Sunday, February 15, 2009

Urban beautification: 5000 Dalits to be evicted from century-old community in Belgachhia, Howrah

MASUM report: letter to the Supreme Court

At about 3.00 p.m., January 13, we got the news that more than 5000 people were going to be evicted near Belgachia Bhagar (Howrah Municipal Dumping Ground) under police station Liluah, District-Howrah, West Bengal.

This eviction drive was going to take place by an order passed by the Hon’ble Court. We immediately proceeded to the place and found that people residing there were aggrieved by the decision.

They informed us that their predecessors had been staying in that area for more than 100 years.

They also claimed to possess valid and legal documents of proof of their Indian citizenship as well as residence.

Thousands of the people who were going to be evicted had not been served any prior notice of eviction except one announcement that was made two days earlier by microphone.

The civil administration is tight-lipped over the forthcoming eviction drive. We have tried to contact the Office of District Magistrate, Howrah, Superintendent of Police, Howrah and the Officer-in-Charge of Liluah Police Station but nobody is willing to impart further information or the proposed time of eviction.

We have come to know from a reliable source that the Writ petition was filed by one Mr. Subhas Dutta, and in connection with W.P. No. 15206 (W) of 2002 case, the court passed that impugned order after hearing the matter for last 6 years.

According to our fact-finding report, at least 5 Hindu temples, and 3 government aided non-formal education centers for poor and under privileged children, out of which one NCLP (National Child Labour Project) school where the District Magistrate happens to be the Chairman of the said Project are going to be demolished. At least 6 sources of potable water, provided by the Howrah Municipal Corporation, stand to be destroyed.

Needless to say, no one can be evicted from his possession without due process of law and the person to be evicted must be given a reasonable opportunity of fair hearing in the proceeding (ad-alterem pertem). But in this case where the question of rights to livelihood and residence are involved, these 5000 people were not even made a party in the said litigation. Neither the government nor the court felt it necessary.

Families with children who are going to be evicted with the sanction of the law this winter season are thus left to their fate. Perhaps only because they are all Dalit people, manual scavengers and poor.

Previous experience

A previous eviction drive was carried out on 2.2.2003 at Belilious Park, Howrah where around 7,000 people were evicted who were also Dalits, manual scavengers and poor. The said eviction was also done under the sanction of law through an order passed by the Calcutta High Court, presided by the then Chief Justice. And now we see that one multi storied building was erected there facilitating multinational companies to earn profit.

Neither the court concerned nor the government and municipal administration arranged for rehabilitation. It is our hard earned experience as an organisation that certain profit-earning sections are hell-bent on grabbing land in several parts of Howrah/West Bengal under guises of beautification, pollution free area, development, etc. and to make these lands into profit earning machine.

We strongly oppose this type of justice delivery system which violates basic principles of natural justice, which violates Article 21 of our Constitution, which allows real estate businessmen, the land mafia, sections of politicians and some corrupt government employees to make their fortune over dead bodies.

We still convey our faith in our Constitution, judicial system, United Nations’ Conventions and declarations and for those reasons we appeal to your conscience to postpone the process of eviction for few days and in between that time we cordially pray before you to have a fair hearing making a party of those 5000 people or their representatives and us to save the judiciary from a great wrong doing.


Report from AsiaNews

More than 5,000 Dalits and poor people forced from Howrah’s slums

by Nirmala Carvalho

Residents lived in the shanty town for five generations, surviving by scavenging recyclable materials from a local dump and taking odd jobs. Now a court has decided to clear the area without giving them a hearing. A human rights group slams the decision.

More than 5,000 people, mostly Dalits, were forced from their shacks in Belgachia Bhagar, an area in the city of Howrah, West Bengal, where they have lived for nearly a century. In fact entire families inhabited the area for five generations.

Most residents have odd jobs; about 80 per cent scavenge in the nearby municipal dump salvaging recyclable materials (pictured); others are rickshaw drivers; some are daily labourers. But since 2002 a court order to evacuate the area has been hanging over their heads, until yesterday that is, when they were told that they had to move today.

Kirity Roy, secretary of the human rights group Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), appeared before the High Court today along with a number of forcibly removed women in order to get an injunction to suspend the evacuation order. “But the hearing was set for this Friday, when the whole settlement will have been raised to the ground,” he said.

The settlement is “illegal” according to Khalil Ahmed, a Howrah magistrate. “We asked the squatters to vacate the area. If they do not do it, we shall have to use force. The district administration will film tomorrow’s operations to see who tries to obstruct the action.”

“This way more than 5,000 people will be made homeless; the bulldozers will demolish their homes,” Kirity Roy told AsiaNews. “It’s a gross violation of the fundamental rights of the most neglected among our citizens.”

“These people have been here for a century,” he explained. “They are Indian citizens with regular papers; some 650 families in all, but the all got the eviction notice just two days ago through a loud speaker. No one informed them beforehand” of the court decision. and this despite the fact that “the case has been pending for six years, since 2002.”

For the human rights activist “no one can be forced out of the house he owns without a hearing, but these 5,000 people were not even considered a party to the court case. They are Dalits and poor and are forced out in wintertime to an uncertain future . . . . No one is saying where they can go.”

The authorities have said that public facilities will be built on the vacated land, but Kirity is bitter.

“On 3 February 2003, 7,000 people were forced from Belilious Park, also in Howrah, all of them Dalits and poor, by order of the Kolkata High Court. Now there is a building where the shanty town used to be, with many stores. A multinational corporation made a buddle from the deal.”