New Delhi: Along the busy Ma Anandmayee Marg near Kalkaji, it would be hard to miss the Okhla landfill — a humongous mound of garbage on the outskirts of South Delhi district. Take a left turn past the hotels, hospitals and expensive car outlets, and a new scene opens up before you, the glitz replaced by shabby lanes, crammed multistorey flats and a maze of dwellings. “Welcome to Tehkhand Village” announces Delhi Development Authority’s giant blue boards.
There’s nothing welcoming, however, about Tehkhand village. The habitation, which locals claim is more than 100 years old, has in its proximity the overflowing Okhla sanitary landfill, DTC depot, railway yard and a container dry port — all considered essential to keep the city running. But in creating this important infrastructure, the villagers rued having exchanged their land for garbage.
Several generations of the Chands have called Valmiki Mohalla of Tehkhand home. Today, Ramesh Chand, 65, a retired railways employee, mourns the destiny of the Gujjar-dominated village. “While our land was acquired by the government at very cheap rates in the 1960s and ’70s, there was no planning undertaken to develop the village,” he muttered. “Instead of direct road connectivity, we have to take a detour to reach home. Sanitation is a mess, the drains are uncovered and encroachments have made life impossible.”
With this area, located near Aravali region, having turned into a concrete slum, the villagers apprehend that the newly formulated Master Plan Delhi 2041 has again omitted their development journey. Pandit Om Prakash, head priest at the old Shiv Mandir, said that he has been living in the village for 30 years and can spend hours talking about its problems. “We don’t even have a park where the elderly can sit or children can play. When the wind direction changes, it carries the sickening odour from the khatta (landfill) into our homes,” he said.
Tehkhand is built around the mohallas of Mavi, Alla and Churiya with a predominant Gujjar presence and scattered Jatav, Valmiki, Pandit and Nai households. With space now scarce, renting out rooms in their 4-5-floor matchbox houses is a key source of income for many. The migrant population from UP-Bihar work in the nearby Okhla Phase 1 industrial area and 20-30% of the local population in government employment.
TOI had earlier highlighted how localities near the landfill get brackish, yellow polluted water, while the groundwater has been contaminated by leachate from the garbage mountain. Villagers also complain that they have no space to park vehicles. Mahendra Pal, 41, of Mavi mohalla said they weren’t allowed to park on the empty lanes of the industrial area. “We face constant congestion and jams,” he claimed.
Some villagers felt the overall condition of Tehkhand had become “better after the election of a local politician to Delhi assembly”. Bhupender Kumar was one of them, happy at the relative improvement even if several segments still faced water woes. “There is only one community centre for a population of 50,000,” he, however, pointed out. “So, there is no venue if there are a number of marriages scheduled on auspicious days.” He also wished the vacant land existing around the village was developed into a green belt and a park.
Lakhmi Pradhan, a 76-year-old village inhabitant who retired as a locomotive inspector in Northern Railway, said that the villagers had ceded their land to the government in the 1960s for rates as little as Rs 330 per bigha and got nothing in return. “Our gram sabha land extended up to Govindpuri. It was all acquired. But in terms of development, what have we received? Only the city’s garbage at the landfill.” A new engineered landfill is now coming up on 32 acres near Tehkhand. That is hardly heartening news for the villagers.