Brand-new DELHI: A fresh confrontation between the Delhi government and the Centre erupted on Sunday following the death of a child during the demolition of a slum cluster to clear “encroachments”, evoking angry protests from Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who wants a murder case be registered versus the officials concerned.
The demolition was carried out on Saturday at Shakur Basti in West Delhi in which 1200 slum units were removed, along with the railways insisting that the action was necessary to clear the “encroachments” for expanding the infrastructure.
The railways said the demolition was carried out after three notices, the first one along with the March 14, 2015 deadline. A six-month-old baby died in one of the slum units, which the railways insisted occurred two hours before the demolition started at 12pm on Saturday.
Police said prima facie the baby died after a heap of clothes fell on the child while his parents were preparing to move out of the jhuggi and hence no case is made out.
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 the child’s death has actually no connection along with the removal of encroachments which had become a “risk” for train operations as the slums were within the 15-metre of safety zone.
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 along with the deadline of September 30,2015 and the last one along with the deadline of December 12,2015 (yesterday), he said.
“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,” another railway official said.
Kejriwal, who visited the site late on Saturday 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 actually died here. It is a very sad thing and I think that a murder case should be registered versus the officers. Compensation will be taken from them. It should be deducted from the salaries of the officers who have actually conducted these raids.
Earlier, in a collection of tweets, Kejriwal said, “Railways have actually demolished 500 shanties in this extreme cold. One child has actually died. God will never forgive them. Had instructed the local SDM to arrange for food and shelter. They did not arrange the same, so have actually suspended them.”
The Chief Minister said that he had spoken to Union Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu, who was not “aware of this operation. He was also shocked.”
He said “our Divisional Commisioner” told the SDMs and another official to arrange for the accommodation and food for those evicted. “After coming here, we found that there is no arrangement for either. The DM comes under us, so we are suspending the DM right away,” he said.
With regard to the child’s death, railways said it occurred at around 10am, two hours before the demolition drive began.
“It had nothing to do along with removal of encroachments which started at around 1200 hours… When police, RPF and railway officials gathered at the site it was noticed that the death of a child had occurred in one of the jhuggies at around 10 am,” railways said in a statement.
“….The encroachment removal was started at 11.50 am under police protection and completed by evening,” it added.
“After assessing the situation Ishwar Singh, SHO Punjabi Bagh, had given notice for clearance at 11.50 hrs. The joint note of police, RPF and railway officials at site indicate that removal was done peacefully. The removal was in the knowledge of DUSIB officials,” the statement said.
Arora, when asked whether the drive will stop because of the child’s death, replied in the negative.
“A number of notices were issued to encroachers to vacate railway land during the last nine months. Notice to vacate before 30 September, 2015 was given but they did not vacate,” the railways said in the statement, adding another notice was given for vacating the land by yesterday.
Joint Commissioner of Police (South-West) Dependra Pathak said, “When family members were arranging clothes, a heap of garments fell over the child which they did not notice. The child could not remove the pile and got smothered under it. No case has actually been registered as of now.”
Delhi’s ruling party AAP also hit out at the railways following death of a baby in Shakur Basti area and questioned the timing of its demolition drive which rendered “several homeless on a cold day”.
Terming the drive as “sudden” action, it said earlier too similar activities were planned by Railways, but could not materialise following “intervention” by Kejriwal and the state government.