Haldwani was rescued by the Supreme Court when it stayed the Nainital HC order to demolish 4300 homes in Banbhoolpura area that runs 2 km parallel to the railway line. The railway version is that they require land for railway expansion
I rather too vividly recall visiting Haldwani on numerous occasions. That was many years back. In the company of my parents and grandparents, my siblings and I would be travelling to Nainital and Ranikhet around summer and then again during autumn. And Haldwani was our mid-way stop. We’d buy fruit from the roadside fruit carts and then settle down for lunch and snacks, before undertaking the last leg of the journey.
It was all too blissful and just too beautiful. Not to be overlooked is the fact that the then political climate was healthy and vibrant. Not like today’s rather too rattling scenario!
Why I have been thinking of Haldwani is because of the uncertainty and anxiety holding out for thousands of Haldwani residents and their families. In fact, last week, Professor V. K. Tripathi,the New Delhi based academic-activist who taught Physics at IIT Delhi, undertook this journey to Haldwani and he has come forth with these observations.
To quote Professor Tripathi, “ My Haldwani visit: Haldwani has been saved of a major catastrophe by a Supreme Court order on January 5, 2023, staying the Nainital High Court verdict of December 20, 2022 ordering demolition of 4300 homes in Banbhoolpura area that runs 2 km parallel to (but 150 – 200 feet away from) the railway line. The High Court acted on the PIL filed by Ravi Joshi (not the Railways). The state government decided to begin a demolition drive from January 8. Thousands of girls, women and men, filled with deep anxiety, thronged on roads…I felt relieved by the SC judgment, yet I wanted to see the ground situation and share the worries and respite of the people over there. I boarded the Ranikhet Express (sleeper coach) from Delhi on December 5, 2023 at 10 PM and reached Haldwani at 4:30 AM next morning. For two hours I stayed in the waiting room. At 7 AM I walked to Ghafoor Basti and Dholak Basti. I met working class women (mostly Muslim, engaged in daily wage labor, domestic work, rag picking). Mukesh, a wage worker, and a few others joined. They showed their jhuggis (huts) with polyethene cover inhabited by 5 to 10 people, barely managing to survive in extremely hard conditions. Some ladies were waiting at common water taps. Some people were engaged in making dholaks (drums), some were sitting around a fire. They felt relieved by the SC order.
In Banbhoolpura as I was talking to a shopkeeper (playing bhajans) came Irfan, a 40-year-old worker working on loading and unloading heavy stuff. He took me around the Basti, mostly made of brick homes, and spoke by heart. He took me to the Gola River on the other side of the rail line. The river bed is 60 feet deep and one kilometer wide but there is no water in it. In the rainy season it becomes menacing. It has a bridge for road traffic. Few years ago, the bridge broke down.
Mr. Joshi filed a PIL complaining that the residents of Banbhoolpura were carrying unlawful mining in the river that caused the damage to the bridge, a baseless allegation. Later the case was made that these homes were encroachment on Railway land. The court did not bother to call the residents or check their ownership papers…I met a wide cross section of people sitting around fires, shopkeepers, masons, teachers, old ladies, old men. Every one complained of blatant unreasonableness of the HC and insensitivity of the government. They showed me the sewer line, schools, Ara Machine shop, and hospital in the area. How could the government allow their establishment/construction if the lands were illegal?
I met the administrator and clerk in Govt Girls High School where 1100 girls study. I met the station Master. He gave only the Railways version and said that the railway expansion requires land. I met Mr. Matin Ahmad who had filed the PIL in the Supreme Court. I also went to meet Congress MLA, Sumit Hradayesh but he was away to Delhi.
At Govt. PG College I gave a talk on Science and Freedom to 150 students. At 3:20 p.m., I boarded Shatabdi for Delhi. I was happy that many Sikhs and Hindus came in support of the residents of the troubled area comprising 90% Muslims.”
Unfortunately, worry is spreading further, towards other locales in Uttarakhand. To the great historic township, Joshimath. Where homes are developing cracks. Wide-big- gaping cracks. Many residents are already in the process of being made to shift out from their ancestral and traditional homes to elsewhere. Many more helpless residents could be getting re-located
And amidst this grave tragedy, there is not just bewilderment but also sorrow and pain. Looming large uncertainty. Queries and laments do come up: At what cost all the development talks, when our very homes are no longer safe! Useless are the political promises when our age old historic townships together with their residents, are sitting rattled! What’s the end result of this so-called development! Were we not better off in those good old days!
And before one could recover from these dismal situations in Uttarakhand, comes this news report focusing on several homes in Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh developing wide cracks. The affected residents of the Kanwariganj locality of Aligarh where cracks and fissures appeared in buildings and home structures have alleged that these cracks appeared after the establishment laid a pipeline under the Smart City Scheme. The news reports quoted the residents stating that the pipeline has been leaking, resulting in cracks, fissures and leaks!
Leaving you to introspect on this vital: Weren’t we better off then, than now!