New Delhi: Hutments won't be razed any more in Delhi until rehabilitation plans are in place, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Monday, as the Delhi High Court pulled up the railways for the "inhuman" demolition of shanties that left a child dead and hundreds homeless in the winter chill.
"It has been decided that from now on, no slum would be demolished anywhere in Delhi," Kejriwal told the media after meeting Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu.
"First, people living in slums will be rehabilitated peacefully, then the vacant land will be handed over to the railways.
"We decided that railways will give us a schedule of the lands it needs to get vacated in the next three or four years.
"The Delhi government will first rehabilitate the slum dwellers and then give back the land to the railways," Kejriwal said.
He said his government shifted occupants of 594 hutments peacefully to another place last month.
Some 500 hutments were demolished by Indian Railways at Shakur Basti in west Delhi on Saturday, leaving hundreds homeless in the winter chill. An infant died in controversial circumstances during the drive.
Minister Prabhu claimed the death had nothing to do with the demolition. But the child's father insisted otherwise, while the autopsy report blamed head and chest injuries caused by falling objects for the death.
The incident has sparked a war of words involving Delhi's ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress.
Slamming the railways for its "inhuman" demolition, the Delhi High Court directed the railways, police and the Delhi government to make a joint action plan for rehabilitation of the displaced residents.
A bench headed by Justice S. Murlidhar asked the railways whether any survey was done and rehabilitation arrangements were made before the homes were brought down. The counsel for railways had no reply.
"What was the tearing hurry to demolish in December?" the judge asked.
The judicial intervention followed a plea filed by Congress leader Ajay Maken.
Since the demolition, the hutment dwellers are living in the open, at the site, under canvas tents. The AAP said it was providing them food and shelter.
On Monday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi met the displaced people and vowed to fight for their rights. "We will try to help you. We will fight for you... We will raise the issue in parliament."
Gandhi's office tweeted that both the central and Delhi governments were to blame for Saturday's demolition.
Kejriwal hit back, saying Gandhi was a "kid" who did not know that the railways which carried out the razing was controlled by the central, not Delhi, government.
Prabhu said he will talk to Kejriwal to discuss how people left homeless could be rehabilitated and how land illegally grabbed could be re-taken by the railways.
But he said the demolition was carried out after sending repeated notices to people at Shakur Basti to vacate the land.
On Monday, Delhi minister Satyendra Jain said: "This is an inhuman act. Were any arrangements made to rehabilitate these people? It is the central government's policy that till alternate arrangements are made, no demolition can take place."
The drive, he said, was aimed at "teaching a lesson to Kejriwal".
"We were not given any information about the demolition. We came to know about it after it began. Arrangements such as mobile toilets, sheds, food and blankets have been made by the Delhi government for the displaced."