The Noida Development Authority says the shops were illegally constructed, but shopkeepers say they have been there for years.
On July 17, the Noida Development Authority demolished a settlement and around 40 shops in front of Mahagun Moderne Society in Noida Sector 78. The society had faced a riot-like situation on July 12 after a domestic worker, who a resident of the settlement, went missing, following which her relatives clashed with security guards. The victims of the demolition drive have alleged that the step was taken without prior notice affecting their livelihoods.
“We were neither given prior notice nor allowed a chance to collect our stuff. The development authority officials and police arrived here with three JCBs. When we demanded the reason for the action, they pushed us aside saying that we will be informed later,” says Aakash, who runs a vegetable stall in front of Mahagun Moderne.
On the suspicion that one of the families in the society was holding a maid captive after accusing her of stealing money, residents of the Bengali basti settlement had gheraoed the society on July 12 and resorted to stone-pelting, a situation which quickly escalated. The maid’s relatives along with hundreds of others clashed with guards and property was damaged. The settlement has many people from Malda and Koochbehar who work as domestic workers in the society.
The society residents, on the other hand, allege that the maid had in fact confessed to stealing the money. Post the row, both the parties filed complaints against each other following which the police arrested some of the stone pelters.
The people affected by the demolition allege that they are paying the price for a crime they did not commit as they had nothing to do with the dispute.
A native of UP’s Amroha, Shahana says that she has suffered losses worth more than Rs. 1.5 lakh. Shahana blames the domestic workers who got into a row with the society residents. “We were not even part of the dispute yet they razed down our shops. We borrowed a loan to start up business. How will we pay it? What are we going to eat?”
The demolition drive has affected the livelihood of many settlement residents who are now contacting their landowners to resolve the situation. They claim that the rent is not fixed and the owners take whatever they manage to pay.
Rafiq, who runs a juice shop, says, “The demolition of my shop has caused me loss of Rs. 5,000-Rs. 6,000. The owner of our plot has gone to Haridwar for Kanwar yatra. They pulled down our homes and destroyed our livelihood in his absence.”
Kanti, a native of Aligarh, is worried about the future as she says, “I have lost around Rs. 50,000. I had a fruit stall. We worked so hard at the shop which they have now torn down. How will I feed my family now? The land owner must decide now whether we will be able to open the shop again or if we must return home.”
The victims of the demolition claim that they had been running shops there even before the Mahagun Moderne society came up. No one had any problem all this while, they claim. With the sudden action taken by the authority, many families have suffered huge losses.
Uttar Pradesh native Noori lived here in a shed with two kids. She says, “We don’t have any one else to support us. I have a tea stall to earn for my kids. How will we manage now?”
Gyanshakti from Kanpur had been running a vegetable and fruit shop here for the past two years. According to her, she lost fruits and vegetables worth Rs. 30,000 due to the demolition.
“We lost five or six months worth of earnings due to this,” she says. “We do business after taking loans. Our livelihood depends on it. What will happen to our family and kids now?”
While some blame the crisis on the row between the society and settlement residents over the maid, others claim that the shops operating within the society compound are responsible for it.
“Nearly 70% of the residents of the society buy vegetables from us,” says Aakash. “There are shops inside the compound with rents as high as Rs. 80,000 to Rs. 1 lakh. Since their customers come to us, it must get difficult for them to afford the rent. I think this is the main reason why this action was taken. I have suffered a loss of nearly Rs. 1 lakh because of the demolition.”
The shopkeepers claim that the residents of the society would even call them on the phone and ask for vegetables and fruits to be delivered at home.
Commenting on the incident, the CEO of the Noida Development Authority Amit Mohan Prasad says, “The step was taken because of illegal encroachment. Demolition of illegal construction and encroachment is a norm and carried out frequently in Noida.”
Translated by Naushin Rehman.