We hear frequent reports of poor hawkers being hastily removed from footpaths and roads in front of residential areas with or without any complaint being made against them by residents of the colony, even though they may be occupying a very small space. Now contrast this with what the citizens of South Park Apartments (Kalkajee area) in Delhi have been experiencing for a long time. Their safety has been badly threatened in several ways by big businessmen dealing in second hand cars, but despite making many efforts for a long time to get back the safety and public space to which they are entitled, they have not succeeded. On the contrary, the businessmen have continued to increase their encroachments and the accompanying dirt, in the process accentuating the problems of residents, particularly of women, children and elderly people.
In fact it is an elderly activist, who devoted his life to serving the poor and is now now ill for some time, living in these apartments, who drew this writer’s attention to the increasing problems of the residents particularly the elderly among them as he felt that the authorities have failed to fulfill their obligations to people and their safety.
A resident who has played an active role in resisting this stated, “We have the busy EPDP road and a footpath close to us. Due to the second-hand car sellers encroaching on these, we have very little space left for us. The cars are not just parked here, these are cleaned, serviced, the resulting waste is thrown around, as in a workshop. There was a gas cylinder burst some time back and another accident too. Problems worsened to such an extent that we had to close our main gate for exit and entry, and are forced to use the second gate.”
As both the road and the footpath have been encroached up badly and as debris of motor parts are thrown here and there, the elderly people have a lot of problems in negotiating the path. There have been cases of them falling down. As quite a few elderly people regularly go to the nearby gurdwara, this is a daily problem.
Women have also suffered a lot. A lady office goer said—As this place is being used as a workshop and buyers and sellers also crowd it, with many new persons coming and going, eve-teasing is becoming a problem. Sometimes we see drinking and gambling in small groups. The biggest nuisance is of men urinating against trees and walls or in corners.”
However many women worry even more about about their children coming and going to school every day as this road has become very unsafe, she continued.
These and related similar issues have been repeatedly taken up by active residents with the authorities and political representatives but it is an indication of the political economy of our cities that while action against poor encroachers is so quick, in this case while several responsible citizens including highly educated ones been trying to draw attention to the harassment and safety risks caused to them by big businessmen, their pleas have been ignored for such a long time. Although the struggle of these citizens is only against illegal use of public spaces for private business and is based on very strong grounds, yet they have been denied justice for a long time. Serious safety issues are also involved here and one hopes that before any major accident occurs, the authorities will finally see reason and tale long overdue action in the interests of safety, sanitation and sanity.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Man over Machine, Protecting Earth for Children and a Day in 2071.