Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sambhu Singh vs. South City: the battle against corporate retail and real estate in a microcosm

December 30, 2008

By Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati.


Sambhu Singh’s quarters surrounded by the behemoths of South City, Kolkata. Water and electricity had been cut off for years, before South City security guards finally destroyed the house on December 25, 2008

Background articles:

Background: A fighter named Sambhu Singh - Ranu Ghosh
Sambhu Singh’s family attacked, home ransacked - Partho Sarathi Ray. December 25, 2008
A few Bengali articles on the bloody history of the South City project and the closure of Usha - Manthan Samayiki, September 2006
What you can do

Ongoing reports:

South City’s law flouting continues, chargesheet drawn up - January 23, 2009
Update - January 21, 2009
FAMA convention against South City - January 17, 2009
Protest meeting in solidarity - January 2, 2009
Sambhu Singh fights back yet again - December 30, 2008
You have no future: CPIM’s Nagarik Committee pressurizes Mr. Singh, intervenes in favour of big capital - December 29, 2008
Sambhu Singh sleeps in his broken, vandalised home in defiance - December 28, 2008
Old reports: South City developers flout environmental norms - August 2006, The Statesman
Old reports: 6 labourers killed during construction negligence - July 2006, Rediff


Background: A fighter named Sambhu Singh

By Ranu Ghosh

In 2004 I heard that the Usha factory land had been sold to the consortium developing the high-rise South City complex. This was completely contrary to what Jyoti Basu had declared in ‘94 when he said that the Usha Factory land would be used for the construction of Apollo Hospital and that a pharmaceutical factory would also come up there, providing employment and other benefits to the local population.

I am personally against the real estate development in the Eastern Metropolitan bypass and adjoining areas. I visited the Usha factory location in ‘04 and talked with the residents who lived around it. From them I learned that the employees of Usha factory still living in their allocated staff quarters were to be evicted very soon. I also heard that CITU, the CPI(M)’s labour union, had taken over the negotiations with the factory owners, depriving the affected workers of a large portion of their deserved compensation.

Most of the workers had quietly accepted whatever handout came their way and had left the quarters. As soon as they vacated their premises, the housing was dismantled, making it inhabitable. I interviewed the women and migrant workers most affected by the strong-arm tactics of the developers, documented my findings, and saw the last vestiges of two generations of a community on the brink of oblivion. I saw these people, immigrants from neighbouring districts and states, unable to accept the changes that had been forced on them. I saw the way they tried to cope with the drastic degradation in their lifestyles, their lack of suitable employment leading to penury, and how all this affected them so deeply that they were unwilling to take leave of the area, opting to live in crude hutments and shacks beside the high wall that now enclosed their former place of residence, without the benefit of basic amenities. This is when I firmly decided that I would devote my time, energy and limited personal funds to highlight their plight.

I had been following the workers and their dependants mentioned above for some time, documenting their stories, recording their disbelief at their reduced status, how they were trying to adjust to the vicious change in their lives, and how they continued to live in ‘jhuggi-jhopdis’ beside the wall of the South City development. Skilled workers were now caretakers of private property; running tiny shops; plying cycle rickshaws; itinerant vendors; or simply sitting by the blocked gates despondently watching what is touted as the one of the tallest constructions in this part of the world, growing skywards in leaps and bounds every day.

In 2006, when I returned to document how the staff living quarters, the school and playground had been destroyed, the walls raised and the gates blocked to make way for the construction, I accidentally got to know of Shambhu Prasad, a second-generation worker of Jay Engineering. While talking with the other workers, they told me of Shambhu who stubbornly resided in his officially appointed quarters, slap-bang in the middle of the mammoth real estate development. South City’s four gigantic towers are actually rising around his house.

In 1994, before the staff quarters were demolished, Shambhu had filed a petition in the High Court, asking for a stay till such time that his full and deserved compensation was paid by his employers. The workers had never been informed of the sale of the factory land, nor been given advance notice of their eviction and the subsequent demolition of their residences. Instead, they had been forced out with a token amount paid under the Voluntary Retirement Scheme. Shambhu was the only one who refused the VRS payout, and despite the threats to his life and well-being by hoodlums as well as the police, he took the matter to court from where he obtained a stay on his eviction as well as on the demolition of his residence. Because of this, Shambhu says that about forty lakhs of rupees remains unpaid to the Usha factory owners by the developers as on date.

