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Mainstream, VOL LX No 21, New Delhi, May 14, 2022

Workers Made Homeless on May Day by Large Scale Slum Demolitions in Chandigarh | Bharat Dogra

Saturday 14 May 2022, by Bharat Dogra

On May 1, in the presence of heavy police force, demolition squads of Chandigarh swooped on huts and houses of colony number 4, Industrial Area Phase 1. The homes and hearths of nearly 5000 people, all of them from the poorest sections of one of the most affluent cities of India, were destroyed within a few hours. Many of those removed have been living in this 40 year old colony for decades and have never known any other home.

While this action would have been condemned under any circumstances, there are three particular reasons why this was excessively insensitive and ill-advised at this time.
Firstly, this region has been passing through heat-wave conditions in the recent past and weather forecasts are for even more hot weather in the coming days. Vulnerable people including elderly, ill and small children are being advised to stay indoors and avoid exposure to open sun exposure. As this was their only shelter, where will these people go in heat wave conditions? Who will be responsible if someone dies?
Secondly many children are having their exams these days. Demolishing their houses and throwing them out may amount to depriving them of a year of school. As it is their education has already suffered a lot due to COVID related complications. Just as this was returning to somewhat normal conditions, education of children has again been disturbed badly by demolishing the homes of the poorest people in the city.
Last but certainly not the least, it was particularly insensitive to demolish the houses of the working class on a day when workers gather to celebrate the International Workers Day or May Day all over the world.

To add insult to injury, this demolition has been widely described in several media reports almost in celebratory terms, saying that ‘the City Beautiful’ (as Chandigarh is often called) has been finally cleared of its slums. It appears that many urban elites in India have not just completely forgotten about the essential and basic needs of workers and weaker sections but even turned hostile. However some opposition leaders and social activists have condemned this action. One NGO set up a stall to meet some essential needs of people. The President of Chandigarh Mahila Congress while criticizing the entire action has stated that at least two urgent matters should get immediate attention. Firstly, arrangements for students appearing for Board exams should be made and secondly, immediate shelter should be provided for pregnant women and for mothers with small children.

On April 24 another demolition was stopped in Khuda Lahora and Khuda Jassu villages of the union territory by the timely arrival of opposition party leaders and social activists and bulldozers had to return. It appears that the Chandigarh authorities are on a demolition spree but have they made adequate arrangements for rehabilitation?
In the case of the May 1 demolition arrangements are reported to have been made on the basis of papers and computer draw for about 290 units only and even for these selected few it is not clear when these people can move into a new accommodation.
Previous experience also indicates that satisfactory rehabilitation is available generally for only a small minority of those who are evicted. Last year the demolitions in Khori ( Faridabad) in Haryana had led to mass distress among an even larger number of poor people as nearly 10,000 houses were demolished there ( even more, according to some media reports). At that time the Haryana government had made several promises of satisfactory rehabilitation. What is the actual situation after about one year. Bijendra Ahlawat reported in The Tribune on May 1, (report titled ‘10 months later, only 10% Khori oustees allotted flats’) that as against the 10,000 houses demolished, 1009 have been issued allotment letters, of which about 800 flats have been made fit for occupation. It is not known how many have already started living in these flats over 10 months after eviction. Meanwhile there have been repeated demolitions too as evicted people for lack of an alternative keep returning to the same demolition site, and face yet another demolition.

Clearly in the case of most such demolitions arrangements exist for the rehabilitation for only about 10 to 15 per cent of evicted people and even these arrangements and their complicated paper work can take a lot of time. Hence almost all the affected people have to undergo acute suffering for a very long time. It is incredibly insensitive to inflict such extreme suffering on the poorest sections of our cities when they have already suffered so much in COVID times and a more or less complete ban on such demolitions and evictions for at least two years should be the policy norm. During this period the available time should be used for providing more human solutions in terms of satisfactory rehabilitation for those settlements the removal of which cannot be avoided for very urgent reasons. In all other cases the policy should be provide on-site development and basic-need facilities as well as more greenery.

(The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Man over Machine—A Path to Peace.)

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