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INSIDE DELHI

Burgeoning slums

Talk about appeasement and Delhi always seems to steal a march over all else. Be it the Delhi University students to whom the bus passes are still issued at Rs 12.50 per month; the numerous slum clusters or unauthorised colonies which have been allowed to come up across the city in gross violation of all norms; or the presence of illegal shops, kiosks, vendors or beggars on the city roads, everybody in the Capital appears to be having his own way at the expense of all others.

But the most glaring of all these violations is the way the jhuggi clusters are allowed to come up just about anywhere. As their existence suits certain local politicians, their relocation always becomes a political issue. And then the battle lingers on as the clusters grow and consequently gain a greater voice.

In the recent past, the banks of the Yamuna have become a favourite place for jhuggi dwellers to lay siege to. The proximity of the banks to the heart of Delhi, the availability of large open spaces and the patronage of politicians who are interested not so much in the welfare of their poor residents as their own vote bank, has seen a burgeoning growth in slums all along the western banks of the river.

While some of the clusters were removed earlier this year, many still remain especially along the Vikas Marg and National Highway 24. But probably the biggest of these clusters is the one that has come up on the fly-ash dump site on Ring Road near the Bhairon Marg intersection. The place has become a virtual hell for motorists driving past as people running across the road pose a major danger.

But what has made things worse for drivers is another small cluster which has come up right at the intersection. For here the cluster is just at the corner of the intersection and so motorists turning left for Pragati Maidan from Ring Road have also to watch out for children playing by the roadside.

However, what has really taken the goat of all recently is the coming up of a tyre shop in this cluster. With the tyres being displayed on the pavement, very often motorists are seen stopping by to enquire or make purchases. And their stopping on the narrow road inadvertently leads to a jam which no one -- not even the police personnel posted at the crossing -- seem bothered about.

Fight against privatisation

Those fighting their little battles against privatisation of the power distribution system in the Capital all on their own are having a tough time these days. Facing opposition from every possible quarter, the opponents of privatisation are having difficulties in even finding a lawyer to fight their case in the Delhi High Court.

With their next date of hearing due very soon, a union leader who filed a case against privatisation some two years ago is frantically searching for a new lawyer. His old lawyer has expressed his inability to fight his case any further as it was apparently resulting in financial losses.

As the lawyer left midway, the search for another one began about a week ago. The union leader, affiliated to a leading political party, even approached its leaders who are well-known senior advocates. To his dismay, the leader found that most of them were on the panel of the private companies having stakes in the Capital's discoms.

"Even otherwise, other advocates are not willing to fight our case. Either they are on the panel of these companies or argue that they would not like to take on the Delhi Government or powerful private companies," he rued, adding that his case ironically was on a strong footing and that his allegations were borne out by the latest report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India.

A surprise visitor

Ever since Lalu Prasad Yadav became the Union Railway Minister, officials in Northern Railway have been adopting a cautious approach as a lot of people have started visiting their offices for various favours claiming themselves to be "close" to the Rashtriya Janata Dal president.

It was only last week that these officials had a tough time handling a person who claimed to be close to Mr. Yadav and said that the Minister had asked him to "monitor the functioning of senior railway officials and find out if any bungling was going on". For almost a month this person visited the offices of Station Masters -- who obliged him in whatever manner they could -- at almost all railway stations across the Capital.

"He claimed himself to be a top functionary of a social organisation -- Bihar Ekta Manch. He used to make surprise visits to our offices, check our attendance registers, inquire about the day's work and assignments, make visits to railway platforms and then make a so-called report to be forwarded to the Minister. He used to ask us to arrange food and other things like free rail ticket or mementos for him. If anyone refused, he threatened to get him transferred or lodge a complaint with the Minister," said a senior railway official.

But last week, this person visited a senior railway officer and as usual, started going through the registers and even threatened him. For once this officer asked his subordinates to ring up Mr. Yadav's residence and verify about him. They were told that Mr. Yadav had nothing to do with that person and if anyone tried to misuse the Minister's name, he should be dealt with sternly.

So immediately the Railway Police Force personnel were called in and the person was not allowed to leave the office. Some senior officials questioned him, but surprisingly he was let off with a warning.

By Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar, Lalit K. Jha and Sandeep Joshi

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