The Uttar Pradesh government razed several Rohingya camps in Delhi’s Madanpar Khadar area at 4 am on July 22, citing ‘illegal’ construction. According to reports, this action was taken because the land in question belongs to UP’s Irrigation Department. UP’s Jal Shakti Minister Mahendra Singh tweeted a video of the demolition lauding the Yogi government.
Subsequently, a pro-BJP propaganda news channel on YouTube ‘Pyara Hindustan’ uploaded multiple ‘ground’ reports (July 22, July 23, July 24) portraying the AAP government providing water, electricity and cash to Rohingyas while neglecting Delhi citizens.
On July 23, reiterating Pyara Hindustan’s claim, BJP Delhi tweeted a small segment from its July 23 report and wrote, “For Delhi’s citizens there is no ration, no electricity. But for Rohingya infiltrators, the Kejriwal government has all facilities including cash. What mistakes have Delhites done CM sir?”
दिल्ली की जनता के लिए ना राशन है, ना पानी है, ना बिजली है, लेकिन रोहिंग्या घुसपैठियों के लिए केजरीवाल सरकार के पास नक़द समेत हर सुविधा उपलब्ध है। दिल्लीवालों ने ऐसी कौन सी गलती कर दी CM साहब ? pic.twitter.com/kNMfR4meg8
— BJP Delhi (@BJP4Delhi) July 23, 2021
The same video was also tweeted by BJP Delhi spokesperson Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga. He wrote if people vote for AAP in Uttarakhand and Gujarat, the demographics of the state will ‘transform’ like Delhi’s.
Vote for AAP and we will convert Uttrakhand and Gujarat Like this pic.twitter.com/cWsAzIdK9v
— Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga (@TajinderBagga) July 23, 2021
Rohingyas are a persecuted minority community fleeing violence in Myanmar since the early 2010s. In 2018, UNHCR told The Print, 40,000 Rohingya refugees reside in Delhi, Jammu, Haryana, Hyderabad and Jaipur. However, only 17,500 are registered through UNHCR’s office in Delhi.
According to The Print, Delhi is one of the main settlement areas for Rohingya refugees and has five large unofficial camps located in areas like Jasola and other sites along the banks of the river Yamuna. Madanpur Khadar is close to the Yamuna river.
Alt News spoke with Salim, a Rohingya community leader, at Madanpur Khadar. He said over 50 families have been staying at the Madanpur Khadar area since 2012. Their settlement caught fire in April 2018 and June 2021. Two months before the fire in 2021, The Caravan reported that Rohingya refugees live in fear as Delhi police detain families from camps without citing reasons.
Over the years, two writ petitions have been filed by Rohingya community leaders seeking basic human rights and the prevention of wrongful detainment – Jaffar Ullah vs Union of India (859/2013) and Mohammad Salimullah vs Union of India (793/2017). Senior advocates Prashant Bhushan, Colin Gonsalves, and Chander Uday Singh (as UN Special Rapporteur) have represented the petitioners.
However on April 8, in Mohammad Salimullah v. Union of India, the Supreme Court rejected an application to stay the deportation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. The SC’s move was criticised by Chander Uday Singh in The Indian Express.
While India is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the country does not have a national refugee protection framework, readers should note that India has acceded to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1959. In 2016, the Ministry of Home Affairs stated that India recognises genocide as an international crime and it is a part of the Indian common law.
In this report we will answer the following questions:
- Are facilities provided by the AAP government to Rohingyas at Madanpur Khadar comparable to facilities provided to Delhi citizens?
- Did the AAP government provide cash to Rohingya refugees at Madanpar Khadar?
- Does the UP government own land in Delhi?
- Did Rohingya refugees encroach on land owned by the UP government?
Are facilities to Rohingyas at Madanpar Khadar comparable to those provided to Delhi citizens?
Alt News spoke with South-East Delhi District Magistrate Sh Vishwendra. He said, “The aid we provide is under the purview of disaster management relief. After the Rohingya camp was gutted in fire in June 2021, we installed fans and tents so that the heatwave during summer could be bearable. To monitor the consumption a metre was also installed. A tanker has been assigned to supply water to 50-odd families. However, to compare this aid with what citizens of Delhi receive is not fair.”
In 2018, under WP 859/2013, the apex court made an order regarding health facilities at multiple Rohingya camps, including the one in Madanpar Khadar in Kalindikunj. The court directed the concerned jurisdictional revenue magistrate in Delhi to be appointed as nodal officers. These officers were supposed to address grievances faced by parents or any relative or a guardian of a child or a patient if any facility is denied (view PDF). This position was accepted by Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
“The right to the basic necessities of life flows not from citizenship or nationality but primordial principles of humanity, and in India, it is guaranteed by Article 21, which applies to all human beings. Therefore, it is wrong to interpret acts of humanity by the courts or by state governments, such as providing bare means of survival, like water supply and electricity to Rohingya settlements, as an injustice to citizens of India,” Advocate Chander Uday Singh told Alt News.
Rohingya community leader Salim informed, “In the first two years, we did not have electricity or water supply. In 2014, we arranged electricity via different channels which were widely used in the locality. Please note we were paying for the electricity. Many times authorities would come and disconnect it,” he said adding, “After a fire broke out in the camps in 2018, the SDM set up tents for us and installed a metre for electricity supply. However, after five months of installation, there was some wiring issue and we had to resort to the old ways.” Responding to our queries about water supply Salim said, “Until 2019, we relied on handpumps. In the final months of 2019, we started getting water supply via a tanker. However, that stopped during COVID-19 lockdown.”
“After the July 22 evacuation, the SDM installed new tents and a meter for electricity supply. Unlike last time there was a dedicated point of contact for both services,” said Salim.
