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DEEP FOCUS

BANGALORE MONDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2013

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In the third week of January, 5,000-odd people were evicted from the EWS quarters in Ejipura. Removing dwellers from slums for ‘development’ projects is nothing new or unheard of, yet the remorseless manner in which these people were jettisoned from their homes triggered protests and outraged civil society. Almost a month later, the evacuees still have no home, and the protests have not died down. From the ruins of the EWS quarters, Merlin Francis digs out the lessons from Ejipura. —Anantha Subramanyam K

O

nce the bulldozers had rolled in, the first to be razed to the ground were the toilets. The authorities struck in a concerted and brutal manner. They pulled out the EWS residents like poison is drawn from a wound. Midway through the day, the place resembled a battleground. Many others thought the devastation resembled a quake-ravaged hamlet. Overnight, around 5,000 people had been thrown out of their homes — on to the streets, and to fend for themselves. The authorities had done all that they could — they cut off power and water supply, demolished the toilets, and destroyed the houses. They did it with force, and callously so. It has now been close to a month since 1500-odd families were evacuated. Protests are still being held in the area, but those are neither widespread nor sizable enough to either bring city life to a standstill or coerce the authorities down to their knees. In other words, not much has changed for the hapless evacuees. For everyone else, life goes on. But questions abound, and many call for a bigger picture. At the centrestage of the controversy are the state government and the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). Their silence over the forceful evacuation of the EWS residents has been defeaning. That the displaced residents of Ejipura have nowhere else to go points to the failure of the state government in providing homes for these people who form an integral part of our communities and contribute to the economy too. By evicting residents from the shanties that they built for themselves, they were punished for doing what the authorities ought to have done in the first place — build houses for the urban poor. The first question asked by observers as well as volunteers and activists working with the displaced residents is whether the eviction was necessary in the first place. “How can the EWS land be used for any other purpose?” asks Meera, a volunteer who has been working with the residents from day three of the eviction. “Even if BBMP claims that 5 acres of the original 15 acres will be provided for the original residents of Ejipura, the anomaly is not lost on anyone. Why should 10 acres be given for commercial development and only five acres for the EWS?” she wonders. Gautam Bhan, Consultant for Curriculum Development and Policy and Advisory Services at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, continues, “Although the Indian constitution does not have a right to shelter/ housing, we recognise that housing is necessary, a public good of some kind. We recognise the need to ensure that people should have access to homes. It is the responsibility of the government to provide these for people. Slums are essentially about the poor doing what the government did not do for them (i.e. build their own homes) and yet residents of the Ejipura EWS quarters were criminalised for the same.” The same questions cropped up when a number of activist organisations came together under the banner of the Forum Against EWS Land Grab. The forum has been asking why land earmarked for purpose of housing the EWS is being used for the purpose of private profit and commercial exploitation. The much-hyped PPP model is too under a scanner. The forum says, “As per the JnNURM guidelines, for any PPP project, 70 per cent of the residents should be consulted from planning to implementation stage.Why were the residents who were recognised as lawful residents not consulted before any decision was made?”

MALL but gone

Bhan takes the argument forward, “What is ironic is that while there are illegal layouts formed by the rich and elite, the government takes steps to legalise them. On the other hand, the state government is yet to make judicious use of the Rajiv Awas Yojana scheme through which the Centre’s funds can be accessed to provide property rights to slum dwellers and earmark funds for slum re-development. It aims to create affordable housing and, thereby, remove slums. The state government has hardly accessed funds to provide services to urban poor through the JnNURM.” The issue gradually becomes one of property rights, and about the very nomenclature of encroachers. “The eviction of the residents and the ‘illegality’ of their stay in the EWS quarters should be looked at in the light of the Kundu Committee report of 2012,” asserts Bhan. “According to the report, there are 19 million people who are homeless and 95 per cent of them fall in the EWS and LIG categories, earning less than `10,000 a month. Maverick Holdings (the new owners of the land), by evicting residents from the EWS quarters has ensured that this percentage remains the same,” he contends. Moreover, if the eviction was necessary at all, detractors wonder why this was done without any consultation, in a manner that denied the residents any basic rights including a temporary/ transit home in case homes for the final resettlement were not ready. “Why were homes not ready considering that the threat of eviction has been looming large over the residents for a long time now,” questions Meera. “The eviction could have been done in a phased manner. There was absolutely no

