By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 18 Oct: The anti-encroachment drive in Dehradun district at the directions of the Uttarakhand High Court appears to be in full swing, once again, after a break of almost a year, but questions remain. Among the major questions being raised by the people are also regarding the role of the agencies carrying out the drive. For example, MDDA is one of the major agencies carrying out the anti encroachment drive in the capital, but is being accused of encouraging a lot of illegal construction in blatant violation of the bylaws in force in the city. It is clear that sincerity and a uniform approach is lacking in the drive and, more so, in the current phase that began just a few days ago.
Although MDDA has identified 29 illegal constructions done in violation of the bylaws and in encroachment of public property, and has sealed them during these days, the reality is there are hundreds if not thousands of such encroachments and illegal constructions spread across the capital. It is a matter of public knowledge that MDDA officials look the other way when such illegal constructions are underway and for quite obvious reasons.
On the other hand, poor people are continuously harassed over encroachments and illegal constructions, even in slums. So far, some so called encroachments have been demolished in Dalanwala area and other colonies. Interestingly, even when the anti encroachment drive was carried out last year, questions were raised over lack of uniform approach and disputes were raised over measurements carried out by the officials. For example, on much of Rajpur Road, the administration found encroachments on only one side of the road! Similarly, the maps used by the officials were of 1935 or before in most areas, with new construction and new road alignments not even demarcated. As a result, some perfectly valid properties were wrongly declared as encroachments in certain parts of the city including Kargi Chowk, forcing people to protest and seek legal resort. Even in Dalanwala and Rajpur Road, despite the clear directions of the higher officials, the local officials had deliberately left out certain properties, failing to identify and mark the encroachments.
Now that the drive has begun once again, most of the demolition work carried out this year had already been out marked last year. So far, no exercise has been launched to identify new or fresh encroachment. In Premnagar, for example, after the large scale demolition drive clearly under pressure from the courts, fresh encroachments have again cropped up. Though some notices have been issued to the encroachers, demolition is yet to begin there.
It would be pertinent to point out here that most river banks and their catchment areas along rivers Rispana, Bindal, Tons and Saung are endangering the lives of thousands of slum dwellers. This being a politically sensitive issue, the government tried its best to avoid anti-encroachment drives and had urged the court to give three years time for the removal of these encroachments. However, it is not just slum dwellers or the poor who have encroached upon river beds and the catchment areas. Even the rich have constructed big buildings in such places and notices were issued to over 200 persons for doing so. This time, nothing is being heard officially, as yet, on these encroachments. Not only this, even the government has constructed offices and other buildings and even residential colonies on river beds and catchment areas and the biggest such examples are the Vidhan Sabha Bhawan, the Doordarshan Bhawan and the Culture Department’s auditorium along the Haridwar Bypass. Other such government buildings include Raipur Police Station, Nehru Colony Police Station, NCC Complex, Uttarakhand Culture Directorate, BEO Office and Navodaya Vidyalaya, and Polytechnic Institute near Nalapani Road.
Incidentally, some of the government buildings in Dehradun are dangerously located in flood zones of various rivers like the State Asylum for the Mentally Challenged, Doon University, Uttarakhand Technical University, etc. It is another matter that the government could have sincerely carried out the anti-encroachment drive with sincerity, and blamed the courts in order to balance out collateral political damage. This could have cleaned up the capital and public property of significant encroachments but this opportunity has been sadly missed. Several buildings that had been sealed during the drive last time were quietly let off and unsealed during this period. There is no reason to believe that this would not happen this time around!
By Arun Pratap Singh