Delhi Government Accused of Negligence as Another Fire Destroys Lives in Bawana

Activists have said that the government's rehabilitation efforts in Bawana are inadequate and that precautionary measures weren't taken after a very similar fire four years ago.

New Delhi: The Bawana rehabilitation colony in northwest Delhi is a prime – and tragic – example of history repeating itself. Exactly four years after a fire destroyed 800 jhuggis in the colony, claiming the lives of two children and a young woman, another fire swept through the settlement on April 12, 2017, leading to the death of a man and two children.

Fires in Delhi’s jhuggi clusters during the hot, dry months of April and May are not new. But the incident in Bawana indicates that the lackadaisical approach of the authorities in dealing with these fires and minimising the losses has not changed over the years. For the record, nearly 1,000 fires were reported in Delhi in April 2016 and 164 in April 2015.

Both in 2013 and now, the cause for the fire in Bawana was said to be an electricity short circuit. Police and the fire department staff said the presence of highly-inflammable materials used in the construction of homes and the presence of gas cylinders aided the fires.

Delayed, inadequate rehabilitation

After the recent fire, activists from the NGO Sanjha Manch, who have been working in the area, said that while eight days have passed since about 1,000 families lost their homes and belongings in G and F blocks of the Bawana JJ Colony, the affected families continued to live in cramped makeshift homes till April 20 evening as even tents had not been distributed to them by the Delhi government.

Also, they said the government had not paid any compensation to the next of kin of the deceased. On compensation for damage, they said it was only on April 20 morning that the process began and cheques of Rs 25,000 were distributed to some families. However, the NGO alleged that many families were left out and elderly men and women were forced to run to the office of the sub-divisional magistrate to ask for their names to be included in the list of affected families.

All G block residents had been excluded, the activists said, because the SDM’s office insisted that no fire had taken place there.

A woman stands in front of her burnt house in Bawana. Credit: Hazards Centre

A woman stands in front of her burnt house in Bawana. Credit: Hazards Centre

The activists also claimed that many families had lost all their belongings in the fire and only had their documents to support their claims, while others had even lost their documents. No procedure had been put in place to ensure that those who lost their documents were not excluded from the rehabilitation process.

A large number of school-going children also lost their books in the fire, but no arrangements were made to help them purchase new books and uniforms.

With the only mobile toilet van which was deployed to the colony a day after the fire vanishing a few days later, the group said safety of women has also been compromised as they now have to resort to open defecation. Also, there is an acute water shortage in the area. With electricity also not yet restored, most residents are unable to return to anything close to their normal lives.

Most of the families who now live in this Bawana colony were denied resettlement when their original slum settlements were demolished 15 years ago. They have been waiting to be resettled ever since.

Failure of the Delhi government

The activists claim that though the Master Plan of Delhi 2021 says there should be a fire post within a 3-4 km radius and a fire station within a 5-7 km radius of every settlement, no such arrangements were made near Bawana. This despite the area’s history.

Grain that is unusable now, mixed with ashes. Credit: Hazards Centre

Grain that is unusable now, mixed with ashes. Credit: Hazards Centre

The authorities also failed to provide basic services like water, sewerage, housing and health services in this colony, where the lives of a large number of residents have been ruined twice in the span of a mere four years.

The activists said that while chief minister Arvind Kejriwal did visit Bawana on Thursday, the uncertainty pertaining to compensation isn’t over. The residents also want to know when plots of land will be allotted to them by the Delhi Development Authority so that they may start their lives afresh and not remain as vulnerable as they are now, but no answer has been forthcoming.

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