By Lata Jha:Â
Think of the first medal, trophy or certificate you won as a child. It could be for the most trivial spelling contest, but it still occupies just as much a huge space in your heart, doesn’t it? It’s more than just victory or the ecstasy of it, it’s a sign of your coming into your own, of the fact that you’re meant to make something of your life. Of your dreams, your desires, your pursuits, your potential. Now imagine, if years after you won the trophy, some random stranger manages to lose or break it. He either walks away without a care or let’s say, promises to get you a new shining cup, which is the most you can expect. It’s just not the same, is it?
Can you then imagine how those people would feel for whom the trophy is the small home they’ve slaved for and lived in all their life? Where they’ve seen their parents die and their kids grow up. How would they feel when they are one day, out of the blue, told that they no longer own the nests they have lived in for years, sometimes generations?
The home is in many ways like that prized trophy, in others, a lot more than it. Not being able to fight and win it back is the ultimate sign of your helplessness and inferiority, economic or otherwise. Between the 18th and 21st of January this year, more than 6000 residents were thrown out of their homes in the EWS Quarters in Ejipura, Bangalore.
The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike in partnership with the owners of Garuda Mall (Maverick Holdings and Investments) aims at constructing a shopping mall and housing complex in the area, which was originally meant for the economically weaker sections (EWS). The 15-acre plot, located in upmarket Koramangala, is all set to build a mall, which will be developed by the Maverick Holdings Private Limited Company, and a residential complex for those originally allotted the EWS Quarters. No concrete provisions had been made for the many poor families living here. The residents had complained of policemen both threatening them and promising them compensation of about Rs. 20,000 if they vacated immediately.
The case is not just about a ruthless money minting firm displacing the poor and taking their rights away. A Lokayukta enquiry initiated against this project, alleged that the deal was illegally awarded to the Maverick group under the Yeddyurappa government. Worse still, this agreement was drafted without any notification being sent to the homes of the residents of the site or seeking their approval, let alone any consultation or plan for alternative housing for the residents. There are layers within layers.
BBMP did try to salvage the situation here. It had attempted to justify the transfer of EWS land to a private company by blaming it on the shortage of funds. However, considering that the same BBMP has not utilised funds meant to build houses for the poor from the Central government under the JNNURM-BSUP and other schemes, as well as the state government, citing shortage of land, they seemed to be sloppily contradicting themselves. The fact is there is no dearth of money, if the government wants to provide housing for the poor.
The coverage of this case which has been pretty scant after January, last reported that the protestors, which included students, Dalit activists and members of non-governmental organisations had met Karnataka Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar who promised them immediate help. But not much happened, with threats from policemen increasing and basic health and sanitation facilities aggravating in the area. Women and children are known to have suffered the most, and even died.
The blame game had begun by then. A day after Home Minister R. Ashok assured that the BBMP would be directed to provide temporary relief to those displaced by the demolition of hundreds of sheds in Ejipura, the latter passed the buck on saying it all depended on the developer, Maverick Holdings Private Limited.
The developer, while magnanimously agreeing to allow the residents to stay on for two months till school and college examinations were over and children in the area would not be affected, added that neither the government nor BBMP could take law into their hands.
As always, the poor find themselves engulfed within the nexus of political blame game and the lust for power. We are all for progress. Greed, enterprise and ambition are not really vices, but it’s outrageously insensitive to presume substitutes work everywhere. Monetary compensation does not dilute the tragic loss of a home. Neither is it feasible for policy makers to work within and according to ground realities ensconced in their plush offices.
While researching for this article on the net, I was appalled less by the horrific details of encroachment, but more by the fact that mainstream media had more or less abandoned the story after January. It’s like a chapter closed, or at least forgotten.
Convenient, I’m guessing, since the buck never really stops. How long can one pretend to care?