“Baring 5-6 hours, the electricity is consistent. A water tanker of 1000 litres comes daily which is shared among 300 people for cooking, cleaning, bathing and drinking. I stock up five buckets of water every day. But some have only two buckets. Once the water is stocked up by everyone, children and some adults bathe from the tanker’s tap. However, the lack of toilets remains a big hurdle. Many people have to defecate in open.”
Salim shared that there are rumours about authorities relocating them. He hopes that they are relocated so that they continue to earn daily wages and more importantly get basic healthcare and education for their children. “I just hope our situation doesn’t deteriorate further,” he said in an anxious tone. “I can’t believe a news channel thought it was okay to show our living conditions as a benchmark of Delhi government’s services.”
The bare minimum is being provided to the Rohingya community in the Madanpur Khadar area by the AAP government. The apex court had directed the concerned SDMs to provide basic facilities to Rohingya refugees across India including in Delhi.
Did the AAP government give cash to Rohingyas?
Vishwendra brushed off the claim that the Delhi government is giving cash to Rohingyas in Madanpur Khadar. “If that was indeed the case there would be several bureaucratic processes involved and there would be a lengthy paper trail. No such thing has happened.”
Readers should note that over the course of the Pyara Hindustan report, multiple people stated that the Delhi government has not provided cash. However, the reporter overlooked it and claimed that cash was provided in a personal capacity.
Salim informed that AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan donated cash after the June 2021 fire from his own. Furthermore, a source who has been associated with the welfare of Rohingyas at Madanpur Khadar confirmed, on the request of anonymity, that financial aid was provided by Khan. Alt News has reached out to Khan for comment and this article will be updated if and when he responds.
Does the UP government own land in Delhi?
One of the most puzzling aspects of this controversy was the UP government’s intervention inside the geographical territory of Delhi. At the 6:30 mark, in the July 23 report by Pyara Hindustan, one of the interviewees asked, “Where is the question of UP government taking action in Delhi?” Vishwendra confirmed that the land in question indeed belongs to the UP government and added there are several such lands in Delhi.
Multiple news reports (The Hindu, Times of India) indicate that the UP government has several acres in Delhi. In March, UP’s Jal Shakti Minister Mahendra Singh told Times of India, “The UP irrigation department owns land in Okhla, Jasola, Madanpur Khadar, Aali, Saidabad, Jaitpur, Molar Band and Khajuri Khas.”
Did Rohingyas encroach upon UP government land?
“Before 2015, the Rohingya settlement was on Zakat Foundation land. Later, the slums were set up on the UP government land by several Rohingya families. Over the years, the UP government has been insistent about clearing all encroachments. This intensified after the second wave of COVID-19. As of today, none of the Rohingya members stays on UP government land. They shifted to Zakat Foundation land,” said Vishwendra. Alt News wrote to Zakat Foundation. This article will be updated if they respond.
The Google Map screenshot below shows the areas where the camps were spread before the July 22 raze. The portion marked in red belongs to Zakat Foundation and about 16 tents stretched along the green line. Several tents were built on the UP government land, marked in yellow. The camps on the UP government land have been removed and all families currently reside inside the red square and green line.
“The issue of handling refugees comes under Ministry of Home Affairs and Foreigners Regional Registration Officer. As per my knowledge, steps are being taken by concerned authorities to relocate all Rohingya refugees in Delhi at one location,” added Vishwendra.
Explaining the situation at the Rohingya settlement in Madanpur Khadar, Salim said, “We were living in such cramped conditions until 2014, some of us had to shift to the UP government land.”
Alt News also spoke with CK Vijayakumar, a multimedia producer at The Caravan. He had covered the aftermath of the anti-encroachment demolition by the UP government. “As of today, most refugee tents are set up on the Zakat Foundation plot and about 16 are on the street adjacent to the plot.”
To sum it up, the homes set up by Rohingya families on UP government land over the years were torn down on July 22. Chander Uday Singh explained the encroachment in context, “There is no difference between people in distress, whether they are domestic migrant workers, poor citizens who are driven out to cities by natural disasters or droughts in their villages, and victims of atrocities or genocide, like the Rohingyas, Tamils, Chakmas, Hajongs and others. These are human beings who are temporarily homeless and are forced by circumstances, not a choice, to squat in makeshift settlements. It is in the very nature of slum settlements, whether occupied by citizens or refugees, that the land is not owned by the slum dwellers, and that their occupation is technically ‘unauthorised’.”
Recollecting a courtroom exchange from his early days as a lawyer, Singh shared, “I recall getting a drubbing from Justice S.C. Pratap of the Bombay High Court when I, representing the National Airports Authority of India, tried to justify my client’s refusal to allow the BSES to supply electricity to illegal slums on airport lands. The judge was appalled that human beings could be denied their basic needs only because they were forced to reside in slums. That was a lesson in humanity that I never forgot.”
Pyara Hindustan has over 24 lakh subscribers on YouTube.
The July 23 video from the Rohingya camp at Madanpur Khadar wasn’t a journalistic ‘ground report’. The channel attempted to portray that the Delhi government is overlooking the citizens of Delhi while providing amenities to Rohingya refugees. The aid provided is as per directions of the apex court and the bare minimum needed for survival. The reporter entered tents, harassed the people living in cramped spaces and twisted their words. When many refused to talk, she followed them inside their make-shift homes.
Ali Johar, head of education at Rohingya Human Rights Initiative, told Alt News, “Journalism by Pyara Hindustan was unethical. Instead of showing the plight of people after the demolition, the outlet reported as if they are living a luxurious life. Why didn’t the channel report that there are no toilets and focus on how women and children manage without basic amenities?”
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