It was a violation of all basic human rights in that the eviction was done before resettlement options were ready. The BBMP claims that the displaced residents will be resettled. However, this should have been ready before the eviction happened. —Gautam Bhan, Indian Institute for Human Settlements

plan of any kind during the eviction, except that the people and the homes had to be ‘removed’,” she alleges. Bhan agrees, “It was a violation of all basic human rights in that the eviction was done before resettlement options, be it in transition homes or the final homes, were ready. The BBMP claims that the displaced residents will be resettled. However, these should have been ready before the eviction happened. It is obvious that there was no plan.” That was probably where the ruthlessness crept in. “Violence was required to evict the residents because there was no semblance of a civilised settlement. No guarantee on paper, no assurances of any sort that these people will be rehabilitated,” points out Bhan. The treatment meted out to the evicted residents demonstrated that the only thing the government agencies were concerned about was removing the people, and in a tearing hurry at that. The toilets were the first to go when the bulldozers trundled in. Efforts by volunteers to provide food and blankets to the evicted residents were discouraged. “Mounds of mud was piled all around the quarters which made it difficult for the Akshaya Patra vehicle to distribute food. The local MLA himself (NA Harris) made efforts to stop humanitari-

an measures,” alleges Meera. Activists were consistently dissuaded from providing succour to the distressed. “For those of us in the field, the basic question was that if this was not a politically motivated move, why were volunteers stopped from their efforts? Accusations have been made that the people living in the EWS were people who had sufficient means. In that case, why didn’t the government step in to help the people who continued to live among the rubble or on the footpath? Everything that the BBMP has done is to make sure that the place is inhospitable for the people. They didn’t even consider the plight of children,” says Meera. And the brutality of it all keeps coming back. “In Mumbai, 60,000 people were moved from sites near railway tracks with community participation, without use of force. There are examples from all over the world as well as India on resettling people from one place to another through community participation and without the use of force. But this was not done in Ejipura,” regrets Bhan. A lot of things were indeed not done in Ejipura. And if the lessons are not learnt by planners and authorities, we could well see more of such brutal evacuations in the merlin.francis@dnaindia.net future.

COUNTDOWN TO

for construction to start.

EVICTION principal secretary UDD sends a notice to BBMP to show cause for passing October 2006 resolution.

pressured by BBMP to vacate in a week, water supply to toilet complex stopped. Residents also told they have to pay out at least `20,000 as security deposit and `2,500 as rent for next 24 months for new homes.

June 9, 2008: Resolution is

July 10, 2012: HC flays BBMP

1991: Completion of EWS quarters started in 1987.

November 10, 2003: Block 13 collapses. 21 of 42 flats could have been repaired, but BBMP decides to demolish all buildings. October 2004: BBMP floats tenders for reconstruction of EWS quarters.

February 2006: Infrastructure Development Corporation, (IDeCK) recommends Akruti Nirman as preferred PPP partner.

May 2006: BBMP claims there are discrepancies in Akruti’s bid and identifies Maverick, the second highest bidder, as PPP partner.

October 2006: Contract awarded to Maverick.

November 2006: Akruti files writ petition in Karnataka High Court challenging council’s proposal to award contract and obtains a stay against construction. Stay remains till May 29, 2008.

July 2007: An 18-month-old baby and a 40-year-old man are killed, and three others are injured when another block collapses.

August 10, 2007: A man dies after contact with a live wire in a demolished building.

November 9, 2007: Block 34 collapses killing two children and injuring five others. In almost all cases, family members still haven’t received compensation. May 29, 2008: Governor through

cancelled.

September 26, 2008: State government issues order awarding contract to Maverick.

March 2012: Residents

over quarters built for EWS in Ejipura.

August 2012: Members of

November 6, 2008: Akruti Nirman, now called Akruti City Ltd, gets a stay on construction from HC.

Samta Sainik Dal (SSD) and Dalit and Minorities Land Protection Forum (DMLPF) ask chief minister Jagadish Shettar to stop eviction of people living at Ejipura.

February 3, 2009: MLC files Lokayukta complaint against Maverick Holdings.

August 2, 2012: HC gives BBMP, Maverick and original allottees one week to sort out matters.

March 12, 2010: Both parties make concluding arguments to HC and await judgment.

August 24, 2012: HC disposes of petition by appellants, issues order for beginning construction, says all occupants are to be evicted after October 8, 2012. HC also says BBMP has to make arrangements for R&R of the 1512 original allottees and hand it over within 15 days to Maverick Holdings to construct temporary accommodation.