Subsequently, Shambhu was deserted by two of his lawyers, who he suspects were bought over by the developers. In 2005, the High Court ruled that Shambhu’s case was not a matter for them and belonged to the jurisdiction of the City Civil Court in Alipore. He had to go through the whole procedure all over again, and it is where it still stands as Shambhu continues his fight in the face of big money and even bigger odds with his meagre and dwindling resources.

A Rajput, Sambhu Singh had come to work at Usha from Goya district in Bihar. He worked for 19 years in the paints division of the factory and has decided that he will not forfeit his rights as a worker. As South City grows around him at monstrous speed, he lives in his quarters with his family. Water and electricity have been disconnected. Outsiders, even relatives, do not have the right to visit his home. Under this incredible daily pressure, he remains upright in his convictions.

This article was adapted from Ranu Ghosh’s blog and an article in Manthan Samayiki

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December 25, 2008: Sambhu Singh’s family attacked, home ransacked

By Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati

Since December 25, something is happening in Kolkata which might turn into a major battle against corporate retail and real estate.

Many of you, who are from or have stayed in Kolkata, know about the huge South City complex (company logo: Live the way the world does), consisting of the largest mall in Kolkata and a huge residential complex consisting of 4 tower buildings. The complex has come up on the grounds of the erstwhile Usha Engineering works, a factory employing around 7000 people, which was shut down and the land handed over to South City. The workers were all thrown out and their living quarters were demolished.

Their story is one of the little known tragedies of the process of “development” , one of the facets of which is the conversion of urban industrial land into real estate. Anyway, the mall came up in a very questionable process, filling up a huge water body (Bikramgarh jheel), and is now a major source of traffic congestion in the area.

What I didn’t know was that a single worker, Sambhu Prasad Singh, had decided to fight it out! His is an epic story. He had challenged his retrenchment by Usha Engineering in court, and had stayed back in the workers quarters with his brother, the latter’s wife and their 10 year old son. Disregarding threats by South City, he had stayed on amidst the construction going on around him. He was staying in the workers’ qaurters all of which had been torn down leaving only his rooms, as there was a stay order from the court. In this situation the family had stayed on and struggled, sending the son to a good school and living a life of dignity. Their struggle was being documented by a film maker, Ranu Ghosh, who had been closely following their lives for the past 10 years. Some of her postings are at: and You might find more
about it if you do a search on internet.

Yesterday (25th December) morning, I received a call from a reporter at one of the Bengali TV channels, who told me that something horrible had happened to the family of Sambhu, but his channel and other media wouldn’t report on it as South City was involved. I informed Samik Chakrabarty, one of our Sanhati comrades, and both of us immediately rushed to the spot.

We found out that on 24th evening, when the city was taken up in Christmas eve fever, and the two men (Sambhu and his brother) were away from home, security guards of South City, under the direction of their security chief and property manager, had broken down their door, come in and tied the hands and feet of the mother and the 10 year old son, assaulted them and thrown them out on the streets. Then they had looted all their belongings, loaded it on a truck and taken it away somewhere. Then they had broken down the roof and the stairs leading up to their 1st floor house, practically rendering it uninhabitable. The two men came back late at night and found them out on the streets. Then they called up Ranu and she went there immediately.

From 25th morning, the battle started. We went to the Jadavpur police station and lodged a FIR. The police stated that it was a patently illegal act to evict sometime when the case is sub-judice, but they cannot put them back inside their home. However, they said that they have the right to stay in their home. Many activists, organizations and media had been informed by then, and some activists, from organizations such as FAMA started coming in.

During the day, we also found that the police inspector came in a jeep and entered the premises. After some time we came to know that people were demolishing what remained of the house of the worker inside the premises. We realized that they were trying to demolish the house in order to make it a fait accompli, so that there would be no hope of proving Sambhu Singh’s right to the place.

