The fate of about 50,000 residents in the area, 90% of whom are Muslims, hangs in balance with the administration gearing up for what will be Uttarakhand’s biggest demolition.
According to local residents, the 78-acre area, comprising five wards, has around 25,000 voters, including several elderly persons and pregnant women, as well as 15,000 children.
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Following the HC order of December 20, notices had been issued in newspapers, directing people to remove their household belongings by January 9. The administration has directed 10 ADMs and 30 SDM-rank officers to supervise the process.
Many of the families have been staying in the “occupied areas” of Gafoor Basti, Dholak Basti and Indira Nagar colonies in Banbhulpura since 1910. Large-scale protests, candle matches and sit-ins are being witnessed daily, with residents claiming they have been targeted because of their religion.
The area has four government schools, 10 private ones, a bank, four temples, two mazaars, a graveyard and 10 mosques which came up over the last few decades. Banbhulpura also has a community health centre and a government primary school that are said to be over a hundred years old.
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Several residents have asked how hospitals and schools could have come up in the area without permission. “How can the Railways suddenly force us to leave,” asked Abid Shah Khan, who has been living there for over 60 years. “How can one deny the structures that were made during the British era? The Railways has no documents to support its claim. We are being harassed. We have approached the Supreme Court and are confident of getting justice.”
Junaid Khan, 38, said his wife has had a difficult pregnancy and the delivery is scheduled for January 7. “The doctor has advised bed rest for her but the HC order has left us nowhere. If the SC doesn’t come to our rescue, it will be an unimaginable situation to shift our entire family, including my 85-year-old mother.”
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Another resident, Riza Fatima, a student of class 6, told TOI, “A total of 10,000 women gathered and prayed together on Tuesday. Our exams are scheduled in the next few weeks. We feel helpless.”
Some petitioners pointed out that in 2018, the ruling BJP brought in an ordinance to stop demolition of “malin bastis” (slums that aren’t regularised) and instead of evicting residents decided to regularise the slum areas or at least relocate residents. There are 582 identified slum areas in Uttarakhand, out of which 22 are in Haldwani and five on the allegedly encroached railway land.
“The ordinance protects residents of these slums from eviction even if the matter is in court,” a local said. “However, the state government has gone against its own provision to evict us simply because we belong to the minority community.”
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Chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said the state will follow whatever the court decides. “We will respect the decision of the court. The state government is not a party in the matter. It is between the Railways and the high court.”
Former Congress state chief and ex-leader of opposition Pritam Singh, along with other party members, had met the CM on Tuesday seeking his intervention to help the families facing eviction. On Wednesday, former CM and senior Congress leader Harish Rawat observed an hour-long “maun vrat” in support of the residents.