In Virender Nagar, Janakpuri, the hostel dwellers of Louis Welfare Progressive Association of the Blind received quite a shock. The hostlers, many of whom are Delhi University students, went to their respective colleges just like any normal day but were aghast to see on returning that their place of residence was down in shambles.
About Louis Welfare Progressive Association of the Blind
The hostel that has been running for the past 17 years was set up after the building was vacated. It earlier served as an Anganwadi center. The shelter was home to many visually impaired students, some of whom were completely impaired, and some were partially impaired. Most of the 20 occupants were students who went to colleges under the Delhi University, and some of them were students of the nearby Sarvodaya schools.
The caretaker said, “It used to be an Anganwadi for slum children, but that was relocated in 2010. The area councilor then gave this building for us to live in,” and that “This hostel has produced civil servants and clerks.”
DDA demolished the Louis Welfare Progressive Association of the Blind hostel on December 15. Kamlesh Kumar, 32, who is the hostel caretaker and who are visually impaired as well, said that around 11 am on December 15, DDA officials and police arrived at the hostel and demolished it.The occupants say that no information regarding the demolition was intimated to them and they weren’t even given ample time to gather their belongings. Kamlesh said that the officials only took out heavy things, such as beds, refrigerator and left the rest inside before demolishing the structure.
What DDA’s take is?
FDA maintains that the occupants were informed well in advance.“We have been making correspondence with the hostel management since April this year. They have been informed four times since then. A day before the demolition, they were informed verbally. We did not inform them in writing as they could procure a stay order from the court and it becomes very difficult for the DDA to clear encroachments then,” an official said.
He added that the DDA had “sympathy” for the visually impaired occupants, but the action was to teach a lesson to the management.
“Students can live in several government hostels. Why were they running a private hostel on encroached land?”
It has been razed by their drive against encroachment.
Effect on the Students
- Lost articles: Aryan Kumar, 21, who was an occupant of the hostel and is a student Delhi University’s School of Open Learning, said, “The building had been razed when I returned from college. I lost my admission slip and some books… Many others lost their notes, mark sheets and gadgets.”
- Living conditions are extremely poor: Since the makeshift arrangements of this unforeseen circumstance were sudden, there is not even the provision of the basic amenities of the occupants of the hostel. Mohit Rana, 18, said the hostel’s occupants “haven’t washed clothes in a week and are sleeping and defecating in the open.”
- No rehabilitation efforts by the DDA: “Just recently, our gas stove was stolen. The DDA could have rehabilitated us before the demolition.”
- Unfairness meted out hurts the occupants: They say “colonies after colonies have come up illegally on DDA land, but the action is never taken against the rich.”
- Disturbance of their routine and other issues cropping up: Officials have asked the students to vacate the open space and have given them two options of either going to tents put up by DUSIB or a night shelter. “Blind people are inter-dependent on each other, so it is difficult for them to survive in a night shelter. The temporary arrangement by DUSIB, in the park next to the demolished building, has dirt and filth and sewage water from nearby houses,” said Deepak Kumar, a Class XII student.
- Disoriented due to dependence on touch: Since in the hostel, all their things were kept in a specific manner, the students had -become used to the manner in which their belongings were set and arranged. Their daily routine revolved around this arrangement and now they are facing grave difficulties.
“Many of my documents are not in Braille, so I cannot find them by touch. I will have to ask someone to look for them… but who?” Kumar said. “We are all either partially or completely visually impaired here. The neighbors have already done enough by offering us food. I cannot ask them to look for my documents.”
- An occupant also stated that since the rubble after the demolition has not been cleared, many of them often hurt themselves looking for their belongings.
- Neighbours are assisting to take them to a public toilet every morning, where they form a queue, holding hands. “Those who are partially blind somehow manage in the day, but at night even they are dependent,” he said.
- Students also alleged they are facing “trouble from pigs and dogs” near the tents, which have been erected by the DUSIB as a makeshift shelter. The animals often run away with small items and are proving to be quite a nuisance since they can’t even see them.
- “Where mattresses are kept on the floor, many often step on them with shoes on, he said.
- They are also having trouble reaching to their family and friends since; there is hardly any plug point to charge phones, Dinesh Kumar, 27 said.
Criticism of DDA’s action
The area councilor Narendra Chawla said the hostel was being run by visually impaired students themselves. “It was not a hostel from which people were earning a profit. The students ran it. The DDA has shown insensitivity by carrying out a demolition in such cold.”
Recognition of the issue by Delhi Government & DDA
A joint team of the social welfare department, Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board, and the area SDM have inspected the demolished hostel site. Rajendra Pal Gautam who is the social welfare minister has sought a report from the team and asked for interim arrangements to be made for the occupants.
Move by the High Court
The Delhi High Court on the 22nd of December, Friday by its bench of acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Shri Hari Shankar has taken suo moto cognizance of the matter and has ordered “immediate rehabilitation” for them. Advocate Mishra has been appointed as an amicus in this matter that is listed on the 16th of January.
Efforts by the National Commission for Human Rights
Notices have been issued by the commission to the chief secretary, government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, and the vice-chairman of the DDA and a detailed report has been sought within four weeks.