On April 30, 2023, a mass migration of people was seen in Tughlakabad as The Wire arrived at the scene. People were seen carrying their belongings and seeking shelter in safe places as the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) launched a massive demolition drive, tearing down close to 1,000 houses in one of New Delhi’s underprivileged areas.
In 2016, the Supreme Court directed the ASI to halt land grabbing and encroachment in the area. However, the residents alleged that they had received no communication from the ASI until January 11 this year. A notice was served to nearly 1,000 families comprising 2.5 lakh residents of the Tughlakabad Fort area of Delhi, asking them to vacate their homes.
One of the distressed residents, a woman who had lived in her house for over 30 years, pleaded with the police authorities not to demolish her house. She asked that if the houses were illegal, why were the government authorities providing legal documents based on their present address? She was among the estimated 2.5 lakh residents who were rendered homeless after the demolition of nearly 1,000 homes in Tughlakabad.
The high court in February this year had asked the ASI to carry out “removal of unauthorised construction as also the encroachers from the public land” as per the Supreme Court order of 2016. The court also noted that the ASI must provide rehabilitation for people living in the Tughlakabad area. However, no alternative living space was provided to the affected residents.
The displaced residents claimed that they had purchased these houses by paying money to the police, ASI and fort authorities. Many of them had bills and other documentation to prove that they had lived at the same address for 20-30 years.
Most of the people living in Tughlakabad belong to financially marginalised communities. They work as domestic workers in affluent households in the city.
The scenes in Tughlakabad on April 30 were heart-wrenching, as people carried their TVs, refrigerators and whatever else they could gather. Despite a petition by the jhuggi dwellers, the Supreme Court did not stay the demolition but agreed to hear the matter of rehabilitation on Tuesday. Making matters worse, heavy rains lashed the area for two days, leaving hundreds of families in dire straits.