The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, February 27, 2000

There are flaws in laws
Speaking generally
By Chanchal Sarkar

BELIEVE it or not, every two days three million people the world over move into cities. And India is one of the countries where urbanisation is among the fastest. So there are all kinds of shelters going up — jute, plastic and cardboard shanties, gerry-built houses leaning against each other with no space in between and every inch of land used up, quite often without any sanction. On the other side there are expensive luxury housing projects with gardens, swimming pools, clubs and shopping centres.

Not only the hovels, but luxury apartments are also built in defiance of building regulations, the sanctions being tickled out with bribes. More floors are put up than are allowed, and no open space is left. The builders putting up and selling flats are making huge profits. In my neighbourhood in Delhi most old single or double storeyed houses are being demolished and high rise flats are shooting up all the time.

  But now something has happened. About five apartment buildings near our home, not far from completion are at a standstill. Some have their scaffolding up, some are half painted. They wait with building material spread around them. They are all stalled for months. Why? A group of residents have gone to court complaining against the illegal constructions. Where I live only three floors and basement are allowed. People were building four floors plus basements.

However that is not all. I live in a historically hallowed area Siri the second city of Delhi by Alauddin Khilji around 1303. In the ambulatory where I go for a walk in the early mornings are two remarkable monuments — the Chor Minar of the Khilji period and the battlemented Idgah of Mohammad Tughlak’s reign.

The rapacious builders have disregarded the historical value and beauty of these monuments and have built their apartments very close to them. Neither they nor the Archaeological Survey of India paid any head to the rule that nothing can be built within 100 metres of a protected monument. The builders, even if they knew about the rules thought they could square it with silver. But the residents were knowledgeable and tough. One of their advisers was the redoubtable lawyer F.R. Nariman who certainly knew the law.

So what happens in India is happening. The court has stopped the building for months now. The builders must be trying desperately to get the court to say yes, using every possible means to bribe. The Archaeological Survey has slept for years and now, apparently, there are 6000 buildings in India violating the 100-metre rule. Meanwhile the judge has changed. Will the court have the courage to say "demolish"? We’ll watch with interest.

Fighting leprosy

The BBC World Service has fathered an NGO a World Service Trust to bring to life certain problems of the Third World. For India this year it has chosen the pitiful problems of people hit by leprosy. Today a cure is practically certain but still lepers are ostracised and most people still think that leprosy is a contagious disease. The BBC World Service Trust in 2000 would like to quell the wrong notions of the contagiousness of leprosy and do something for the unfortunate sufferers.

The BBC has chosen a good theme, because India has the largest number of leprosy-affected people in the world. The new medicines make cure certain but the people living around leprosy victims don’t see it that way and the victims are still living in separate shelters. The shelters are better now than they were 50 years ago but even cured people still have no way of earning a living except by begging.

Bihar has the largest number of leprosy-afflicted people in India and in Ranchi I have seen efforts to look after them. Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of charity have two homes where the sisters serve the people devotedly. I visited the homes one winter morning. They were spotlessly clean and the residents were sitting in the sun, enjoying the fine weather. Many of them had been forcibly turned out of their villages and had nowhere else to go. Another leper colony in the outskirts of the Heavy Electrical Corporation was run by lepers themselves. The village was clean and well

placed, with a meeting room a multi-religious temple and a place where paramedics could examine and dress the victims. Finally I saw another small colony under a railway bridge looked after by the Yagoda Math. Here, too, as in the other ones the people had no way to make a living other than begging — that is the great tragedy. Attempts have been made to teach handicraft but without much success. The leprosy-affected people do their own work, cooking gardening etc. An expert told me something very interesting: At the crossroads in Delhi where there are traffic lights, there are often leprosy-affected people with bandaged hands and feet, begging. Apparently they are all — cured people, simply bandaging up to beg."

Calcutta Doordarshan put on a good programme the other day trying to shatter the myths about leprosy. It said that West Bengal, particularly Midnapore District, had 10,000 leprosy affected people and all but three had been cured! That sounds too good to be true.