Saturday, January 21, 2012

Hunger, filth make life hell for ousted Sabarmati slum-dwellers

l Poor families shifted to Ganeshnagar due to development work at riverfront l They have been forced to live without potable water, drainage lines

Roxy Gagdekar & Jumana Shah l Ahmedabad

On Thursday morning, seven-year-old Raju didn't bother to bath or change his torn clothes for almost a week in a row, was without meal for almost 36 hours and didn't know the meaning of the word 'home'.
These days, he lives in a filth provided by the state establishment called Ganeshnagar in Piplaj village, less than 15 minutes drive from the sprawling high-end bungalows of Paldi and Prahladnagar. Worrying about Raju's well-being is the last thing on his illiterate parents' mind. Their house of 50 years on the banks of the famous river Sabarmati has been flattened to rubble and they've been unceremoniously thrown in this new slum.
There is no income as father can't afford to go his workplace as it is too far from Ganeshnagar. Though starving, the belligerent mother is busy cursing. Raju's face begs for some Sadbhavana, but no one seems to notice. As the howl in his stomach grows unbearable, he, with eight other such Rajus, crosses over the road from this new basti and decides to munch on whatever vegetation is available. One such piece of vegetation turns out to be poisonous and the young Rajus end-up in VS Hospital. On Friday morning, his 11-day-old sibling dies as his mother's attention is diverted to his ill son, Raju.
This is not a fable, but a very real story in our very own Amdavad, that is waiting with bated breath for a realty boom now that the Sabarmati Riverfront has been freed of slums. Is Raju's brother's life, and numerous like him, is the price Vibrant Gujarat has to pay for walking in botanical gardens on Sabarmati riverfront, even as its chief minister Narendra Modi continues his Sadbhavana Mission across the state?
If the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) is to be believed, 8,000 families have been given one or two-bedroom flats in the EWS (Economically Weaker Sections) housing project, constructed at a little distance from their current habitation. Unfortunately though, Raju and his family has ended up amongst 1,433 families whose claims is disputed or is under process, the officials claim. But perhaps the ugly truth is lies somewhere else. When the claimants were to be identified and houses allotted, the AMC invariably dealt with middlemen (most likely the slum-dwellers' representatives), who in their greed cheated their brethren of their rightful allocation of houses by cornering multiple houses for themselves, while numerous families like Raju's continue to beg the AMC for a 'home'.
At least, 2,500 families are currently herded in an open plot called Ganeshnagar next to the dumping site of Piplaj village. Some families have been told to spend a short time here till they are allotted their flat in the EWS housing, while others remain clueless as to how long they have to live in this filth. Their homes consist of tarpoline and ladies' dupattas to make up for roof and walls, and the common ground are their destination for open defecation. AMC is building concrete toilets here, but ironically, there is no water supply or even drainage.
The simple questions that come to mind are why were the existing slums demolished when the EWS houses were not ready? If such conmen were moving around cheating the illiterate slum dwellers, what was the establishment doing? Why did they not stop it, because wasn't it obvious then that such a scenario would be inevitable? And lastly, so whose responsibility is it anyway to give housing to these homeless now?


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