Gujarat govt’s resettlement policy while implementing Sabarmati riverfront project intensified conflict among slum dwellers

Common plot at the resettlement site in Amit Mill area
Common plot at the resettlement site in Amit Mill area

A recent working paper, “City Profile: Ahmedabad”, by three scholars form the Centre for Urban Equity (CUE), CEPT University, Ahmedabad, Darshini Mahadevia, Renu Desai and Suchita Vyas, identifies an important subjected neglected by policy makers and experts – that conflicts and violence in contemporary Ahmedabad are linked to the city’s urban planning, policies and governance. A glaring example of this is the way in which over 15,000 families were resettled in Basic Services to Urban Poor (BSUP) housing sites following their displacement from various parts of the city under projects, especially the Sabarmati Riverfront project. Excerpts:

In the 2000s, the Ahmedabad Muncipal Corporation (AMC) initiated several urban development projects in Ahmedabad, many of which overlapped with spaces inhabited by the urban poor and low-income groups. When AMC began implementation on these projects, it did not have a resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) policy. The riverfront dwellers affected by the Sabarmati Riverfront project approached the Gujarat High Court with support from some concerned citizens and NGOs. A PIL was filed by them through Girish Patel, a wellknown lawyer and human rights activist. The court gave a stay order on evictions, asking AMC to submit an R&R policy to the court, which AMC did three years later.

This R&R policy was minimal and ambiguous, and given the AMC’s politics around riverfront development, the resettlement process that unfolded under this policy was deeply problematic. The R&R policy was implemented in haste in spite of forming an R&R monitoring committee, which resulted in wrongful inclusions and wrongful exclusions. In many cases, slum residents found it difficult to prove their eligibility, having lost important documents in the river’s floods or during communal riots. Many were not able to submit proof documents since neither ration-cards nor election cards had been issued by government authorities since 2007. Many were harassed due to incorrect spelling of their names in the surveys and insufficient proof documents.

When the resettlement process began, it was based on a 2002 cut-off date, which was later extended to 2007, and finally to 2011; these extensions happened through contentious processes involving forcible demolitions by AMC in the midst of the resettlement process and court orders following this.

Following its forcible demolitions on the riverfront, AMC asked the evictees to shift to a locality called Ganeshnagar on the city’s outskirts, near its rubbish dump, however, the location and conditions there led many to treat it as a part-time home at best. Many evictees were therefore forced to scatter across the city through their own coping mechanisms. This also made it even more difficult to ensure their inclusion in resettlement. The local leaders, who were part of the PIL process, were coopted by the AMC as the resettlement process unfolded and they turned into brokers. Narratives abound about these leaders having taken money to include people’s names on the last survey list that the court asked them to prepare. The resettlement also did not include any rehabilitation measures to speak of.

It was through such processes that by 2012, about 11,000 families from the riverfront had been resettled across approximately 20 different sites built under BSUP. Different groups of slum dwellers displaced from along the BRTS corridors also approached the Gujarat High Court with PILs through Mukul Sinha, another well-known lawyer and human-rights activist. Through the court process, they were first shifted to Ganeshnagar, where many of them lived for 3-4 years while many others treated as a parttime home, before being resettled at the housing sites built under BSUP. In fact, Ganeshnagar emerged as a dumping site for the urban poor displaced by different development projects in Ahmedbad. It continues to be so and the condition of services and amenities were, and continue to be, dismal. Many slum dwellers have remained at Ganeshnagar, endlessly making efforts, or simply waiting, to be considered eligible for BSUP housing.

The resettled families have been given pucca houses of 28 sq metres built-up area comprising of two rooms and a kitchen. Many from the riverfront are happy that they got pucca houses as earlier their houses along the river got flooded during the monsoons. However, there are others, from the riverfront as well as other areas of the city, who had pucca houses in their earlier localities, which were larger than the BSUP units and were also conveniently located in areas where they had their livelihoods and investments in social capital. The latter types of families are less satisfied with the BSUP houses and some even feel bitter that they lost the houses they had built along with their social networks.

Moreover, with the resettlement sites being far from their original localities, the majority of the resettled families have experienced negative impacts on their livelihood. Many are therefore resentful and question the advantage of having a pucca house when resettlement has led to a greater struggle around earning their livelihood. Most of the families, before resettlement, were earning their livelihood in the informal sector, often within walking/ cycling distances of their home. Majority of women worked as domestic maids, street vendors or were engaged in home-based work such as kite-making and stitching garments, while majority of men were engaged in daily-wage labour, low-wage regular work (for instance, in small shops and workshops) and street vending.

The resettlement had profound impacts on their livelihood due to the distance of the resettlement sites. The average distance of the resettlement sites from the central city area is seven kilometres. Some of the sites like Vatwa and Odhav (which comprise of almost one-third of the BSUP houses built by AMC) are more than 12 kilometres from the central city area. After resettlement, travel distances, travel time, and travel costs have increased tremendously, the latter cutting into their savings. For some, the increased travel costs left so little to save that it simply did not make sense to continue work.

Home-based workers faced difficulties in obtaining work; domestic maids found it increasingly difficult to manage work and their own home; street vendors were unable to walk with their handcarts to the markets where they bought/ sold their goods. With many resettlement sites located in areas with poor provision of health and education, and their ration-cards not yet transferred to the new locations, many have to go to the central city area to access these, also leading to increased expenditures on travel.

