New Delhi, Dec 13 (IANS) Hundreds were rendered homeless in the winter chill and a six-month-old baby died after the authorities demolished hutments built on railway land in the national capital, witnesses and police said.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal accused the railways of demolishing some 500 hutments on Saturday, “in such cold”, leaving hundreds of poor — men, women and children — shivering in the open.
The Delhi government said the demolition violated judicial orders, and were carried out without informing it.
Kejriwal, who visited the site at 2 a.m. on Sunday, ordered the suspension of two sub divisional magistrates for failing to provide relief to the hutment dwellers.
Railway officials who met Kejriwal later said the land was cleared as the encroachment was effecting operations and they had an order from the National Green Tribunal.
Divisional Railway Manager Arun Arora said the baby died before the drive started.
An angry chief minister tweeted on Sunday: “A child died. God will never forgive them.
“Heart rending scenes. How (could) our own countrymen do this to our poorest fellow countrymen?”
CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury added: “How can authorities resort to mindless demolition leading to the death of a child, leaving slum dwellers to suffer, roofless in winter?”
The baby’s grandmother Rubiya Khatoon said some objects fell on the girl when they were in a hurry to leave the shanty.
“We were asked to vacate… The children were sleeping. In the hurry to leave, some things fell on the baby. We took her to hospital but she could not survive,” she said.
A railway official said the hutments were built illegally on railway land and the shanty dwellers had been told to vacate the land to make space for a new railway line but they chose not to.
“In Delhi itself, there are 47,000 encroachment on railway land and because of that there are serious problems in (railway) operations,” said Arora.
“There are 22,000 encroachment which are in the safety zone, which is 15 metres on both sides of tracks. There are clear instructions that there will be no unauthorised structure.
“Because of this, infrastructure maintenance is a problem. There are safety issues, and cause risk for railway operations and for encroaches… If there is an accident, the train will hit these hutments,” he said.
Muhammad Kuddus, a resident of the slum, said he had lived there since 1983 and the hutments had been razed several times.
“When we build huts, they break it after 3-4 months. The government had promised to provide us a place to live, but that never happened,” he said.
Kuddus said the notice for demolition reached them only the previous evening.
Kejriwal said when he spoke to Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, “he said he was not aware of this operation. He was also shocked”.
The chief minister pointed out that there were court orders to raze properties of some of the rich and politicians in Delhi but those orders were never implemented.
The Aam Aadmi Party blamed the central government for the demolition. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress hit back, saying Kejriwal should have acted ahead of the razing, not later.