Right to Information – Master key to good governance


Posted by rtiact2005 on August 5, 2006



Other Articles of the Series


The government is ignorant of the role the Od tribe can play in water harvesting and soil conservation. That they are being evicted to protect Bhatti Mines’ sanctuary area is a terrible irony, reports Anita Soni

The Bhatti Mines case is not about an inevitable conflict between the human rights of a working-class community living within the confines of a sanctuary, and the legitimate concerns of the state government, bound by law to protect the sanctuary.

It is about other things like unaccountable governance, class prejudice, contempt for social and spiritual dignity of simple, hardworking people. Also, about fabricating evidence of a spectacular increase of forest cover, to forward political ambitions of the leadership and justify claims for bringing more land under the state government’s control. Above all, it is about the alienation of the dominant anglophone elite from cultural traditions and knowledge systems of their desi subjects. Ecologists know the value of ethno-science, and insist that regeneration of degraded eco-systems is not possible without the involvement of local communities, especially rural women. But the officialdom will have none of that. Rural migrants coming to work in the city as labourers become instantly categorised as nondescript ‘urban poor’, without cultural identities of their own, fit only for getting ‘shifted out’ when the spaces which they occupy are required for some more prestigious purpose.

Members of the high-profile Ridge Management Board, constituted in 1995 as an advisory body with a hotline to the Supreme Court (SC), do not even know about hereditary expertise of the Od tribe in water harvesting and soil conservation, and if they knew, they could not care less.


In the context of Bhatti Mines, the need of the hour is to have a public hearing — jan sunvai — convened by an independent agency taking the Right to Information Act (RTI) seriously enough to risk the displeasure of several high-placed, self-righteous officials. As the basic point of reference, there is the village, predominantly inhabited by the Ods. It is a haven of their cultural traditions, a place where their tribal identity has found free expression. Their attachment to this village — the only one settled by them after centuries of nomadic existence — is so strong, that 10 years of its indictment by the SC as an illegal squatter settlement have not weakened their resolve to resist eviction.

The Writing Is On The Wall: Residents are in no mood to give up
Photos Lakshman Anand

Their attachment to this village — the only one settled by the Ods after centuries of nomadic life — is so strong, that 10 years of its indictment by the Supreme Court as an illegal squatter settlement has not weakened their resolve to resist eviction

On June 28, 2006 the vacation bench of sc rejected their plea for a stay of the renewed eviction orders of February 7 and May 5, 2006 , and reiterated instructions to the government of Delhi to act fast on Bhatti Mines. The benefit of the New Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act, 2006 declaring a year-long moratorium on demolitions, could be availed of by the residents of Nangla Machi, but not by ‘encroachers’ on sanctuary land.

On the same day, officials of the Muncipal Corporation of Delhi’s slum department accompanied by a large police force moved towards Bhatti Mines, but the villagers surged en masse to block the approach road. Till date, Sanjay Colony — now returned to its original name Bhagirath Nagar — is out of bounds for outsiders. The state of siege continues, and inside the village, the dharna has gained momentum. After 39 days of 24-hour relay fasts by residents, the ultimate decision of aamaran anshan has been taken by a group of young volunteers. They all belong to the Od community. Six of them have been on a fast-unto-death since June 27, four other since June 28, and 25 more enlisted themselves from July 2. Three of the hunger-strikers are in a critical condition, but refuse to break their fast. Would they think of courting martyrdom, these young men with families to care for, if they were only concerned about saving their houses? A distress signal has been sent out through the Internet on behalf of ‘village Bhatti Mines — Bhagirath Nagar on the verge of cruel demolition because Delhi government put false evidence against the village in the Hon’ble Supreme Court’. So far, compassionate response has come from PV Rajgopal, vice-chairman, Gandhi Peace Foundation, stating that ‘Ekta Parishad and National Campaign Committee on Land will do whatever is possible to back up.’


What false evidence has been presented in court to prove that ‘village Bhatti Mines’ is a jhuggi cluster, that is, an illegal squatter settlement?

We Shall Fight: Residents on a relay hunger strike

In civil litigation, proofs are found in files, not on the ground. So, the judge does not need to know if the habitations in Bhatti Mines are respectable rural houses or ramshackle shanties. All he needs to ascertain is their legal status on the basis of existing documents in government files. And the file describing their status as that of ‘Jhuggi & Jhopri (JJ) clusters’ had been prepared way back in January 1990, at the time of active mining, when the site was famous as kaali kamaai ki khaan and had a vast floating population of migratory labour, in addition to old family settlers. It was known beforehand to the top bureaucrats in the Delhi administration that mining operations in the ridge were to be phased out and the lease-hold area of the Delhi State Industrial Development Corporation (DSIDC) / Delhi State Mineral Development Corporation (DSMDC) where labourers were settled since 1976, would have to be vacated. That is why the three colonies of Bhatti Mines were registered in advance as ‘JJ camps’ and enumerated under code Nos. S-163 (Balbir Nagar), S-164 (Indira Nagar) and S-165 (Sanjay Colony). The residents were given slum-dweller ids and their permanent ration cards got replaced with temporary ones. They did not like it, but nobody had any inkling how it would affect their future.

Who ordered this de-legalisation of the rural settlements, accepted as part of the gramsabha of the revenue village of Bhatti? Where is the original file related to this administrative decision? Who was the competent authority to sign that file? There was no elected government of Delhi at the time, the bureaucrats concerned were part of the Delhi administration. Most of them are still in active service under the present set-up of governance. Some have retired and may be willing to divulge some information.

