Jairam Trivedi has no home of his own. At the end of each day, for the last 15 years, he has been turning up at the shelters provided by the government on the banks of the Yamuna in Delhi to get a night’s sleep.
“After working all day, we return here to rest and sleep,” said Trivedi, who is originally from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh and makes a living by doing odd jobs – sifting garbage, or working at a dhaba, or even begging. “These shelters gave us a feeling of home.”
Last Friday, however, bulldozers rolled in, demolishing eight night shelters for the homeless in Yamuna Pushta, near the Interstate Bus Terminus in Kashmere Gate in the national capital, leaving Trivedi and others like him homeless.
Activists allege that the portacabins and some makeshift homes were knocked down as a part of a “beautification drive” to spruce up the national capital for the G20 summit in September.
The Group of 20 is a forum of the largest industrialised and developing nations in the world. New Delhi is hosting a summit this year in September as part of India’s G-20 presidency.
The government “want to take G-20 delegates on a visit to the Yamuna Pushta site”, claimed Sunil Kumar Aledia, who runs an organisation called the Centre for Holistic Development. “And so, these poor people are being removed. Everyone is silent, even chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.”
The night shelter demolitions were carried out by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board, an agency of the Delhi government that looks after civic amenities and resettlement of slums and squatter settlements.
“The action was taken on the orders of the government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi,” VS Fonia, deputy director at Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board, told Scroll.
He said he had no knowledge if the demolitions were connected to the preparations for the G20 summit.
“They came along with 200 police personnel and demolished the shelters dhada dhad – in the blink of an eye,” said Sharda Sharma, a 49-year-old woman who said she has been living at the Yamuna Pushta for decades.
The occupants said they were not given any notice. “They did not even let us take our things,” Sharma said.
‘Remove, relocate beggars’
On December 15, the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board issued an order stating that it had received a phone call from the Delhi chief minister’s office directing that “beggars around Hanuman Mandir near ISBT” be “removed and relocated” to night shelters run by the board.
“This exercise is necessitated in view [of] the meetings of [the] G20 Summit,” said the order, which Scroll has seen.
In response, Aledia wrote a letter to the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board in December, urging it to stop removing and relocating beggars around the Inter-State Bus Terminus in Kashmere Gate, not too far from the Yamuna Pushta shelters.
He argued that the exercise was in violation of judgements from several high courts that prohibit confining beggars to homes.
According to Aledia, the March 10 demolitions were a continuation of the drive.
A few hours before the demolitions, in a letter sent to the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, Vinay Kumar Saxena, Aledia urged his intervention to stop the demolition of 10 portacabins, which could accommodate 1,135 people.
“Many of these shelters have been made pursuant to the orders passed by the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court,” the letter claimed.
According to Aledia, the shelters catered to a population of 5,000 homeless people, who do small jobs in the nearby area and find it convenient to live there.
“There was a shifting drive by the Delhi government wherein the homeless population from the area were forcefully taken away with the help of the Delhi Police,” the letter said.
The letter added: “Since the homeless persons were shifted thoughtlessly and without having cared for their livelihood, they came back walking.”
Aledia also alleged that a night shelter at Sarai Kale Khan was demolished on February 15 “without any prior information” for similar reasons.
‘They did not wait for court’
On March 9, Aledia, on behalf of a resident of the shelter, approached the Delhi High Court, asking that the shelters on the bank of the Yamuna be allowed to stay.
The Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board argued that the shelters proposed to be taken down were temporary, and that the inhabitants would be shifted to permanent night shelters in various parts of the city.
The court allowed the counsel for the petitioner to inspect the newly constructed shelters and report to the court on March 14.
“But they did not wait for the next hearing,” Aledia said. “The court order came in the day and in the night they bulldozed the shelters.”
In their report to the court, the petitioner’s advocates Kamlesh Kumar Mishra and Renu denied that the shelters to which the Delhi government wanted the homeless to move were new.
“They are already in occupation by other homeless persons and are far from the area from where the present shelters are being removed and thus would not serve the purpose,” the report said.
On March 14, however, the Delhi High Court dismissed the petition.
Aledia said the court allowed for relocation while asking the Delhi government to issue a prior notice while carrying out future demolitions.
Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board deputy director Fonia said that the inhabitants have already been shifted to different shelter homes across the city.
But a visit to the spot by Scroll on March 13 found dozens of homeless people on the river bank.
Parveen, a woman from Nepal, was sitting in the shade of a tree on a worn-out mattress with her two-month-old son Suraj in her lap. Some clothes, utensils and a bucket were strewn around.
“They snatched the roof from our head and now we live here,” said Parveen, who said she was worried about her child’s safety. She declined to give her full name.
The inhabitants of the shelters said that the police charged at them when they tried to resist.
“I asked them to spare the drinking water tap but they hit me on my leg,” claimed Suraj Kumar, who said he has been living the life of a homeless person in Yamuna Pushtha since he ran away from his home in Madhya Pradesh’s Rewa district 18 years ago.
Jairam Trivedi said he was not assured by the promise of new shelter homes. “Every now and then, they come with buses and forcefully remove us,” he said. “Then they drop us in the middle of nowhere.”