A new minority-dominated ghetto, which cropped up in Ahmedabad a result of the 2002 Gujarat riots, has taken shape in the state’s biggest city, which is laying claim for Unesco’s heritage tag. Ironically, the ghetto reflects sharp indifference on the part of government authorities towards people’s basic problems. Rafi Malek* describes how the ghetto is devoid of even the bare minimum facilities that should be provided to it:
The Bombay Hotel area, situated in Ahmedabad, is a big ghetto of marginalized Muslims of around 10,000 families. Most of the families came in after the 2002 communal violence, displaced from different parts of Ahmedabad city and suburbs. Some of the people who have been displaced due to urban development programmes also have moved to this area. Now it has become the second biggest ghetto of Muslims in Ahmedabad city – next only to Juhupura, which is not very far away.
The area is in the southern part of city surrounded by industrial manufacturing units, highly polluted. It is unfit for inhabitation. It is also just beside the waste dumping site of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC). The area is about a couple of kilometres away from the main road, with very limited modes of transport for the people living there. There are two private schools with poor infrastructure and under qualified teaching staff. The only government school is in Danilimda, three km away.
Electricity connections were provided recently, but the settlements in this area still do not have proper roads nor do they have drainage connections. In the monsoon it is very difficult to reach the interior colonies, and more than 30 per cent of the land remains water-logged throughout. Earlier it was a natural drain of eastern part of city, now the course of water is obstructed due to unplanned construction of private colonies, thus causing water logging.
The entire habitat occupies about 500 hectares of land with a population of 50,000. There are many small housing societies and private houses constructed without any planning. The AMC still does not have a plan for the holistic development of this area. The poor lower middle class families mainly displaced have been taking refuge in this area, unable to find any other area to live; and live in extremely inhuman conditions without any civic amenities or services.
A profile of the area suggests that about 95 per cent of the families are daily wage earners. Most of them have fallen prey to unscrupulous real estate operators and builders who exploit these families by giving poorly constructed houses to these families at daily instalments of Rs. 40 to Rs 100. There are only two Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) centres for the population of 50,000 people.
Situation of children
The approximate child population in the area is 10,000. Rate of drop out or pushed out children is approximately 50 per cent. The four private schools have only 500 children. About 35 per cent of the children go for various kinds of labour in the surrounding textile printing factories, oil barrel cleaning work, scrap industry, units manufacturing iron, garbage collection, rag picking and scrap sorting.
In Bombay Hotel area there are approximately 5,000 girl children and 5,000 boys who do not go to school. There are four private schools with no infrastructure and extremely low standards of education, with unqualified and lowly-paid teachers. There are a few children who attend these schools but the residents themselves have realized that it is not worth sending children to these schools. The only government school of the area converted into Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) bus depot and the school has been shifted on the bank of Chadola lake which is around two km from the interior part of Bombay Hotel area.
In Bombay Hotel area, even this facility is not there. In the absence of ICDS anganwadis in its colonies, the extent of malnourishment amongst children between 0-6 years of age is alarming. A casual observation of children in both localities reveals serious grades of malnourishment.
In Bombay Hotel area many houses have been given water connections from the local private bore well by the builders. People have to pay around Rs 125 to Rs 175 per month to get water. The supply is supposed to be for one hour a day. During the first 20 minutes dirty muddy and coloured water comes out, after which seemingly clean, usable water would start flowing. It is actually contaminated. Inadequate supply of potable water is one of the major causes of morbidity and infant mortality in these communities.
In Bombay Hotel area there are overflowing soak pits and stagnant open drains posing serious public health risks in terms of vector borne diseases and contamination of drinking water lines. The total neglect of the AMC is only too visible.
Without any pucca roads, Bombay Hotel area colonies get inundated during monsoon and become a veritable hell.
There are electricity connections only in some of the households. The down payment of Rs 6,000 that each household has to pay is unaffordable. Many who have got connections find them terminated now since they cannot afford the high tariffs that the private electricity company currently charges.
Public Distribution System (PDS)
Most of the families in the Bombay Hotel area have been deprived of the benefits of PDS. The fair price shops where they get their food rations are in their previous areas from where they were displaced; they have to go three to five km away to obtain their quota of grain. The children are sent to collect it from the ration shops. This also has been one of the main reasons why children are unable to go to school.
* Social activist with the Centre for Development, Ahmedabad