Friday, December 28, 2007


A new past time in India is tearing down the lousy housing of poor slum dwellers to make way for the newly rising higher classes in India. The cleared land is for building roads, flyovers, multiplexes, skyscrapers to house offices of IT and financial businesses, multi-national corporation owned shopping malls and housing colonies for these few neo-rich.

The "slum dwellers" are generally promised new housing which never seems to materialize. There have been protests in many of India's major cities against this injustice (including the one this week described in the article below.) But the tear downs just keep on keeping on. Land acquisition on a large scale by the government in both rural and urban areas and passing it on to industrial houses, builders at nominal price is at an historic historical.

For example those who dwell in the Tumkur district in the state of Karnataka, where slums were cleared recently, are an angry lot reports the Deccan Herald. Despite having paid money for sites to be allotted to them by the district administration, they have nothing but empty promises to show for it.

The Slum Dweller Welfare Committee there states, “There are six slums in the city and about 325 beneficiaries fall under the Dibbur welfare project and the administration agreed to provide sites to all of them. However nothing has been done so far in this regard.". They also added that despite numerous protests in front of the CMC and District Administration offices, the indifference continues.

The Herald reports, "Hoping to have a home that they can call their own, nearly 300 slum dwellers have paid money for it. People who fall under the general category have paid Rs 5000 and people from the backward communities have paid Rs 2500 towards the same. But despite this the government and the administration have done nothing for them."

Another example reported on by the Hindustan Times last May, described how a terse notice appeared on a few walls in Sanjay Basti, a squatter settlement in Timarpur, North Delhi. Posted by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), it directed the residents to vacate by April 27, or face demolition soon after that. The notice did not explain the purpose of this forcible removal, or specify the area to which the order applies, or mention any relocation plan. Nor did it provide a contact number where further details might be sought — so much for the right to information.

The residents of the area belonged to the ‘informal sector’ of the urban economy: they work as vegetable vendors, domestic helpers, casual labourers, street hawkers, rickshaw-pullers, mechanics and painters, among other occupations.

Laws which were supposedly in place to protect slum dwellers and "squatters" are being overridden by India's High Court.

Writes the Times:

"These orders are based on the notion that slums are parasitical settlements that tarnish the urban environment. They overlook the fact that slums serve an essential economic purpose: they provide low-cost housing to masses of workers who ‘service’ the city, and for whom no provision has been made in urban development planning. For many of them, it would be impractical or expensive to commute long distances from the outskirts of the city. For instance, street vendors and roadside workers (barbers, tea-stall owners, cycle mechanics and so on) need equipment that would be difficult to carry back and forth. Similarly, it is the short distance between work and home that enables many women to work as part-time domestic helpers in the neighbourhood even as they continue to handle child care and other household tasks."

Forced evictions and the manner in which they are carried out violate India’s national and international legal obligations, while further marginalising the most vulnerable sections of society.

Miloon Kothari, Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights speaking about the situation in India more than a year and a half ago said, “When any government deliberately allows the demolition of thousands of homes of vulnerable women, men and children without information, consultation, exploring alternatives and providing adequate resettlement prior to displacement – then this government is indulging in gross violations of human rights of the very people that it is supposed to protect.”

Prof. Upendra Baxi, Professor of Law in Development at the University of Warwick (U.K.), and former Vice Chancellor of Delhi University likened the slum clearance programs in India to that of the 1975-76 Emergency. “The cruel and arbitrary Emergency demolitions and evictions occurred as acts of executive/ administrative power; the more recent ones are conducted under high judicial auspices."

Meanwhile, the poor continue to protest though more often than not in vain.

The following is from the Hindu (India).

Slum dwellers protest eviction; board says they are trespassers

BANGALORE: More than 120 families residing at the Chikkabommasandra slum attached to the Judges Colony in Yelahanka New Town were evicted by the staff of the Karnataka State Slum Clearance Board on Thursday.

The family members alleged that they were thrown to the streets along with their belongings without any prior notice from the board.

Protesting the eviction, the residents led by leaders of Samata Sainik Dal, gheraoed the slum board Commissioner’s office and staged a protest for the whole of Thursday. The members withdrew the dharna in the evening after an assurance from the officials that the evicted families would be temporarily rehabilitated. They have decided to continue the dharna on Friday.

“We have been staying in this slum for 20 years. After the board built houses under the Centre’s Valmiki Ambedkar Awas Yojana (VAMBAY) here, we were promised that genuine slum dwellers would be allotted the houses but most of the 270 houses there have been allotted to people recommended by influential officials,” Kamalamma, a resident said.

M. Venkataswamy, Samata Sainik Dal president, alleged that the slum board officials had sold the VAMBAY houses for more than Rs. 3 lakh to people recommended by influential politicians.

He said members of the Samata Sainik Dal along with the residents would resume their protest on Friday demanding that the allotment made to people who were not the genuine beneficiaries be cancelled.

V. Ashok, Commissioner of the Karnataka State Slum Clearance Board, refuted the allegations and said that the protesters had unauthorisedly occupied the VAMBAY houses. “Before the VAMBAY houses were built less than 50 families lived in the slum and most of them have been accommodated,” he said.

He said he would meet the protesters on Friday and examine the genuineness of their claims.

Title deeds sought

Demanding regularisation of slums in the city and “hakku patras” (title deeds) for slum dwellers, members of the Karnataka Kolageri Nivasigala Hitharakshana Janti Kriya Samiti on Thursday staged a protest in front of Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) head office. Most of the land where slums were located was owned by the urban local body of the area. Although the H.D. Kumaraswamy Government had directed all the officials to conduct a survey and grant ownership rights and title deeds to slum dwellers in January this year, slum dwellers were yet to get the benefits, Arul Issac Selva, samiti member said.

The members submitted a memorandum to BBMP Deputy Commissioner (Administration) S.L. Manjunath, who assured them that he would fix an appointment for them with Commissioner S. Subramanya next week.

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