September 22, 2010: HC directs BBMP to start construction for rehabilitation of 1640 families, dismisses petition filed of Akruti, and disposes of petition filed by families. BBMP is ordered to ensure displaced families are put in occupation of flats at earliest. Judge acknowledges wrong decision on the part of BBMP, but public interest taken into consideration. January 2, 2012: BBMP enters

October 9-10 2012: Residents stage dharna that lasts several days. October 18, 2012: BBMP applies for police protection in HC to see through evictions.

into a concessionaire agreement with Maverick Holdings for construction of 1640 houses. Commercial space to be leased out to Maverick Holdings for 30 years, for which BBMP would receive `2.3 crore per quarter.

December 13, 2012: Residents allege threats by hoodlums and politicians.

January 14, 2012: Shantinagar

Jan 18, 2013: Demolitions

MLA NA Harris asks residents to vacate their sheds and move out

Jan 10, 2013: Evictions and demolitions begin. intensify, thousands residents thrown out of homes.

SOURCE: FORUM AGAINST EWS LAND GRAB / THEPELICANBRIEFCASE.WORDPRESS.COM

FIRST PERSON

Of a city of pieces and the importance of the larger community W

hat have I learned in two weeks of coordinating relief work at EWS Ejipura? It’s hard to distill anything homogeneous. There is grief, for certain. Every single home has been squashed into the ground and none of our scurrying around, tweeting or pleading could stop it. In all, 115 families are now living on footpaths surrounding the EWS, while 30 others are homeless in Sarjapur, miles away from their homes, jobs, schools and lives. There is palpable anger at the brutal efficiency that wrecked the lives of over 1,500 families who had been ignored for nine long years in

makeshift tin sheds. There is betrayal as we should have expected, that promises of temporary shelter and reprieve could be broken by every high-ranking stamp worth its weight in the Vidhan Soudha. And add to that the colossal guilt that this was done to build another sanctum for our top-dollar, a parking lot that will magically metamorphose into a mall, just like its predecessor on Magrath Road. Go to the EWS now and there is nothing to show for the thousands who lived, dreamed and fought the odds, but flattened land and a high fence pronouncing the dawn of the brave new age of the public private

partnership (PPP). Except that the public who are legally entitled to be here have now either been kicked to the kerbs or forced into tempos with their meagre belongings and 2,000-5,000 rupees in hand to mythical rehabilitation sites across the city. Doubt underlies everything. Single mothers, senior citizens and pregnant women wait for Godot with their biometric cards and any scraps of paper generated over the years that qualify them for shelter or relief. Many have none. They have endured the cold, shock, harassment, disruption of their lives, and loss of livelihoods and dignity

Aruna C Sekhar

as they are forced to look to us for relief, with no access to water or toilets or compensation.

There is immense respect for those who were on the ground way before the first tin sheet fell, lying in the path of bulldozers, braving assault and feeding thousands from their own pockets. There is shame that even the more sensitive among us had blind spots right in front of our eyes, as if we have the privilege to pick which battles to fight. Finally, there is gratitude. I’ve easily received over a thousand calls this week, offering food, water, clothes, blankets, manpower, medicine and media support. Over 200 volunteers between their teens and 40s offered help, brav-

ing intimidation by the police, hauling food and water on foot when barricades were put up, bunking work to put in 12 hour shifts of food distribution, rushing to the scene when things got ugly, helping those displaced find jobs, enrolling children into schools and hostels, treating the sick, surveying needs and staying with us to teach newer recruits. Bangalore could perhaps teach those responsible for this disaster a lesson in humane rehabilitation, but that would mean letting them off the hook. These last two weeks have only reaffirmed what we’ve felt in

struggles across the country: the importance of the larger community to be an active witness in the face of suppression. These demolitions took place not in the Saranda forests of Jharkhnd, but right around the corner in Koramangala. If it were not for citizen blogs, social media and a few good papers, the exodus of over 5000 people from the heart of Bangalore would’ve been a blip on the news radar. —The author is a photographer and activist who has worked on issues pertaining to environmental and mining policy, tribal rights, and land acquisition.


MALL but gone  

In the third week of January, 5,000-odd people were evicted from the EWS quarters in Ejipura. Removing dwellers from slums for ‘development...

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