By that time some faculty of Jadavpur University and members of the intellectuals and cultural workers association had also arrived. We decided that we would try to enter the site and if prevented we would start a demonstration. As we tried to enter, the security guards set up a cordon infront of the gate and their head said that he wouldn’t allow us to enter. We insisted on the right of Sambhu Singh and us to enter and we went into a heated altercation with the security guards. People started collecting and soon there was a huge crowd. We had called the students of Jadavpur university and they, notably from the student organization PDSF, arrived. Soon they were joined by other students. It became an impropmtu public meeting.

Meanwhile, the authorities tried to move out the workers who had been breaking down house in a Tata Sumo. We blocked its exit and it turned tail and fled in another direction. We had also called up the local councillor, Mr. Ratan Dey of Trinamool Congress, and he also turned up after some time. When he came,some of us accompanied him and entered the site. We found that the house had nearly been completely demolished with its roof, the walls and the staircase completely destroyed. After sometime more people, accompanied by reporters of some TV channels entered.

We then decided that Sambhu Singhu would be staying inside there, in order to prove his right to live at that site. It was also decided that a protest meeting, where everybody would participate, would be held outside South City mall on 26th December. It was a partial victory as we had been able to reinstate Sambhu Singh in his house, which was rightfully his. He and his brother somehow managed to spend the night in that broken down house.

On 26th morning, I again accompanied Sambhu Singh, his brothers wife and her son, together with some activists from a local citizen’s forum and a lawyer to the police station. The woman lodged a detailed complaint and also added a list of her belongings that have been looted. The police now were quite hostile, unlike the previous day and tried to harrass and intimidate us. In the evening a public meeting, attended by around 500 people started infront of the gates of South City mall. Nearly all organizations and activists of Kolkata participated. Different student organizations participated. The students put up posters, distributed leaflets and talked to people, including customers who were coming to the mall. Some students stood with posters in front of the main door of the mall informing people about the incident and appealing to them to boycott South City.

It was a demonstration the likes of which South City has never seen before.

As you can understand, this will be a long battle. We have to explore all the legal options in front of Sambhu Singh and his family. It is difficult now as South City chose a time when the court is in vacation. Another protest meeting is planned for Sunday. People want to continue this protest against this grossly unjust and illegal act. I request everyone to express their solidarity and support for this movement which has started as a battle of justice for a wronged person but which is taking up the nature of a battle against corporate retail and real estate and their land-grabbing in the urban centres.

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December 28, 2008: Sambhu Singh sleeps in his broken home in defiance

By Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati

Sambhu Singh and his brother has now spent three nights in the rubble of their former home, taking turns to sleep on their own broken-down door, with a blanket bought by the money contributed by the people. The South City management put up a notice on the remains of their home, stating “unsafe, entry prohibited”. It is ironic that it is the same South City management who made the place, a home for a family, unsafe in the first place. It is public pressure that has maintained the position of Sambhu Singh in his home till now, but we don’t know how long that will be possible. Legal options are being explored, but nothing much can be done till 2nd January, when the courts are going to reopen after the winter vacation. South City cunningly selected this time to perpetrate this crime.

On 27th December, the CPI(M) controlled Nagarik Samiti, also held a meeting in “support” of Sambhu Singh, and condemned the people who have been with him from the beginning of the struggle as “naxalites”. I guess it isn’t very surprising, but this complicates the situation further. Today, Sunday, 28th December, there is another public protest in front of South City which everyone is invited to attend.

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December 29, 2008: You have no future: CPIM’s Nagarik Committee pressurizes Mr. Singh, intervenes in favour of big capital

By Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati

There have been ominous developments yesterday, that has again exposed the face of the CPI(M) as the agent of big capital.

