FARIDABAD, INDIA (AFP) – Indian authorities on Saturday (July 17th) continued the demolition of thousands of homes in a village near New Delhi despite protests from human rights activists and UN experts.
Bulldozers and earthmovers began operation this week in Khori, a settlement of tens of thousands near the Delhi border which the Supreme Court said is protected forest land and must be cleared.
Campaigners say migrant workers and working poor have been there for over 30 years and the forest was destroyed by mining decades ago.
Police set up barricades on Friday to prevent journalists and others from entering the area, which the court said should be cleared by July 19.
But huge piles of brick debris and other rubble, cupboards, beds and utensils could be seen strewn outside.
Activists say there were at least 5,000 homes in the settlement, which had its own schools and places of worship.
“The land was used for mining and after mining was banned, it was sold to villagers by ‘mafia’ criminals,” Vimal Bhai of the National Alliance of People’s Movements told non-profit, which worked with the locals.
“Poor villagers are paying the price for inadequate government and poor policy making. Before the demolition started, the electricity and water supplies were cut off in the houses and even tankers were not allowed to enter.
Residents said there was a confrontation with police officers armed with batons when the bulldozers entered. Police denied that there was any violence.
In a statement, human rights experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council on Friday urged authorities to end the mass evictions.
“We find it extremely worrying that India’s highest court, which in the past ruled the protection of housing rights, is now carrying out evictions putting people at risk of internal displacement and even homelessness,” they said.
Experts said the demolition would add to the hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with thousands of children and young mothers affected.
Police on Friday fired journalists, including an AFP team, citing security and the “tense atmosphere” in the settlement, which includes rudimentary and uncoated red brick houses.
The camp is located in the state of Haryana which has implemented a relocation program. Activists say most residents will not be eligible for housing because they do not have the proper papers. The state made no immediate comment on the demolition.