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‘Death during demolition’: Family says 50 of them tried to get man out of debris

Forty-year-old Kamlesh sits under the shade of a tree in the scorching sun looking at three plastic tents on an uneven muddy ground in Bulandshahr’s Awas Vikas 2 colony. Adjacent to a water tank, the plot had nearly eight houses belonging to different family members of Rohtas (45), Kamlesh’s husband.

Every few minutes, Kamlesh breaks down, recalling how she lost her husband and her house during an anti-encroachment drive earlier this month.

As per the family, and their neighbours, Rohtas was not allowed to move out of the house as the bulldozer moved in on May 2. The daily wager succumbed to his injuries 10 days later.

“When the wall collapsed, more than 50 people rushed to remove the debris from atop him. We took him to the nearest government hospital, and it asked us to take care of him at home. He never got up and eventually succumbed to his injuries,” a family member says, adding that Rohtas had been hurt on the leg and spine.

Officials deny this, saying Rohtas had been ailing and the family came up with the claim of his injuries later. The contractor who carried out the demolition and his aides have been booked, for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. No case has been brought against any official as of now.

“The contractor came and told us ‘Samadhi banane aaya hoon (I am here to prepare your tomb)’. I told him my husband was sleeping inside the house and to give us a few minutes to wake him up. The driver didn’t listen and ploughed into a wall, which collapsed onto Rohtas,” says Kamlesh. The family says since the hospital didn’t admit him, they don’t have any medical papers to show.

The extended family of Rohtas and his brothers say they have been living on the approximately 4,000 sq ft land, in eight separate half-pucca huts for decades, much before the nearby Awas Vikas 2 colony was developed.

“This is probably our sixth generation living here. We have seen the city come up. They are saying we don’t belong here, when in fact we have been living here for years. If they have an issue, they should discuss it with us. Getting bulldozers is no solution,” says one of the relatives, Sumit Kumar Lodhi.

Another relative, Deepak, says the women of the family went down on their knees before the contractor, Mohit Chaudhary, who was hired for the demolition. “He kept saying we will end up on pyres. They even broke a nearby hand pump out of spite. In this heat, we are sleeping under a plastic sheet. We have been left with nothing.”

Locals in the area back the family, saying the bulldozer broke a wall and Rohtas did not get enough time to escape.

The Nagar Palika, which owns the land where the family lived, says that far from causing any injury or death, the demolition exercise had been carried out amicably.

Officials said some portions of the houses had been brought down on April 14, and the action on May 2 was carried out with the family’s consent. “In April, walls had been brought down and the debris was removed. On May 2, the family themselves said we should get a bulldozer and bring down the remaining structure,” says Manoj Garg, Chairman, Nagar Palika.

He also claims that in the ‘Jan Sunwai’ session held after the demolition, the family never talked about a person being injured and rather insisted that a route for movement be opened up. “The family never gave anything in writing about the demolition,” Garg says.

District administration officials claim Rohtas had been ailing and claims of injuries were wrong.

Muzaffarnagar District Magistrate Chandra Prakash said: “We have filed an FIR and an investigation is taking place. As per initial fact-finding, we were informed that no person was injured during the anti encroachment. Further details will be ascertained during the probe and action will be taken accordingly.”

As the matter is under probe now, there is status quo on the land. Family members shelter under tents, their few belongings such as clothes, utensils strewn about. A neighbour says: “Sometimes they use our toilets. Some of their stuff is also kept in our houses. We have never heard of such an action in all the time we have lived here.”

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