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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 24, June 5, 2010

Open Letter to Sonia Gandhi

Thursday 10 June 2010, by S G Vombatkere

Dear Srimati Sonia Gandhi,

I believe that you are one of the few people in the UPA Government who believes that governance includes looking at people’s problems rather than gunning solely for economic growth. This I understand from several statements made by you, in particular, regarding not allowing the dilution of the RTI Act and regarding getting to the root causes of the Maoist militancy rather than merely increasing the use of police force. It is this belief that prompts me to write what follows.

The incident on May 13, 2010 in East Mumbai of bulldozing and burning of over 500 hutments of the Annabhau Sathe Nagar slum community (mostly Scheduled Caste people) under the supervision of the Additional Collector Shri Dhananjay Sawalakar and accompanied by police brutality on women who resisted eviction, may have been brought to your notice. The slum dwellers have lost their humble homes and also all their hard-earned belongings, and are now literally on the street.

It is not insignificant that this slum demolition, as for almost all earlier ones in Mumbai, was done in the month of May. This timing is especially cruel and devilish because it is the height of the summer while the monsoon begins in a few weeks. These people are out in the open, to die of heat now and exposure to rain and winds soon, particularly children and the aged, while we watch cricket matches on TV in our comfortable homes.

I appeal to you to recognise that violence on hapless slum people (who, incidentally, generate about 25 per cent of Mumbai’s GDP and are vital to the life of Mumbai by the numerous personal services that they provide) by governments violates their fundamental human rights. I need hardly mention that similar brutal evictions, designed and executed by government officials, are taking place in huge numbers in rural and forest areas all over the country, stoking social unrest and militancy. Police action on May 15, 2010, at Balithuta, Jagatsingpur district, Orissa, is the most recent.

It may not have been brought to your notice that the slum dwellers’ Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan have issued legal notice under the Scheduled Castes and Sceduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, to the Additional Collector, Shri Dhananjay Sawalakar, and the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Shri Dilip Sawant. The grounds in the legal notice include sudden, wrongful and barbaric dispossession of dwelling premises without following the due and mandatory procedures under law; illegal demolition during pendency of appeal under the Maharashtra Slum Areas (Improvement, Clearance and Redevelop-ment) Act, 1971; demolition without taking any warrant and following mandatory procedures of Panchnama etc. under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973; and the absence of statutory Environment Clearance required under the provisions of the Environment Impact Assessment Rules, 2006. It will be necessary for the Government of Maharashtra to take due cognisance of this very serious complaint, and initiate expeditious and honest action if governance is to have any meaning to ordinary people.

The people of Annabhau Sathe Nagar slum are determined to peacefully but vehemently resist any further violence or demolition by government agencies. But even so, it cannot be imagined that they will ever harbour any good feelings towards the government or government officials. It may be argued by some that good feelings may be neglected in the undoubtedly difficult tasks of governance. But that would be true only when governance is fair, which it certainly is not, regardless of the political party in power. Unfair governance can never be in the national interest. I am sure you will agree that compassion, human rights and social justice must always be a part of the political processes of governance.

I appeal to you in the name of our sacrosanct Constitution and in the larger national interest to direct the Chief Minister of Maharashtra to

• Immediately stop further demolition, and withdraw police and administrative threat or pressure on the people of Annabhau Sathe Nagar slum,

• Initiate immediate measures to re-build the demolished hutments and additionally provide plentiful cash compensation for physical and psychological injuries and loss of belongings suffered due to police action,

• Ensure that no forcible eviction is done until alternative housing is provided,

• Ensure that the constitutional duty that enjoins every citizen “to have compassion for living creatures” according to Article 51A (g), also be performed by elected and appointed officials of the government, especially with respect to the poor and downtrodden people, who are citizens with human rights.

• Take immediate, honest and transparent action on the legal notice issued by the slum dwellers.

Praying for your immediate action as requested above and with respectful regards,

Yours sincerely,

Maj Gen S.G. Vombatkere (Retd)

Copies by E-mail to:

Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, New Delhi, manmohan@sansad.nic.in; pmosb@pmo.nic.in; pmindia@pmindia.nic.in;

Shri Ashok Chavan, Chief Minister of Maharashtra Mumbai, chiefminister@maharashtra.gov.in; ashokchavanmind @rediffmail.com

Shri Jaipal Reddy, Union Minister for Urban Development, New Delhi, sjaipal@sansad.nic.in

Major General S.G.Vombatkere retired as the Additional Director General Discipline and Vigilance in the Army HQ, New Delhi, in 1996 after 35 years in the Indian Army with combat, staff and technical experience. He holds a Ph.D degree in Structural Dynamics from IIT, Madras, and the President of India awarded him Visishta Seva Medal in 1993 for distinguished service rendered in Ladakh. Since retirement, he is engaged in voluntary work with the Mysore Grahakara Parishat, and is a member of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). He coordinates and lectures a Course on Science, Technology and Sustainable Development for undergraduate students of the University of Iowa, USA, and two universities of Canada, who spend a semester at Mysore as part of their Studies Abroad in South India. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Iowa, USA.

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