Holding her daughter’s wedding card, Shameena (35) stares at a wall of her house in Lakkarpur-Khori village. The wedding is on June 11 and their relatives from Bihar have started arriving. But Shameena is not sure if the wedding will happen. Local authorities have started making announcements on loudspeakers asking residents to vacate their houses, which will soon be pulled down.
Like Shameena, other families staying in around 10,000 houses in the Aravali forest area fear they will become homeless after the Supreme Court ordered Faridabad Municipal Corporation to clear the eco-sensitive zone of encroachments. While Monday’s order mentions that unauthorised structures have to be removed within six weeks, Faridabad deputy commissioner (DC) Yashpal Yadav said there is no rehabilitation plan for the affected families.
TOI spoke to several residents in the area who said they were never told it was forest land. They also showed Aadhaar and voter ID cards with local addresses and asked if they have the right to vote, why can’t they be rehabilitated?
“Around 15 years ago, our family shifted to Okhla from a village in Mainpuri after my husband got a job in a factory. He got to know that plots were available in Khori village. With all our savings, we bought a piece of land from a person who has sold almost all plots here,” said Vimlesh Sharma (45), whose husband works as a guard.
“Initially, we built a temporary structure because we did not have enough money. Gradually, we were able to build a permanent structure. If the authorities pull down our houses, they should also rehabilitate us. They should catch hold of the person who sold us the land.”
Mohammad Salim (61) said his family came to the area around 30 years ago. “This area has people from Bihar, UP, West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and many other states. The government is asking us to stay at home because of the pandemic and then, it is taking away our homes. Why can’t they rehabilitate us if they want to demolish our houses?” he asked.
Another resident, Reeta, said her family has been staying here for about 15 years. “We don't have power and running water. Leaders come here begging for votes. But they are nowhere now,” she said.
Deputy commissioner Yadav told TOI, “There should be some ground for rehabilitation. When I was the subdivisional magistrate here in 2012, we had completely removed encroachments from the area. The structures that you see now were built after 2012. People should not have bought land here since they did not get registry papers. It is fairly clear that this is forest land. People who bought the plots were aware of the risks. The Supreme Court has ordered demolition and we will follow that. The residents had filed an appeal for rehabilitation on which the Supreme Court gave the order. So people should accept it. There is no rehabilitation plan at the moment.”
He added that they are trying to talk to the residents and asking them to vacate the area. “We are collating information about police force and equipment required to carry out the demolition drive,” he said.
The Supreme Court had stopped mining activities in the Aravalis by several orders since 2001. But Lakkarpur-Khori area saw thousands of families building houses till the court intervened and sought removal of encroachments. On Monday, Gonsalves had pleaded before the court that most villagers could be given houses at alternative sites if the Haryana government rehabilitation policy cutoff was changed from 2003 to 2015. “Most of them have been living there since the 1980s when mining was carried on in Aravali. But they don’t have documents to prove it. They have proof of residence since 2010,” he had said.
The Supreme Court has asked the municipal commissioner and the state’s forest secretary to file affidavits of compliance and said their reports on removal of unauthorised houses on forest land would be verified by an independent team. It also told the counsel for Haryana government that the state must take steps to implement the court orders failing which, the state chief secretary would be made answerable, if needed. On Monday, the court had also said the Faridabad SP will be personally responsible for providing adequate forces to facilitate the demolition drive. The next hearing is on July 27.
The residents, however, are at a loss. Reeta Singh, who lost her husband a year ago, said her house was demolished around five years ago. But her husband rebuilt it. “Our neighbours said the nearby areas have also developed like this. Nothing will happen. So, we stayed back,” she said.
Meanwhile, hardly a day left for her daughter’s wedding, Shameena, said almost all arrangements are done. “I have paid for the tent and the caterer. But I don’t know if I will have my house till June 11,” she said. Her neighbour Reeta said her daughter-in-law is in her final month of pregnancy and in this condition, they don’t know where to go. “If they come to pull down our house, we will stand in their way,” she said.