In my last update I had mentioned that the CPI(M) controlled Nagarik Committee had organized a meeting on 27th December, ostensibly to support Sambhu Singh. On 28th December, leaders of the Nagark Samiti that included CPI(M) local committee members, compelled Sambhu Singh to go into a negotiation with South City management. Even though Sambhu Singh had been advised by us to only go if accompanied by his lawyer, he was not allowed to call his lawyer. In the negotiations, in presence 93 Ward Nagarik Committee members Amber Roy Choudhary, Pelab Mukherjee, Parimal Bhattacharya, Jayanta Poddar, Arun Agarwal and Tarun Mistry, Sambhu was threatened by Sushil Mohta and Man Mohan Bagree of South City that he had nothing in favour of him and he had no way to survive if he tried to stay back in his house.

The Nagarik Committee members supported this and persuaded him to arrive at a settlement with South City. Finally overwhelmed by these threats, Sambhu caved in, and signed on a non-legal agreement with South City, where he has agreed to give up possession all claims to his house, withdraw civil and criminal cases against South City, and accept that he has himself removed all his belongings (all of which was looted by South City’s hired security) from his premises.

All this in return of a paltry Rs 4 lakhs (4,00,000), when the actual vaulation of the space occupied by Sambhu Singh’s house is around ten times more!

There is no compensation, not even an acknowledgement, of the illegal assault on his family and their eviction.

This is a repetition of what is a common procedure in Bengal. South City realized that it was in a very bad sitaution after committing this illegal act and from the resultant public backlash, which they hadn’t expected would be there. In order to save them from this situation, appeared the CPI(M). Repeating what it had done when the workers of the Usha factory were originally thrown out of their jobs, it acted as agent and broker, allowing the corporation to get away with paying a pittance as compensation, victimising the poor worker.

Irrespective of the outcome regarding Sambhu Singh, it has been decided that the protests against South City would be intensified. Armed with this direct evidence of the Nagarik Committee’s heinous intervention in the matter, the struggle would be directed against the corporations and their agent and broker, the CPI(M).

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December 30, 2008: Sambhu Singh fights back yet again

Sambhu Singh decided yesterday that he would fight back against South City and CPI(M) by lodging a complaint that he was made to sign on the plain paper agreement against his will and under compulsion.

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January 2, 2009: Protest meeting in solidarity.


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January 17, 2009: FAMA convention against South City

Click here to read poster [PDF, Bengali]

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January 21, 2009 Update:

Yesterday, Mr. Shambhu Singh’s brother tried to enter their quarter inside the three towers of South City. He was restrained from entering at around 8.p.m. Today at around 12.00 p.m. both Shambhu Singh and his brothers were stopped from entering the premises. The security personnel informed us that there was order from the management that they would not be allowed to enter despite they being aware of the section 144(2) of the Kolkata High Court. The altercation ended with them being allowed to enter. A report has been filed in Jadavpur P.S. for contempt of court on two occasions against the South City management.

FAMA is planning to mobilize a mass gathering in front of the South City Mall where a charge sheet will be delivered to the relevant authorities.

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January 23, 2009: South City’s law flouting continues, chargesheet drawn up

South City is blatantly violating the law in its insatiable urge to swallow the space on which Sambhu Singh and his family lives. With a section 144 order on the place, which forbids them from causing any physical disturbance to the inhabitants, it is a clear contempt of court that they are forcibly preventing the entry of Shambhu Singh and his brother. A contempt of court case has been filed, and a demonstration in front of the South City mall is being planned shortly.

On 17th January, at the peoples’ convention an 8-point citizens’ chargesheet against South City, detailing their repeated violation of at least half a dozen laws, including industrial, land ownership, urban planning, environmental and safety laws, and human rights violations, was prepared and discussed. It was decided that a public meetng would be held in front of South City where this chargesheet will be publicly handed over to them. It will also bring together all the people and organizations who has been protesting against the activities of South City for years.

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Older article: August 2006: South City developers flout environmental norms - The Statesman

Kolkata’s ‘tallest’ towers, fast nearing completion, have been in the thick of controversy for flouting environmental norms. Mohit Ray has been watching the battle between the realtors and the green lobby from the ringside

IN the beginning there was a well-known industry called Jay Engineering of Usha Group which manufactured the famous Usha fans and sewing machines on Prince Anwar Shah Road, in south Kolkata. On its backyard was Bikramgarh Jheel, one of the large waterbodies in the southern suburb of Kolkata, shown in the latest map (2001) of the city published by National Atlas and Thematic Mapping Organisation.

