and brought up, is an emotionally distressing experience, exacerbated by the fact that their development-induced displacement will forever alter family and neighbourhood-ties, social structure and local traditions of their villages and also the intra-and inter-village relationships that they treasured for decades.

In Nagla Phool Khan village, Kayum Khan, 42, has employed about 10 labourers to demolish his house, which is spread across 4,200 square feet. He says, the family has had to demolish seven houses of the same size, belonging to his brothers.

“It’s a strangely sad feeling to supervise the demolition of your own ancestral house, and the worst part is that we seven brothers will not be living together next to each other anymore in the new township, where we have been allocated plots far from each other through a draw of lots.”

Kunwar Pal, a resident of neighbouring Rohi village, has entirely different worries. He says his fear of the ‘new social order’ in the upcoming sprawling new township and his aversion to norms of urban life are the reasons why instead of moving to the new township in Jewar, he will be moving to a village in Khurja district in UP, where he has some relatives.

“I do not want my granddaughter to go to a co-education school here. Besides, our village is being turned into a city enclave, which might over the next few years adopt urban mores and lifestyle. I have never lived in a city, ” says Kunwar Pal, 66, speaking fluent English. “You see, I was a topper in my school,” he says and then quickly returns to the point he was making about the urbanisation of his village. “Our village is already being referred to as ‘Pocket 1’ in the new township. At least the plots should have been allotted according to who is living next to whom here,” he adds.

In the new township, each of the seven villages where land has been acquired, is divided into seven pockets. While Rohi is Pocket 1, Nagla Ganeshi (Ranjit Singh’s village) is Pocket 2. Currently, the resettlement township is a vast construction site, with many villagers overseeing the building of their new houses.

Ask Kunwar Pal’s 94-year-old father, who is sitting on a charpoy next to him, about what he feels about having to leave his ancestral house, and he answers the question by reciting a verse in Hindi in his low raspy voice. “The death of one’s child, the demise of one’s life partner, and loss of one’s birthplace are the most painful losses in life. I have lived here all my life and I wanted to die here at my birthplace. It would not be possible now,” he says.

For Mahendra Sharma, who lives near Pal’s house, the biggest issue is where he would find space for his 26 buffaloes and cows. “They are the source of my livelihood and my entire life has revolved around them. The officials, who have asked us to move, offered no solution about what to do with them,” says Sharma.

The displacement is also leading to differences between the village community.

Nepal Singh, another Rohi resident, says that the neighbouring villages have doubled land rates as many people in the villages whose land has been acquired are looking to buy some land to build their houses.

“Adding to our woes is the administration which wants us to leave by the end of this month even before the new township is properly built. It does not work like this,” he added.

Surendra Singh, divisional commissioner (Meerut), who is also the rehabilitation and resettlement commissioner for the airport project, says, “This is a model rehabilitation resettlement project. All the village residents have been compensated for the land and given plots free of cost in the modern township which will have all necessary community infrastructure, including, community centres, school, among others. We have completed the rehabilitation and resettlement process and now it is for them to build their houses as soon as possible. ”

Tell him about the villages’ problem with space for their cattle and he says, “ We have provided everything that was legally due as part of rehabilitation and resettlement scheme.”

Professor Vivek Kumar, chairperson, Centre for the Study of Social Systems at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, says when a rural community is displaced, people are not displaced just physically, but also sociologically, culturally, and spatially, which lead to a lot of perplexities, uncertainties, and alienation. “So, wherever there is development-induced displacement, the administration should be mindful and ensure that there is a thorough study of the community and it should try to replicate the old settlement as much as possible at the new place,” he says.

It is late evening and back in Nagla Ganeshi, Ranjeet Singh has been joined by Jitendra Kumar, his 27-year-old nephew. “I am a university graduate, and the government has promised me a job near the airport. As long as I get a job, I am fine with leaving my village and being resettled anywhere. There is always some price to pay for development,” said Kumar.

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    Manoj Sharma is Metro Features Editor at Hindustan Times. He likes to pursue stories that otherwise fall through the cracks.

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