And this is the crux of the matter. Delhi has an oversized cadre of senior civil servants who, unless promoted to the Central government, keep rotating as principal secretaries, commissioners, chairpersons of various state departments, municipal boards and public sector units. Several members of this awesome ias fraternity have, at various points of time and in various capacities, put their signatures on files related to Bhatti Mines. All of them are keen to see the embattled locality fall off the map. As long as it is there, the chance that its people may turn the tables on the government, cannot be discounted. And civil servants must protect the interests of their masters, not of the people.


Our Protector: The Baba Ram Deo temple standing since 1978

The residents of Bhatti Mines know that they have been repeatedly wronged and cheated by the government servants who for 15 years had only exploited their cheap manual labour, while the costly machinery lay idle as decoration. In June 1990, when work stopped at Bhatti Mines on grounds of labour safety, they were left in the lurch, and the state-owned DSMDC was allowed to evade all legal and moral responsibility for the misery and trauma brought to thousands of families.

In April 1991, they were not even informed when their decades old habitats got included in the newly notified sanctuary: the Delhi administration did not appoint a forest settlement officer (FSO) to issue a proclamation in Hindi and inquire into claims of any persons ‘in or over land within the sanctuary’, which is a mandatory provision under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

In July 1995 when they learnt about the declaration of the Ridge as Reserved Forest under Section 4 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, they applied in writing to the adm (Revenue) who was appointed as FSO and who only attended to 37 cases of powerful owners of urban properties in the ridge, giving the proofs of their old, existing domicile rights, but received no reply about the disposal of their application by the FSO.

My Village, My Life: Inside Sanjay Colony

On April 10, 1996 they learnt from radio and TV that the previous day the SC had ordered their eviction. The then deputy forest conservator-cum-Secretary, ridge management board, who jointly with the then Director, Slum and jj Department, had prepared an Action Plan for their relocation to Jaunapur, which the court endorsed, had been assuring them all the while that they would not be disturbed.

During 1996-l998, their peaceful agitation in the wake of the court verdict and the support they received from the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and environmental ngos, forced the state government to ask the court for a couple of extensions of the eviction deadline. The work on development of the Jaunapur resettlement project got stalled and finally abandoned following high-level intervention by the farmhouse owners’ welfare association of Jaunapur.

But in July 2002, the MCD slum department served fresh eviction notices on them, specifying that relocation would be to Holambi Kalan and Bawana. A half-hearted Interlocutory Application (IA) filed in August 2002 by a senior counsel of the SC on request of an ngo member of the Ridge Management Board, pleading only for reversal of the arbitrary change of the proposed relocation site (Bawana instead of Jaunapur) helped only to delay the cruel execution, and was finally dismissed on February 7, 2006 leaving no further scope for relief.

Cultural Symbol: A tribal mural motif

There may be more reasons for the hostility of the government of nct of Delhi towards the ‘encroachers’ who allegedly polluted and disturbed the peace of the sanctuary. They happen to know too much about the non-performance of forest department (FD) in the sanctuary it is supposed to manage. It has been a tacit admission of the failure of FD to protect, let alone develop, the sanctuary, that calling in the Eco-Task Force of the territorial army (TA) was suggested by them to the government of nct in December 2000, to ensure their own ‘soft landing’ under miliTAry protection. The soldiers, stationed in Bhatti Sanctuary behind Balbir Nagar, have been able to put an end to mineral smuggling and trespassing from across the Haryana border which had changed Bhatti sanctuary into a thoroughfare for heavy vehicle traffic. (‘Look for animals in this sanctuary, you’ll find trucks’ wrote Sonu Jain in l998). But the success of TA in ‘greening’ Bhatti Mines is more than doubtful. They keep planting lakhs of saplings every year — an exercise in futility, since the FD under whose instructions they work believes the quickest way to ‘greening’ is to encourage proliferation of vilayati keekar (Prosopis juliflora) — a weed-like, water-sucking shrub that inhibits the growth of the ecologically valuable indigenous trees. The phenomenal increase of ‘tree cover’ in Delhi — 13-fold increase since 1998, as reported last Environment Day is, in fact, due to this quickfix creation of ‘green miracle’.


The writer is a Polish-born anthropologist working among the migrant labourers of Delhi

Anita Soni, the writer of Tell Us Where To Go (Tehelka, July 15), wishes to clarify certain facts regarding her story.

The tribals in question are called Od and not Oud. The box had facts at variance with the story. The last item in the ‘Birth of a colony’ box says ‘The mines were closed by a SC order in 1990 as it was declared as Reserve Forest zone’. In reality, the Supreme Court has had no role in ordering the closure of Bhatti Mines or in notifying the sanctuary. The closure occurred in June 1990, on grounds of labour safety. The sanctuary was declared by the then Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi in April 1991, as a way out of the muddle that Delhi State Mineral Development Corporation (DSMDC) had created in Bhatti Mines.

The SC banned all mining in the Union Territory of Delhi from 1992. The preliminary notification of the entire Ridge (presumed to cover 7,777 hectares — the figure that the British had obtained in 1878) as reserved forest under Section 4 of the Indian Forest Act was issued by L-G of Delhi in May 1994. The final notification under Section 20 of the if Act is pending and the SC has directed the forest department of the Delhi government to do the spade work.

The Asola-Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary likewise still does not have the status of Reserved Forest because the mandatory settlement of claims of any persons residing within its boundaries or having any other rights has not been attempted.

Besides, persons or properties present in a forest land prior to the enactment of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 are not to be evicted.

So, the case of Bhatti Mines worker settlers would look very different if the government-friendly environmental activists sitting on the Ridge Management Board cared to know their forest laws.

Jul 22 , 2006



  1. visha sahi said

    its a unjustice wid bhati mines people.

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