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Mangolpuri fire: residents struggle to rebuild their lives

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 6:28 IST

The tragedy

  • A fire broke out in Mangolpuri\'s Kabadi Market at 2 AM on 19 October
  • According to local estimates, 400-600 shanties were burnt

The politics

  • AAP government has given a compensation of Rs 25000 per household
  • Local Congress workers are also pitching in

More in the story

  • What caused the fire?
  • What was the extent of the damage?

The Kabadi Market in Mangolpuri's T Block was hit by a devastating fire. Yet again. The fire broke out at 2 AM on 19 October.

According to local estimates, 400-600 shanties were burnt. This includes some godowns of rags, foam and plastic materials.

Fire department officials said that as many as 28 fire tenders were rushed to the spot to douse the fire. The flames were doused, but not before they claimed all the huts and everything inside them.

Nobody knows how exactly the fire started. Some say it began from a house, others say from a godown. A few claim that the fire was caused when a high tension wire fell on the shanties.

The residents just about managed to save their lives. But all of their savings, clothes, household equipment, identity cards and school-books were destroyed. All they have left are the clothes on their bodies, some burnt utensils and denuded plots of land.

All they have left are the clothes on their bodies, some burnt utensils and denuded plots of land.

One family lost a stray dog that they used to feed and keep at their home. It got trapped in the fire and couldn't escape.

Residents told Catch that 10 years ago, another fire had caused similar havoc. Yet, nobody left the place and they slowly rebuilt their lives. Today, 10 years later, they are back in the same position, not sure exactly as to how they will do it again.

AAP government expedites relief

The Aam Aadmi Party came to power in Delhi twice on the back of the massive support it got from the capital's slum-dwellers. Its MLA from Mangolpuri, Rakhi Birla, won in 2013 and then again in 2015. In 2013, she earned the title of a giant-killer, after defeating four-time Congress MLA Raj Kumar Chauhan.

This is a moment for the party to prove itself in the eyes of a core support-base. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal reached the area the next morning, although some residents allege he left only from the periphery. The CM announced a compensation of Rs 25,000 per household, a five-fold hike in the amount fixed for such relief till now.


Photo: PTI Photo

The money is yet to reach the residents. It is probably impossible for government relief to make its way out of the labyrinthine administrative machinery into the hands of the affected people in just two days.

However, the government has taken a positive step, by relying on personal testimonies and cross-checking with neighbours to establish proof of residence and identity. This will help in the distribution of relief to the actual victims.

Well-intentioned but inadequate arrangements

The office of the District Magistrate, South West Delhi has set up a large tent in Veer Kunwar Singh park, adjacent to the slums. With green carpets laid over the rocky ground beneath, it is meant as a shelter for the victims of the fire. Policemen, disaster management staff members and civil defence volunteers have also been stationed to provide assistance.

It is a well-intentioned arrangement, but seems to have missed a practical need. Residents told Catch that they are still spending nights under the open sky and not in the tent, because they need to guard whatever belongings the fire spared. They fear that these items, mostly burnt utensils, might be stolen if they leave them unguarded here and go to the tent.

The need of the hour, they say, are bamboos, some wires and tarpaulin sheets to erect a roof above their heads, not a tent away from the plots that housed their huts.

The old politician appears to have seen an opportunity therein. Some bamboo sticks are lying in many households and residents told Catch these had been distributed by the son of ex-MLA Raj Kumar Chauhan. AAP and BJP volunteers are missing in action.

First published: 21 October 2015, 3:16 IST
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.