At the crack of dawn on Thursday with the city still asleep, excavators made their way into a slum cluster near Pragati Maidan, waking its inhabitants who felt their lives were about to be upended.
As imminent demolition loomed, poised to reduce their modest homes to rubble, several residents suddenly found themselves shelterless. Anxiety crept in as they began to think of their bleak future and possibly that of their children.
Pinky, a mother of four, said she was distressed about her 18-year-old daughter's future. Having somehow managed to gather enough money to send the teenager to a hostel, Pinky said that her daughter might not be able to complete her studies now that her home has been razed in the anti-encroachment drive.
"This displacement affects my livelihood. We somehow managed to save money and send her to a hostel. After this demolition drive, we are worried that she might have to come back," the woman said.
"Authorities are more concerned about the rich. They are least bothered about poor people like us," she lamented.
Fifty-five shanties were demolished in the slum cluster as part of an anti-encroachment drive, displacing more than 40 families.
Sifting through the rubble in a last-ditch bid to save their belongings, the slum dwellers alleged they had been demanding the government to allot them an alternative place somewhere within a five-kilometre radius.
Most slum dwellers in the cluster work as scrap dealers and are worried about their financial situation after the demolition drive.
Geeta, a mother of two girls, said she was worried about the future of her children as the priority of the family now is to search for a shelter. "I am worried that I will not be able to get my daughters married," she added.
A makeshift school being run by an NGO for the last nine years was also demolished in the drive.
Neetu Singh, who runs the NGO, alleged she was not given a notice for the demolition of the school.
"They can demolish schools but how can they do that without notice? They communicated to us about the evacuation of slums but they should have also given a notice to us. What is more important, making the city pretty or the future of our children," she questioned.
The slum dwellers said they were given a notice a few months ago about the demolition drive and were fighting the decision in court.
A Public Works Department (PWD) official said the drive was carried out by the Special Task Force on court instructions.
"The drive was carried out by the Special Task Force, not by our department. Our officials were present on the spot to assist in the drive. It was carried out on the instructions of the court," he said.
The Delhi High Court had last month refused to interfere with the demolition of jhuggis near Pragati Maidan and granted a month's time to its occupants to vacate the land.
Justice Prathiba M Singh, who was hearing petitions by residents following a demolition notice issued earlier this year, had said authorities might take action for demolition after May 31. She had also said that the petitioners would be provided alternative accommodation at a shelter home.
The court had noted that the jhuggis, which were on the side of Bhairon Marg, were not part of a "notified cluster" by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) and therefore, no rehabilitation could be directed.
It had also noted that the structures in question were also at a "considerable distance" from the recognised jhuggi cluster in the area.
In February, the court had stayed the demolition of the slum in question and sought the stand of the Centre and the Delhi government on the issue.
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