Homelessness under a roof: Residents of Punjabi Academy await justice
The families that live on the ground floor of Punjabi Academy — they were evicted from their homes six years ago — are still awaiting the court verdict, their entire existence in a limbo.
Savitri Parcha is a 35-year-old mother who lives with her husband and daughter on the ground floor of Punjabi Academy, at Motia Khan in the heart of the Capital. Her only concern is her daughter’s education; the child goes to a government school. “There’s no privacy here for my daughter to study. She failed her exams, and the same goes for the other children living here. The future of our children has been doomed,” says Parcha, who was among the dozens of people evicted from their homes six years ago.
Granted, their homes were not regularised properties, but it was all they had, and legal relief has eluded them so far. Parcha’s family was among 85 families that lived in the slum area situated at Gol Market (near Ram Manohar Lohia hospital). In November 2010, their makeshift homes were razed, and some of the affected families — about 22 of them — were shifted to the ground floor of the Punjabi Academy. The building is managed by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIP), and the upper floors function as a language academy, as the name suggests.
The removal of the slum homes led to a court case; six years on, the verdict is still awaited. The families shifted to the Punjabi Academy had been promised by the Delhi Government of the day that they would be given homes on the basis of a report. The court had given the government six months to prepare this report; the government took almost five years to file it. According to 63-year-old Dhullar Singh, “The government finally filed the survey report in October 2014, and now, due to the incomplete documents of a few families, everyone has been asked to wait”.
Explaining the paperwork bottleneck, Dhullar Singh says that the government report, which was already delayed by years, had the following result for the evicted people: 52 families were found to be eligible; 22 to be ineligible; and one family chose not to submit the required documents. Among the residents of the Punjabi Academy, two families have incomplete papers and the rest are eligible for flat allotments.
At present, on this dingy floor, around 18 families share a hall. A narrow aisle divides the spaces belonging to different families, the ‘boundaries’ marked by sheets and clothes. For each family, their cloth-covered space serves as kitchen, bedroom and everything.
Over these six years, their situation has gone from bad to worse, the problems piling up, but the authorities turn a deaf ear to any appeal for solutions.
Among the myriad problems, the major one for the residents is their children’s upbringing, which is getting severely affected. Everyone complains that the future of their children is in jeopardy due to the environment of the place. Many of the children living in the Punjabi Academy have been failing exams on the trot.
The ground floor is too small to accommodate even half of them. Four families have moved out, unable to bear with the situation. The rest still live in hope that someday the government will fulfil its promise and their woes will come to an end. Rita Shukhla, 57, lives with her husband and daughter. Her daughter works as a telephone operator in a government hospital. She says, “We want our homes. I don’t want them to shift us elsewhere, we’ve had enough. My girl is growing up. Who would marry her?”
Until February last year, there was a caretaker (guard) assigned to the place. However, ever since the place came under DUSIP, the caretaker has been taken away — a move that has given hooligans in the area a chance to create more problems for the residents. They come in groups at night to drink alcohol in the backyard of the Punjabi Academy. Sudesh, 41, who lives here with her 15-year-old daughter, says, “There are so many young girls living here. They can’t even sit outside in the evening, due to the menace of these trespassers.”
The medical van seldomly visits them now, as it used to in the past. Most families are not struggling to keep their head above the water, but they have been jostling for space for years now. Five of the residents died in the past six years. Some elderly people have that look in their sad eyes — as if life has defeated them. But hope still lingers among the residents that someday all this will end, their lives will change. They will have homes.