New Delhi: With squatters taking over nearly 150 acres (60 hectares) of unused prime land in the Capital, several important railway projects have hit a wall. Precipitating the crisis, thousands of these illegal settlers are gradually turning huge chunks of vacant railway land into permanent shelters. In all, the expanse of the usurped land can house 25 Parliament buildings.
As many as 52 slum clusters have come up on the usurped railway land and house nearly 47,000 dwelling units. More surprisingly, nearly 50,000 electricity connections have also been provided to these residential units.
According to real estate experts, the total worth of the railways’ occupied land in Delhi comes to Rs.6,000 crore if calculated on an average rate of Rs.1 lakh per sq m. The Northern Railways has admitted to the land encroachment in response to a Right to Information (RTI) query filed by Delhi-based activist Narendra Sharma.
A direct fallout of this illegal occupation is that all inbound trains are forced to slow down just when these enter the Capital’s periphery. “The presence of hundreds of shanties right on the tracks is an unnerving sight. It forces us to drive at a slower speed lest we ram someone, but it impacts our arrival and departure schedule,” a loco driver said on the condition of anonymity.
Some of the major projects affected by these encroachments are the expansion plans at the Anand Vihar and Shakur Basti stations. The proposed station at Bijwasan is also stuck because of this problem.
According to the railways, 6 lakh sq m of land has been illegally occupied by slum dwellers across the city. The worst affected areas are in North and North-West Delhi, which account for nearly half of the total encroached railway land. More than 24,000 jhuggis in 25 JJ clusters have been built in these two districts alone.
These are followed by areas in East, South and South-West Delhi, where nearly 18,000 jhuggis have been collectively raised over the years. The squatters have not even spared the New Delhi district, where two clusters with nearly 100 shanties have come up on railway’s land.
In Delhi, areas like Shakur Basti, Nizamuddin, Azad Colony, Wazirpur, Nangloi, Daya Basti, Zakhira, Tughlakabad, Seelampur and Shahdara are the worst affected. Thousands of slum dwellers have been living along the railway tracks for several years now.
No removals so far
The other areas where encroachment is rampant include Mayapuri, Prem Baadi Bridge, Kishanganj, Old Rohtak Road and Pragati Maidan.
Such is the penetration of squatters in these clusters that even railways and civic bodies have failed to get the land vacated. In reply to the RTI query, the railways claimed that it had paid Rs.11.15 crore to the three Municipal Corporations of Delhi in 2013 for removal of these encroachments from its land. However, the move failed to have the desired effect.
Railway officials said repeated efforts made to evacuate the squatters from government land had proved to be futile since local-level politicians intervened in the exercise with a view to encashing the votes of these slum dwellers. The railway officials were even pressured to abort the anti-encroachment drives in these areas, sources said.
On Friday, the matter pertaining to land encroachment was raised in Parliament too. Responding to the queries, Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha said 59.88 hectare of land in Delhi was under encroachment while 930 hectare of railway land across the country was illegally occupied by squatters.
“About 930 hectare of railway Continued from page 1 land, which constitutes 0.20 per cent of the total railway land, is under encroachment in various parts of the country. In Delhi, 59.88 hectare of railway land is under illegal occupation,” Sinha stated in a written reply. However, he said steps were being taken to get the railway land cleared of the illegal occupants and prevent encroachment in the future.
“During the past three years, about 70.38 hectare of encroached land has been retrieved. The vacant land, which is not required by the railways for its immediate operational needs, has been entrusted to the Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA) during the interim period for commercial development through open competitive bidding,” the Minister of State for Railways added.
Meanwhile, railway officials said that human intervention on railway tracks didn’t only pose a safety hazard but also created unhygienic conditions.
With lakhs of people inhabiting the vacant land adjacent to railway tracks in Delhi, close to 4,000 persons have lost their lives during the last five years.
Railway officials said a majority of these victims were identified as slum dwellers, who were living in adjacent areas and were run over by trains while crossing railway tracks. The Railway Police, in response to an RTI query, said 3,833 persons were killed on railway tracks since 2010 in the Capital.
Areas near the Old Delhi railway station reported the maximum number of deaths with the tally standing at 1,469. The second highest tally was claimed by areas near Sarai Rohilla, where the number of deaths stood at 1,202 followed by 555 deaths being reported near Hazrat Nizamuddin. Areas near the New Delhi railway station reported 287 deaths, while 320 persons lost their lives near the Anand Vihar railway station.
According to the RTI reply, nearly 25,000 bodies could not be identified as they were mutilated after being trampled upon by trains. Overcrowding at railway stations, which often prompts passengers to cross railway tracks, is also a reason behind the deaths according to officials.
While crossing or walking along the railway tracks is a punishable offence under Section 147 of the Railways Act, most commuters remain unaware of the law. Officials claim that of the 47,000 jhuggis on railway land in Delhi, about 24,500 violate the safety zone, which stretches to 15 metres around the outermost track.