Houses, lives in tatters as Delhi demolishes buildings near G20 attraction

By David Asta Alares

New Delhi, Feb 16 (EFE).- Raju Khertia holds an invitation for his daughter’s wedding next week, as he stands desolate in front of the debris of a house in south Delhi in which he had lived for two decades and which was demolished by a controversial government order, along with dozens of other properties situated close to an archaeological park being revamped for the upcoming G20 summit in the city.

“We will go ahead with the wedding, what else can we do,” he told EFE from the southern Mehrauli neighborhood, a medieval-era town that houses the iconic monument Qutub Minar, built in the 12th century.

The uncertainty in the area began suddenly in December, when the Delhi Development Authority – a public body that oversees urban development in the capital – pasted demolition notices on some houses of the neighborhood.

The notice gave 10 days to the “unauthorized occupants” to “remove all unauthorized encroachment” from land adjacent to the Mehrauli archaeological park, or a “demolition program shall be conducted by the department and the cost of demolition shall be recovered from the encroachers,” it warned.

The notice caused massive panic in the colony, Amit Chaudhary – a local who lives in a four-floor apartment in the Goshiya area – told EFE. He insisted that he had all the necessary paperwork for his house along with gas and water connections.

The bulldozers arrived in the area on Feb. 10, after a second letter by the DDA along the same lines. Dozens of houses were demolished.

“We have filed a complaint, as in we have given all the documentation which we have. We have the registry of this area, we are paying the municipal tax, property tax of our flats for years,” Chaudhary said.

His house was saved, but an apartment block next to it was completely razed by the bulldozers.

Surejh, 21, was born in one of the demolished buildings, and watches on as some workers try to recover belongings that his family could not take out in time.

The next building remains standing but has been extensively damaged by the DDA team and has become uninhabitable.

“People are living in a very critical situation, they do not have houses, they have small babies – 2-3 years old – and some children have their high-school exams in March. So, you can see how much this will affect them, their future will be completely destroyed,” said Chaudhary, even as locals narrated their grievances to a local lawmaker.

The demolition was stopped on Tuesday, at least temporarily, on an order by Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena, an official appointed by the central governments who is in charge of the DDA.

However, the neighborhood’s residents are at a loss to make sense of the sudden destruction of their houses – some of them two decades old – as the answer lies in the political sphere.

The Aam Aadmi Party heads the regional government of Delhi, but many of the executive powers – such as police and the DDA – remain with the central government and are managed by the lieutenant governor named by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has been involved in a power tussle with the AAP for years, and Mehrauli residents feel they have become victims of the conflict.

The AAP has demanded a stop to the demolition drive through letters and social media posts and alleged that the BJP was taking revenge for its defeat in municipal elections in December.

Meanwhile BJP accused its rivals of “wrongly demarcating homes which had been officially registered for half a century,” in a statement by its vice-president, Baijayant Jay Panda.

As of now, the rumble of the bulldozers has stopped in Mehrauli, where the monument-filled park has been proposed as one of the attractions to be presented to foreign delegates during the upcoming G20 summit in September, according to local news media outlets.

However, locals fear that the demolitions may start again.

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