Many of the resettlement sites do not have adequate water, drainage and solid waste management. Most of the sites have been provided with bore-wells, including for drinking water. This water is not potable and there are widespread complaints about the hardness of the water and its effects on health. Some of the residents fetch water from public standposts outside the settlement. Very few have been able to afford installing domestic water filtration units in their flat. Although there is supposed to be running water in each flat, low water pressure and pipe leakages intermittently leads to many having to obtain water from other flats or other buildings. Without proper running water, domestic sanitation, including upkeep of the toilets provided in each flat, also becomes difficult. Sanitation is also poor in the streets and open spaces due to irregular municipal services to clean the drains, collect garbage and sweep the area as well as indiscriminate littering by some residents.

Most residents contribute money towards getting the drains cleaned by an informal sanitation worker. At the resettlement sites, physical infrastructure for an anganwadi (which refers to a government-sponsored childcare and mother-care centre in India) and a primary health centre has been built, but at most sites they are not functioning and the buildings are lying vacant and have been vandalized. As a result of the distance of the sites from workplaces and many sites located in less developed areas of the city, some families have left after either illegally selling their houses or renting them out.

Since the resettlement split residents of many of the demolished slums across different sites, and, moreover, randomly resettled them with residents from other demolished slums, this has had profound effects on social networks and social cohesion. Many residents contrast the strong social bonds they had with their neighbours in their earlier localities to the lack of trust amongst residents at the resettlement sites. Some point to the effects of this on addressing issues that need cooperation between residents. Residents often blame particular communities for poor sanitation, for running illegal liquor dens, and for picking fights.

Wage seepage from a drainage pipe at Ajit Mill resettlement site
Wage seepage from a drainage pipe at Ajit Mill resettlement site

While the resettlement process segregated Hindus and Muslims into different sites, there is one site in Vatwa where the religious communities have been resettled together. An adjoining site has been resettled with only Muslims. The former is referred to as Hindustan and the latter as Pakistan by the residents, some of whom blame the other religious community for the high crime and violence in and around the localities. Residents are also facing hostility from surrounding localities at some of the resettlement sites. At the resettlement site built on the former Vivekanand Mill land, local youth from the surrounding working-class localities harass the resettled residents by intimidating them and forcefully using the open spaces of the site. A group of the women also complained to the police about this harassment. At another resettlement site, this one located in Vatwa, there has been a violent clash between a group of young men from the site and some residents of a nearby squatter settlement.

A number of the sites have seen frequent thefts and burglaries, and there is a sense of lack of safety amongst many women. Illegal liquor dens and gambling dens have come up at many of the sites, in the open public spaces or the unused anganwadi and health centre buildings or the vacant flats not yet allotted by the AMC. In the largest resettlement site, comprising of almost 2,500 flats, there are also reports of prostitution in some of the vacant flats, with girls being brought in from cities like Mumbai. Some residents argue that while there were illegal liquor dens in many of their previous localities as well, and this used to create a troublesome environment and had a bad influence on their children, many residents feel that at the resettlement sites the environment has become much worse. The point of view differs depending on the specific locality that a resident lived in earlier and the particular resettlement site they have shifted to.

AMC envisions that the management and maintenance of basic services at the resettlement sites would be handed over to cooperative housing societies formed at each site. It has also engaged two NGOs, the Mahila Housing Trust (MHT) and SAATH to form these societies. This involves forming a committee of core members, getting the society registered, opening a bank account for it and collecting money from each member-resident to deposit in this account, following which AMC would hand over the sites to these societies. Both NGOs are facing enormous difficulties in this process at every stage. At most sites, core committees have been formed but the remaining member-residents refuse to contribute money.

Residents cite the reason as lack of support from the NGO in addressing any of the problems they face, be it water, sanitation or any other. The poor socio-economic conditions of the majority of residents and the social disruption that has occurred through resettlement are other reasons that prevent the formation of the society.

Below we briefly identify several potential points of conflict and violence at these sites:

  • The first are conflicts and violence arising out of the challenges to livelihood that many residents face at these sites.
  • The second are conflicts arising between residents (or groups of residents) over basic services or between residents and those who informally manage these services at the sites. Some of these conflicts appear to be arising as a result of inadequate resources and services as well as the social disruption caused by resettlement.
  • A third point of conflict is around the formation of the residents’ cooperative housing societies. This appears to be linked to the social disruption caused by the nature of resettlement and resulting lack of trust between residents.
  • A fourth point of conflict is around the flats which some people want to sell and over the unallotted flats. Middlemen and musclemen are often involved in the processes of sale/purchase of flats as well as in illegally opening up vacant unallocated flats and giving these out on rent and/or protecting those who have illegally occupied such flats.
  • Conflicts and violence arising as a result of gangs and musclemen engaged in various activities such as liquor sale/consumption, gambling, drugs and prostitution, is a fifth point of conflict and violence. Not just open public spaces, but also vacant unallotted flats and the unused anganwadi and health centre buildings have been taken over for these activities at some sites.
  • Crimes such as burglaries, thefts and even stabbings have been reported at some of the sites, and they form a sixth vector of conflict and violence.
  • Conflicts between residents and surrounding host communities are the seventh point of conflict. Such conflicts appear to be occurring on different issues at different resettlement sites and the links to planning, policies and governance would have to be explored. Women and girls are amongst the most marginalized group and the above mentioned conflicts often involve or result in violence against women in public spaces in and around the sites.

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