Like many industries in Bengal, Jay Engineering was closed down and so came the real estate people to grab the prime land. And the city came to know through a series of colourful huge hoardings that the industrial plot is now being reborn as the tallest venture in eastern India — a 35-storied housing complex, named South City. As you approach the southern part of the city you cannot miss the sight of two of the proposed four sky-high towers. These are the towers of violation, as they continue to flout environmental norms.

South City Projects is promoted by some of the big names in real estate in the state. It boasts of 31.14 acres of mini-township featuring three 35-storey and one 28-storey residential towers. It is supposedly the highest building in eastern India. On the cards are an enormous shopping mall, a sprawling club, a school, a central green area and landscaping, including beautiful waterbodies. It is the biggest real-estate project Kolkata has ever seen.

In 1995 celebrity lawyer MC Mehta filed a case in the Supreme Court of India to remove polluting industries from Delhi. While the small industries suffered, the bigger ones were happy to move out. The idea was to sell land in prime areas of the city for the price of gold.

The Supreme Court, however, ordered that if the industry covered more than 5 hectares, only 35 per cent of the land could be sold, while the rest would have to be given to the city authority for developing green belts. As Delhi got rid of the polluting industries, Delhites were gifted with more green areas.

When more than 12 hectares of Jay Engineering factory land was being transferred to a new real estate developer, the citizens of this densely-populated southern suburb expected to get a green park measuring 8 hectares out of the industrial land as it had happened in Delhi. But no, the southern suburb would, in fact, get a huge concrete jungle, not a single square metre of land would be given for public use. So the corporation, state government and realtors joined hands to violate the spirit of Supreme Court’s direction. And this tradition of violation continued, with the help of the state.

Grab the waterbody

Then came the turn of Bikramgarh Jheel to face this juggernaut of violation. In a densely-populated area, the presence of such a large waterbody was a unique phenomenon. In the absence of any plan for conservation, this sprawling wetland was slowly turning into a dirty, polluted place. This wetland still attracts a lot of different species — birds, small animals, varied insects – enriching the biodiversity.

There have been different initiatives by environmental groups and local organisations and representatives to renovate this vast waterbody [see 10]. Even as the initiatives to conserve Bikramgarh Jheel were being taken, South City Projects was being outlined and the idea was to grab a part of this waterbody as a part of it.

South City was given official consent by West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB) on November 2003. And by mid-2005 South City had filled up a part of the waterbody and started construction there. Local people felt helpless. There were complaints from different quarters. Then on 2 January 2006, Vasundhara, an environmentalists’ group, complained with detailed report and photographs to the West Bengal governor, chief minister and a number of government departments,
including WBPCB, about South City’s encroachment on Bikramgarh Jheel.

Breaking norms

WBPCB has conducted three hearings on 24 January, 17 February and 29 March of 2006 in the presence of the representatives of South City Projects and Vasundhara, the complaining NGO. In the beginning South City had happily revealed that it had got permission for filling up 1.31 acres of waterbody from WBPCB, in lieu of creating 1.41 acres of a new waterbody. Later they stated that the waterbody had not been filled up.

WBPCB sent a team of engineers on 8 March 2006 to check the existence of 1.31 acres of waterbody. The team categorically concluded that no such waterbody existed. Also the South City authorities failed to show them any specific location where the proposed 1.41-acre waterbody would come up. The report noted, “The filling up operation of the Jheel towards the waterside was in progress”.

During the hearing on 29 March, representatives of the Fisheries Department, Govt of West Bengal, informed that they have sent two notices to South City Projects for filling up of the waterbody. In the same meeting, representative of Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) stated that their map of Bikramgarh Jheel, based on aerial photography, clearly shows encroachment of 10830.5 square meter (160 cottahs) of Bikramgarh Jheel by South City Projects. KMC also wondered how WBPCB at all could give permission to fill up a part of a waterbody. Though three government organisations — WBPCB, Fisheries Department and KMC — confirmed filling up of the waterbody, construction work on the filled-up area was speeded up to pre-empt any investigation. The Inland Fisheries Act, which prohibit even filling up of 5 cottah (330 sq.m) of waterbody, was ignored when it came to filling up 160 cottahs of Bikramgarh Jheel.

