For the homeless people of Bhoosa Mandi area, the nightmare is far from over, and the struggle for survival has become harsher after losing every essential thing needed for survival to the fire that started on March 6.

About 150 hutments of Bhoosa Mandi area of Machheran of Sadar Thana were gutted on Wednesday which led to a riot-like situation.

Police have registered four cases at Sadar and Delhi Gate police stations, booking 17 people for arson, rioting and assaulting police personnel. Of these, the second accused was arrested on Saturday.

Confirming the arrest of accused Ishtiyaq on Saturday, Akhilesh Narayan Singh, SP City told that out of the 17 persons wanted in the case, so far two have been arrested. Nadeem, the other accused, was arrested on the day of the incident.

Raids are being conducted by the police to catch hold of rest of the accused, he added.

Police have identified 17 rioters and declared a reward of Rs 25,000 on each of them, said SSP Nitin Tiwari in a statement to media, adding that they would be booked under the National Security Act (NSA).

At Bhoosa Mandi, trouble started on Wednesday when cantonment board team, led by executive engineer Anuj Singh, and accompanied by the police force, went there to demolish an illegal construction in the house of Riyasu. This led to a confrontation between the area residents and the cantonment board officials, as a result of which the police had to resort to lathi-charge to control the situation.

According to SHO Manoj Gupta, the violent mob attacked the police team and snatched a wireless set. Meanwhile, a fire broke out in the hutments due to which over 150 huts were burnt down. This created panic in the area and the residents started running for help. A group of people also damaged over two dozen vehicles, which further worsened the situation.

Additional force from several thanas was deployed and police had to struggle for hours to control the situation which is still tense. The SSP has ordered an inquiry which would be conducted by the SP city.

A flag march by the police and Rapid Action Force was carried out on Thursday and force was deployed there to control the situation. District administration also stopped the internet services on Wednesday so that the rumours are not spread through social media.

Though the situation is slowly returning to normal, the people of Bhoosa Mandi are angry with the action of the police and cantonment board who they blame for the current crisis.

Denying the charges, the SP City said that the fire broke out after the police left the place after the demolition. “We returned to control the situation only after the fire had broken out,” said the SP.

The residents, however, are grief-stricken as they are now homeless and without any money. The area is inhabited by the labour class who has very limited means of sustenance.

“I was inside my house when someone pushed me out and suddenly everything turned into a heap of ashes,” said Chandni, adding that she has nothing to sleep on and doesn’t know how to cook food for her family.

The fire resulted in massive explosions as the LPG cylinders used by the residents got burst. Also, the roofs of the hutments were mostly made of hay which helped the fire to spread quickly.

“It would take us ages to arrange everything that we have lost,” said Vakeela, whose gold jewellery and cash totalling to about Rs 2 lakh were burnt. “I had arranged this money for my daughter’s wedding and now nothing is left with us,” she said with tears in her eyes. She and her daughter both work as housemaids for a low wage.

A visibly perturbed Maulana Qari Shafiq said that these people have been living here for the past 30 years and now suddenly they have been asked to move. The women are forced to sleep under the open sky for none of their faults, he said.

People of the area are also anxious as some of their family members have been picked up by the police. Meanwhile, some eyewitnesses have seen a group of rioters with covered faces unleashing terror as they went about attacking and damaging vehicles.

“It seems to be a politically motivated act,” said Mohd Ashraf, a Bhoosa Mandi resident, adding that no one has come to them to ask about their sufferings.