Demolition of slums triggers face-off between Delhi, Central govt; six-month-old baby dead

The railways said the demolition was carried out after three notices, the first one with the March 14, 2015 deadline.

PTI| Last Updated: Dec 13, 2015, 20:47 PM IST
Demolition of slums triggers face-off between Delhi, Central govt; six-month-old baby dead
People living under open sky battling cold wave conditions in Delhi's Shakur Basti (Pic courtesy: ANI)

New Delhi: A fresh face-off between the Delhi government and the Centre erupted on Sunday over demolition of a slum cluster by railways to clear "encroachments" and death of a baby at the site here, evoking angry protest from Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal who wanted murder case to be filed.

The demolition of 1200 slum units at Shakur Basti in West Delhi was carried out yesterday, with the railways saying the action was necessary for expanding the infrastructure.

The railways said the demolition was carried out after three notices, the first one with the March 14, 2015 deadline.

Also ReadRailways defends demolition drive, says 'it has nothing to do with child's death'

A six-month-old baby died in one of the slum units, which the railways insisted had "nothing to do with removal of encroachments", claiming that it occurred two hours before the demolition started at 12 pm.

Police said prima facie the baby died due to suffocation after a heap of clothes fell on it when the parents were preparing to clear out of the jhuggi and hence no case was registered.

Kejriwal, while slamming the railways, suspended two Sub-Divisional Magistrates and another senior official for "failing to arrange" food and shelter for those evicted.

As the controversy broke out, Delhi Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) Arun Arora told a press conference here that encroachments had become a "risk" for train operations as the slums were within the 15-metre of safety zone.

Also Read: Demolition drive in Delhi's Shakurbasti allegedly leaves a child dead, thousands homeless in chilling cold​ 

He said the National Green Tribunal had also ordered that the tracks should be cleared of solid waste and to ensure this the railways had to "remove the source".

Arora said the slum dwellers were given first notice for vacating the land by March 14, 2015. However, the demolition could not be undertaken then because police could not provide assistance then, Arora said.

Subsequently, two more notices were given to them -- one with the deadline of September 30,2015 and the last one with the deadline of December 12,2015 (yesterday), he said.

Kejriwal, who visited the site late last night, slammed the railways for undertaking the demolition drive at a time when the temperature saw a sharp drop. He ordered officials to immediately provide blankets and food to those who were rendered homeless following the drive.

Talking to reporters, he said, "A child has died here. It is a very sad thing and I think that a murder case should be registered against the officers. Compensation will be taken from them. It should be deducted from the salaries of the officers who have conducted these raids."

In the evening, senior railway officials, Northern Railway General Manager AK Puthia and Delhi Divisional Railway Manager Arun Arora, met him to explain why the slum cluster was demolished but the "difference of opinion" persisted between the two sides.

Delhi government sources said the "CM was not happy with the Railway officials' response and he would take up the matter with Railway Minister (Suresh Prabhu)."

"We told the Chief Minister that as per railway rules, we have to inform Delhi police and encroachers before taking any action. And here also, we also followed the rules and guidelines," Arora told PTI.

"We explained to him (CM) that this demolition drive has no connection with the death of the child," he added.

Asked about Kejriwal's response, the DRM said the Chief Minister told them that whenever railways removes any encroachment in Delhi, they must inform the state government.

"He (CM) also said that before removing encroachment, steps should be taken for relocation and rehabilitation of those affected. We told him that his views will be communicated to the Railway Ministry," Arora added.

The DRM said there is a "difference of opinion" between the two sides and "now we will be writing to the railway ministry seeking further direction."

While the railways maintained that the encroachment was "fresh", Kejriwal said those people had been living there since 1992-94 and "Those who have done this are not humans, instead they are animals and bestial."

The Delhi government has ordered a magisterial probe into the incident. It has suspended two Sub-Divisional Magistrates and a superintendent engineer for "failing to arrange" food and shelter for those evicted.

"We have ordered a SDM enquiry into the incident. A case under Section 302 (murder) of IPC will be registered against those officials responsible behind the death of the baby girl. "We will also probe who ordered to demolish shanties which were into existence for 20 years," Delhi Home Minister Satyendar Jain said.

Sources said that Delhi government may move court seeking FIR against those who ordered to carry out demolition drive as Parliament had issued a Special Provision Act according to which no demolition can be carried out until government needs land urgently.

"Even during Commonwealth Games, these jhuggis were not demolished, but I want to ask what emergency had come to order demolition of these jhuggis," Jain said.

Earlier, a railway official said the demolition was undertaken as "There is a need for constructing additional platforms, repairing yard, washing line, maintenance facility and office space for store and engineering division so that more long distance and local trains can be handled at the Shakur Basti station."