WBPCB has complained to Calcutta High Court that the whole work of South City Projects is illegal. According to Environmental Impact Assessment Notification under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, a clearance is needed from the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India, which they have not yet done. But who cares for environmental laws if you are on the right side of the ruling party?

Committees galore

After these hearings, WBPCB formed an independent committee consisting of Prof PN Roy (ex-pro VC, Calcutta University), Prof Arunava Majumder (ex-head, All India Institute of Public Health and Hygiene), Manab Sengupta (secretary, faculty of science and technology, Calcutta University) and Biswajit Mukherjee (senior law officer, WBPCB). It held a hearing of all parties on 11 April 2006. The committee visited the site and examined all relevant papers. On 18 May the committee came up with a bold report though surprisingly forgot to mention the roles of environmental and community organisations in the struggle. The committee recommended that,

The entire work of South City Projects should be closed.

Tower III and IV should be demolished

Construction work of Tower III and IV has encroached on the waterbody and also been developed by filling it up.

Two IAS officers, Asim Burman (ex-secy, Dept of Environment), Shyamal Sarkar (ex-member secretary, WBPCB) and two chief engineers of WBPCB were held responsible for giving permission to fill up the waterbody.

Bikramgarh Jheel should be restored to its previous state

The committee annexed 30 photographs to show how the flouting of environmental norms has been sustained. The report was simply ignored by all executing authorities including WBPCB.

The West Bengal chief secretary formed another committee, probably to greenwash the developers’ lobby. The committee has representations from the Department of Environment, Department of Fisheries and KMC. After a period of prolonged silence the committee has admitted the obvious, — that South City Projects has filled up Bikramgarh Jheel illegally — and is probably now busy finding a new escape route for the developers.

Environment, anyone?

People who govern Kolkata are interested in protecting its environment only on select occasions. There are instances when the judiciary, West Bengal government and the KMC and even some “environmental” organisations became unusually active to destroy the homes of several thousands of poor people to save the environment of Rabindra Sarobar. The homes of the poor along the canals of Kolkata were bulldozed to beautify the city.

What then prevents the illegal construction of South City from being demolished? As long as Kolkata’s concerned people organise nature shows in city auditoriums but never work actively towards saving the environment from the rich and powerful, bringing down the towers of violation would remain an absurd dream.

Fast filling up

5 June 2002 – Local clubs and Vasundhara organise World Environment Day and start a campaign for saving Bikrangarh Jheel (BJ)
25 March 2003 – KMC takes over BJ for restoration
27 July 2003 – A workshop by Vasundhara and Centre for Urban Economic Studies, Calcutta University and Udayan club for wise renovation of BJ
7 November 2003 – South City Projects gets clearance to start work
16 February 2005 – Deputy director of fisheries notify filling up of the waterbody
2 January 2006 – Vasundhara sends a report and a set of photographs about filling up of BJ to different government departments.
24 January & 17 February 2006 – WBPCB conducts hearings on the issue
8 March 2005 – WBPCB engineers visit the site and report about filling up of the waterbody
29 March 2005 – Fisheries department and KMC inform about the filling up of BJ in the hearing
5 April 2006 – An independent committee headed by PN Roy is constituted by WBPCB
11 April 2006 – Committee meets environmental organisations
18 May 2006 – Committee submits report recommending stopping of all work in South City and restoration of BJ
July 2006 – Chief secretary forms another committee
August 2006 – This committee also finds illegal filling up of BJ
At present – South City continues construction and other work. Inspired by South City and the government’s silence, other small-scale encroachers are filling up BJ fast.


