Another Demolition Drive In Delhi This Time Razes House Of Rat-Hole Miner Involved In Uttarkashi Tunnel Rescue

Hassan’s house was once demolished back in 2016 when the parlour, which his wife ran for nearly a decade, was brought down. He alleges that he is being targeted.

Photo by Tribhuvan Tiwari/Outlook
Now-demolished house of Wakeel Hassan, a rat-hole miner part of the Uttarkashi Tunnel rescue op Photo by Tribhuvan Tiwari/Outlook

When Wakeel Hassan, one of the rat-hole miners involved in the rescue operation in the Silkyara tunnel rescue operation in Uttarakhand, came back to Delhi, he urged the authorities to let him have his house as the only award. A local leader had then told him, “Ghar bhi banayenge, khana bhi khayenge (We’ll build your house and have a meal at your place too).” Now, Hassan says, “Khana bhi nahi khaya, ghar bhi tod diya (They did not have a meal and they demolished our house).” 

As the sun went down on February 28, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) took out a demolition drive and razed “ilegal structures” in North East Delhi’s Khajoori Khas. Among these structures was the home of Hassan, who helped save 41 workers stuck in the Uttarkashi tunnel in December. He claims that his house was torn down without a notice.

Sitting on the street with his children by him, Hassan tells Outlook, “My children – two daughters and a son – were inside the house when it happened. They had locked the door from inside. The incident has been traumatising from then.”

“The way they demolished my house, it seems I have done a crime. After everything we have done, after all that praise heaped on us, this is what you give us in return,” he asks.

When Outlook visited Hassan’s house in December 2023, he along with his team were being felicitated by local leaders at their house. At that time, they had assured Hassan that nothing no harm would be caused to their house that was built in Sri Ram Colony, Khajoori Khas in 2013. Outlook’s Shreya Basak had earlier reported how the lanes of Sri Ram Colony, where several workers like him live, are marked by debris from demolished houses. In a story titled, Inglorious Miners in December 2023, she wrote that the jhuggi has witnessed several ‘bulldozings’ since 2014; the most recent one being a couple of months ago.

At the same time, Hassan alleges that he is being targeted; that while no other houses were broken, his was the only one that was demolished last evening. In a video clip, Hassan said that he had gone to Khajoori Khas police station in connection with this incident, along with his close friend Munna Qureshi, who was the first person to reach those 41 workers in the tunnel. However, he claimed that they were manhandled there.

Hassan’s house was once demolished back in 2016 when the parlour, which his wife ran for nearly a decade, was brought down. It was a blow to their household income and the cracks on the floor from the damage remained. Hassan alleges that even at that time, there was no notice served. Shabana had told Outlook that her parlour “faced repeated destruction by bulldozers”. “I hope to rebuild, but I fear another demolition. They call us illegal settlers; then, how do they seek votes from us,” she had asked. Shabana’s house did not have electricity for four years; the DDA cut it during a 2019 demolition. She now relies on solar power.

A hapless Hassan does not wish to reach out to any of those leaders who had made false promises to him following the Uttarakhand rescue mission. He says that while they made headlines by taking photos with him, none of them are currently there for him, to be of any help.

This is not the first of such demolition drives carried out by DDA in the city. Often, the drives are also conducted in areas of a minority community. Lives of lakhs of labourers, plumbers, carpenters, house helps and others living in mud houses have been turned upside down over a series of such drives either for “beautification” or to raze “illegal” structures.  drive in the capital city since India took over the G20 presidency last year. In the process, the authorities seem to forget making any provisions for shelter for those evicted from their homes.

Regarding the Khajoori Khas demolition, Delhi Police officer said that several structures that were built illegally were demolished by the DDA authorities and that they gave them assistance in controlling law and order during the drive. Hours after razing his house, DDA offered to move Hassan and his family to a temporary accommodation and assured him that he would be provided a house in the Govindpuri area However, according to PTI, he declined the offer as it was only a "verbal assurance".

(With inputs from Shreya Basak)