January 21, 2013
On Sunday morning, after spending the night out in the cold, thousands of residents of the EWS (Economically Weaker Sections) Quarters here in Ejipura managed to stall four earth movers making way into their shantytown. But hours later, post noon, the bulldozers — under the supervision of policemen and a BBMP official — moved in and demolished a large chunk of what was left of the quarters, where at least 2,000 families lived.
By the end of the evening, more houses had been razed, leaving only a short row of the tin-sheet tenements standing.
The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike claimed that the “entire area will be cleared out by Monday”. With nowhere to go, hundreds of families bundled up their belongings, stacked up their television sets and bedding in a row, and cooked out in the open. Even clean drinking water is a challenge, given that water supply and electricity to the area were cut-off four days ago, they said.
The BBMP says, and it has submitted to court, that it has offered rehabilitation, including accommodation and Rs. 30,000, to those living there.
However, the money has gone to 1,512 original allottees, of which barely over 120 are residents here. The rest of the tenants — at least 1,600 families that have been given BBMP “hakku patras” — have been left in the lurch. This shantytown is being brought down to make way for a glitzy mall developed by Maverick Holding and Investment Pvt. Ltd. and a residential complex for the 1,512 allottees co-developed by the civic body.
The crowded thoroughfares here are replete with tales of false promises, deceit and corruption. Sahai Mary, who works as domestic help in the National Games Village complex nearby, says that in 2004 they were given “hakku patras” promising them homes. “Every election, politicians have promised us homes. Where are all of them now?” she asks. Sahai Mary, a single mother of three, alleged that even the local youth association was “bought over”.
In fact, the BBMP council had, in 2005, passed a resolution that it would provide alternative accommodation to all the residents here. Residents say that a few months ago men who claimed to represent the area MLA showed them land in Anekal, which turned out to be privately owned by a businessman.
Sahai Mary points out that all her children will lose their school year if they move far from here, and rents in the area for a one-room tenement start at Rs. 5,000 with an advance payment starting at Rs. 50,000.
“How can we afford that much money?” asks Ameena Begum, 45, whose daughter was among the 23 arrested by the police on Saturday. Most of them pay between Rs. 500 and 700 for their rooms. They point out that most owners, who have taken the BBMP’s “interim settlement”, are yet to return their security deposits.
And if the trauma of losing their homes was not enough, these residents have been living in fear for the past week. Manikandan (30), a mason, says he hasn’t slept since the demolition drive started because every night “rowdies” would appear past midnight, sometimes extorting money from old women, and at other times, simply threatening them to leave.
Shanthamma (56), who lives with her mentally-challenged son, weeps inconsolably as she narrates how on Friday night they forced her to part with her life’s savings of Rs. 5,000.
She insists on showing her ration card, Aadhaar documents and voter identity card to prove that she is indeed a resident.
B.T. Ramesh, engineer-in-chief, BBMP, said that the High Court of Karnataka had ordered the evacuation. He said that the BBMP had tried to build temporary sheds in Sarjapur, but the plans were thwarted by a senior Minister.
Asked about the allegations that he had vested interests in the Rs. 2,000-crore project, he said: “Even the tendering has not begun. It’s all false. Moreover, we have been warning them [about eviction] since October.”