Older article: July 2006: 6 workers killed due to negligence: South City construction - Rediff report

Sanjay Rastogi*, a chartered accountant, had booked a 2,000 sq ft flat in Tower I of South City, the mega housing project on Prince Anwar Shah Road in south Kolkata, two years ago. It was then the most sought-after address in town, and Rastogi considered himself quite fortunate.
Some of the best-known players in the business - Emami, Shrachi, Merlin, Rameswara and Sureka - had come together to develop the 31.5 acre mini-township, the “largest mixed-use development in the east” with around 1,600 apartments spread over four of the tallest towers in the city. The township had plans to include a school, a club, mall, a dedicated sub-station and many other facilities for the residents.

But not long after he booked the flat, the project began to make newspaper headlines for all the wrong reasons. It started last year with a local environment body complaining to the West Bengal Pollution Control Board that buildings nearby had developed cracks.

Again in January 2006 it was alleged that the project had encroached upon Bikramgarh Jheel bordering the site. Government departments got cracking - the civic building department imposed a stop-work and the WBPCB decreed that no flats could be handed over until the matter was cleared up.

More controversies followed with the WBPCB being pulled up by the Union environment ministry, having apparently allowed work to start without the mandatory Environment Impact Assessment.

The matter is in the courts now, where a public interest litigation filed by the Trinamool Congress’s Javed Khan is being heard. To add to the swell of bad publicity, newspapers early this month reported that a labourer had fallen to his death on the site. This was the sixth death reported and concerned authorities had begun frowning at the callousness of the builders.

But has the negative banter affected residents like Rastogi? Though some investors may be concerned about the outcome, surprisingly there are some who aren’t too worried especially as construction at the site is on full swing.

In fact, Rastogi says, he’s even had a few inquiries from agents offering him the current market price of Rs 2,600/sq ft, and while that is a good Rs 800 more than what he paid, Rastogi is still holding on.

“So many big people are involved, so much is at stake”, he says, pragmatically, adding, “I find it difficult to believe that they would not be able to work out some compromise formula with the authorities.”

A number of well-heeled people in Kolkata who have bought apartments in the project feel the same way. Despite all the negative publicity, all but 150 flats have been sold.

DJ Chakraborty, marketing manager of the project, reports that nearly two-three bookings happen on a daily basis. Of course, he has to heed the calls of people who are concerned about the controversy surrounding the site. In such cases, people are encouraged to visit the project site and see the construction for themselves.

Towers one and two are already towering 32-storeys into the sky, while towers three and four (incidentally, a WBPCB committee report had wanted these demolished) are under full construction.

South City is, of course, not the only high-profile residential project that is controversial as far as environmental matters are concerned.

Two others, Sanjeevani Projects’ Sanjeeva Town and the Ideal Group’s Green Valley Towers, have also been hauled up for encroaching on the East Calcutta Wetlands, declared a Ramsar site. Bookings on these projects were well underway even as court orders decreed they be demolished.

The WBPCB, in its submission to the courts, said that the developers had not got an NOC from it before starting work. That’s not all, environment activists led by Bonani Kakkar of People United for Better Living in Calcutta have alleged that the law forbidding the filling-up of ponds has been violated by Metro Cash & Carry, a favourite project of the chief minister’s, in the construction of its centre in Mukundapur.

A number of other projects that are nearing completion also had similar allegations levelled against them. The Silver Springs project, one of the first high-profile housing developments to come up on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass in 2003, ran into trouble with the WBPCB for allegedly filling up a water-body in the area.

But the project’s almost ready, the towers are in place, the model flat is ready and those who have booked flats are happily checking out colours of the walls, size of the bathrooms and deciding on the furniture too.

Concerns for the environment surrounding these housing projects, it seems, is only for the environmentalists and doesn’t seem to have too much effect on the increasing number of buyers. There’s obviously a raging demand for these housing projects and even if most of them are shrouded in controversies and court orders, who cares.


What you can do

Call up South City from anywhere in the world, or write them an email. Let them know that you do not agree with their illegal methods of coercion. Boycott them and spread the word. Speak up for Sambhu Singh.

Tel: +91 33 4001 2600/39/40/41
Fax: +91 33 4001 2621