On Saturday, several media reports claimed protestors had lifted a road blockade near Shaheen Bagh in Delhi as a result of mediation talks with interlocutors appointed by the Supreme Court. These reports were misleading: it was not protestors but Delhi Police that had blocked the road by placing barricades across it. These barricades were removed by the police on Friday.
Since December 15, residents of Shaheen Bagh have occupied a stretch of GD Birla Marg, an arterial road connecting Delhi to Noida, to protest against the amended citizenship act and proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens.
The sit-in protest, mostly led by women, has inspired similar such demonstrations across the country. But it has also faced criticism for causing traffic congestion and inconveniencing residents of nearby localities as well as increasing the commuting time between Delhi and Noida.
However, an analysis by Scroll.in showed that the traffic congestion was not merely the result of the closure of GD Birla Marg – Delhi Police and Uttar Pradesh police had barricaded entry points to two roads that could have acted as alternative routes. Asked why these alternative routes had been closed, Delhi Police said it was “a security measure”. Uttar Pradesh Police claimed they had placed barricades in response to Delhi Police’s blockade.
Criticising the police, Wajahat Habibullah, one of the interlocutors appointed by the Supreme Court, said in an affidavit filed on Sunday that the police had unnecessarily blocked alternative routes “abdicating their responsibilities and duties and wrongly laying the blame on the protest”. The Supreme Court had appointed three interlocutors to talk to the protestors after a petition was filed seeking the lifting of all road blockades in the area.
The protest at Shaheen Bagh began on December 15, with residents pitching a tent on one side of the GD Birla Marg, blocking traffic travelling eastwards from Delhi to Noida. The police went on to block access to the other side that brings westwards traffic from Noida to Delhi. This stretch is now being used by protestors to display protest art installations. They have also started a library on the street.
With the closure of GD Birla Marg, vehicular traffic between Delhi and Noida could have passed through the Kalindi Kunj Mithapur Road that runs parallel to GD Birla Marg. It is a narrower road than GD Birla Marg but could have functioned as an alternative route. However, Uttar Pradesh police blocked access to this road by placing barricades around the Kalindi Kunj Bridge that connects the traffic flowing from Uttar Pradesh to Delhi.
Another route could have been the Khadar Kalindi Kunj Road, also a narrow road, but the Delhi Police have blocked it by placing barricades near the Kalindi Kunj metro station.
The barricaded point opened up by Delhi Police serves as a direct entry for vehicles moving along Kalindi Kunj Road to go towards Noida from Jamia Nagar, Batla House and Okhla Vihar.
The narrow road that was earlier blocked is also a connecting point between Kalindi Kunj Road and GD Birla Marg. But since the GD Birla Marg stretch has been barricaded off, the narrow road, commonly known as road number 9, also directs traffic towards another 200 m-long road along Kalindi Kunj Park called road number 13.
This road heads to neighbouring cities like Noida on one side connecting to the Kalindi Kunj Bridge, and also towards Faridabad in Haryana in the other direction through the Kalindi Kunj Mithapur Road or by entering Madanpur Khadar, an urban village located south of GD Birla Marg.
This road is also a connecting point to Khadar Kalindi Kunj Road and into Madanpur Khadar but since the barricades at Kalindi Kunj metro station have blocked access, vehicles still have to pass through the Kalindi Kunj Mithapur Road to travel to Faridabad.
And only one side of the 200 m-long stretch has been opened for commuters to go towards Noida through the Kalindi Kunj Bridge, while the other side where traffic flows in the opposite direction continues to be barricaded.
The barricades placed by Delhi Police at two alternative routes directed most of the traffic towards Madanpur Khadar.
Locals will benefit
Police officials at Shaheen Bagh said that move would not make much of a difference but it would benefit the local residents especially those in Madanpur Khadar.
“It is a narrow road so not much traffic can pass,” said a police official who did not wish to be identified, at a check post where the barricades were placed. “The commuters that were earlier going from Madanpur Khadar can now come through here.”
Residents of Shaheen Bagh said that the opening up of one barricaded entry point would make it easier to commute from Jamia Nagar to Shaheen Bagh. “What protestors occupy is a very small patch compared to what they have opened,” said 45-year-old Shahid, a resident of the area who commutes to New Friends Colony for work every day.
Fifty-year-old Rizwana, a resident and a protestor at Shaheen Bagh said that the removal of the barricade illustrated how the Delhi Police’s actions created more traffic. “People need to understand that they were blaming us but it was the police that put barricades there,” she said.
Rizwana said that ambulances and school buses were allowed to enter GD Birla Marg even though it was occupied by protestors. “We are not sitting here to trouble others because we are ourselves troubled [because of the government],” she said.