'Divyangs' Shelterless After Demolition, Delhi HC Seeks Answers From Kejriwal Govt, DDA
In a letter written by Chief Engineer SN Singh, it has been claimed that the Louis Welfare Progressive Association for the Blind located at Janakpuri's Virendra Nagar had 'encroached upon the DDA land'.
The demolition drive took only a couple of hours but the students claim that none of their belongings were spared. (Photo: Debayan Roy | News18.com)
New Delhi: Exhausted after a two-hour long paper at a computer learning centre in Noida, Arun Pande, 21, was rushing to West Delhi to see if he could save his Braille books and a few clothes given to him by his mother. Taking help of his collapsible stick, he soon reached his hostel only to find it in rubbles.
Pande who hails from a village in Odisha could neither find his admit card nor his books and clothes. All he found were the other displaced and helpless blind students trying to stop the officials of Delhi Development Authority from demolishing their hostel.
The Louis Welfare Progressive Association for the Blind located at Janakpuri's Virendra Nagar runs a hostel for blind students. The hostel is home to 20 students, out of which 15 were present during demolition, while the others were away appearing for examinations.
Students in the hostel allege that the demolition had been carried out without any prior written intimation and that "many were not allowed to take out their belongings". They also allege that the "head of the institute was kept locked inside a police van".
The displaced students are currently staying in a few tents which have been set up on a garbage ground frequented by pigs and with open sewer lines running closeby.
Neeraj Batra, 28, from Rewari district in Haryana was in Satyavati College appearing for his Hindi semester papers when the demolition took place. Since December 15, when the hostel was razed down, Batra has not been able to change into another set of clothes.
"We have nothing left. Our books, clothes, memories, valuables and bonds, all have been destroyed by DDA. The DDA has now offered to relocate us to a Dharamshala but there is no guarantee when we would be evicted from there too. They have asked media not to cover this," said Batra.
The hostel was built in 1994 on a DDA land by the Basti Vikas Kendra, which DDA believes to be an illegal construction. The plot, surrounded by residential buildings, was under discussion for demolition with the DDA for over a year, according to officials.
The Louis Welfare Progressive Association for the Blind is located at Janakpuri's Virendra Nagar. (Photo: Debayan Roy | News18.com)
The demolition drive took only a couple of hours but the students claim that none of their belongings were spared. Some students have claimed that they now neither have their college documents nor the admit cards and this excercise could jeopardise their academic career.
Aryan Kumar, 21-year-old from Rajasthan, had started his journey in this hostel after his Class 12 board examinations. All that he dreamt was to "prove to his family that he was not worthless". Kumar was left to fend for himself after his school years.
"I am pursuing my second year studies from an open schooling program and now I don't have any documents. Neither my admit card, nor my admission papers. How do I go to college again? How can you break our hostel without informing us? The tent that has been given to us is garbage. We are not normal people. We take help from our friends even when we visit a washroom. Now DDA is offering help but did not think when they demolished our building?" said Kumar.
However, DDA has hit out sharply at the allegations that the hostel was wrongfully demolished. In a letter written by the Chief Engineer, SN Singh, it has been claimed that the blind association had 'encroached upon the DDA land'.
"This 275 square yard land was encroached by LUI Progressive Association for the Blind and was demolished on December 15," reads the letter issued by DDA.
DDA has also stated that the intial decision of demolition was taken after nearby residents complained of unhygienic living conditions and issues of trespassing etc. DDA agreed that prior attempts to demolish the property were made on March 15, May 17 and July 14 this year but could not materialise due to non-availability of police force.
Though DDA claims that verbal intimation was given about demolishing the property, now on humanitarian grounds, the occupants would be relocated temporarily to a 500 square feet community Hall located behind Tihar Jail.
"The place we are now allowing to the occupants is a decent one and slowly they will be sent to permanent homes. But they have come to study there, that means you study, get a job and leave. I have told them to come with me if they want to but any unauthorised structure just because it is existing does not become authorised unless there is a court order protecting it. It's our mandate to demolish unauthorised structures. But there is no end to their refusal and denial. I am even ready to give them individual letters to relocate them," SN Singh told News18.
DDA has also stated that the intial decision of demolition was taken after nearby residents complained of unhygienic living conditions and issues of trespassing etc. (Photo: Debayan Roy | News18.com)
However, the students are now hopeful that they would not have to leave this place as the Delhi High Court took suo moto cognisance of demolition of the blind hostel and issued notices to Lieutenant Governor, Delhi government, DDA and the central ministry of social welfare seeking a report in the matter.
The displaced students, who are now camping at the Dushhera ground in Janakpuri, told News18 that if it was not the local councillor, then the students would have gone without food and water for days.
Narendra Chawla, the BJP councillor from the area, said that the promise being made by DDA was false and that the students are scared that they would be dumped in separate places after the period of temporary shelter expires.
"They are scared that they will be rehabilitated temporarily and then they will be sent away and the group will be broken. DDA did not intimate about the demolition, and who knows what these officers discuss in their AC rooms. Verbal intimation means nothing. It absolutely makes no sense in evicting the blind in winters. This could have waited," said the local councillor.
Some students are also scared that if they are sent to far away shelters and places then not only would they lose touch with their familiar zone but will make it difficult for them to get their paper work in order again.
Another student, GB Naik, hailing from Odisha has been attempting to get a job in the technical sector for the last two years since he completed his diploma but failed to clear tests, but spent close to six hours studying in the hostel. Naik does not have his documents and there is the fear that the DDA proposal of relocating them might create further problems.
"Having moved out, how will we update our addresses? Can we run around so much? Our NGO gets a lot of students and even if we go what about the future students? We don't even have a place to hide if it rains," said Naik.
Some students alleged that there were "other illegal properties in this zone too" and that DDA carried the demolition away from public glare.
"DDA only found our building illegal when there are hundred others in this area. Just because we resisted, we were forcefully evicted and our hostel was razed down," claimed Mintoo Kumar, a BA final year student of Satyavati College.
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