By Tapan Bhattacharjee*
The Smart Cities flagship modernization programme of the Modi government is huge in its scale and vicious in the way it has acquired land for the development of cities. This programme aspires to transform nearly 100 cities in India into Smart Cities and has a huge budgetary allowance of Rs. 7,060 crores. The reality of this transformation is however destructive and dangerous for people of lower middle and middle income groups in the urban areas. Indore, one of the cities selected for this programme has been bearing witness to the violent way in which the State has been acquiring land for this programme during the last 2 months.
Residents of the Biyabani and Loharpatti areas in the old part of the Indore city; have borne the brunt of the reality of ‘Smart City’. In the last couple of months, the demolition of 100-150 year old houses in the aforementioned areas signifies the abolition of simple and self-reliant communities to make way for the plans to take effect under the Smart City programme. The demolition drive has however been forceful and is completely devoid of transparency and democratic processes. More than 100 families have been left homeless with their shops/livelihood also in jeopardy. More than 18 roads in Indore are set to undergo a transformation and await similar the similar fate of demolition.
Committed social workers Ashok Dube, Tapan and Bela Bhatia, SK Dube, Vijay Dalal, Pramod Bagnani and social activist Medha Patkar, today joined the Pad Yatra organized by the local Nagrik Seva Samiti and were led across the entire distance of the affected areas. The residents joined the Pad Yatra as well and narrated their horrific experiences with the local Municipal Corporation or Nagar Nigam. The residents stressed on the fact that the authorities used force to evict them and carry on with their demolition drive; often also employing ‘bouncers’ clad in the Corporation’s uniform to fulfill their objectives. A few of them were also subject to physical violence and assault in what is an unprecedented abuse of power and authority.
Durgashankar, a resident of the area witnessed his 65 year old house demolished along with his shop Bahaniya Arts; while another resident Kesarbai Rajendra Chauhan of Bhagat Singh Marg has lost 2 shops and his house. Shyamabai Rathod, a widow who has been living on her own is now rendered homeless while Kaliram Vaidya’s family after whom one of the roads in the area is named after did not find any relief, neither from the in-laws of the state’s ex-Chief Minister nor from Mr. Pandey an active BJP worker whose house has also been partly damaged. Many other residents have similarly witnessed the destruction of their 100 year old homes, shops and the emotions attached to these places.
Some of the residents approached higher authorities and also sought judicial recourse in response to the initial notification regarding the demolition only to find their pleas fall on deaf ears. In some cases, the Court issued a stay order on the demolition only for a period of 8 days while in other cases; it turned its back on the residents and directed them to the Corporation again! The BJP MLA from the area who is surprisingly also reported to be the Mayor Smt. Malini Gaur, whose proposed multi-storeyed construction site is also in the area has not only turned back on her poll promises to the residents but has also conveniently made sure that her project is affected only by an extension of the road by 4ft while residents’ properties opposite her mall site are earmarked to be completely demolished by an extension of 26 ft of the road. Gowtam Kumar Jain’s shop opposite Smt. Gaur’s proposed multi storeyed shopping and residential complex lies currently partly demolished and is set to be fully demolished in the coming months.
The area also suffers from an open sewer and drain problem. This sewer, the residents claim is at least 15 ft deep and in some places around 12 ft wide from the road to the homes. The authorities who exposed the open sewer during their demolition drive remain complacent to the potential dangers of it as a physical threat in addition to being the root cause of a malarial epidemic are being severely underestimated by the local authorities. The huge uncovered pits also run the risk of contaminating the water supply line in already difficult circumstances the residents find themselves in complicated also with the lack of running water facilities and the absence of taps in the area. Sharp objects and rubbles from the demolition drive lie unattended to heightening concerns over children safety in the area. The residents have taken it to themselves to form a Nagrik Seva Samiti and fight the authorities politically by organizing similar events such as the Pad Yatra and making vigorous demands for fair compensation on the basis of their rights.
This is indeed appalling and deserves quick national attention. The true nature of the transformation to Smart Cities has preliminarily shown that the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution is being restricted merely to big industrialist close to the Central Government while the promise of Acche Din still waits unfulfilled and in fact unattended to. It is pathetic that Mr. Modi is scheduled to visit the Ujjain Simhastha Mela while turning a blind eye to the plight of these residents in Indore. He has neither taken cognizance of these brutalities nor does his government (and affiliated BJP ruled state governments) seem concerned about the distorted vision of vikaas and paradigm of development which is jeopardizing the lives of people as well as causing significant environmental damage.
*Inputs by SK Dube, Ashok Dube, Mr Bagdi and Medha Patkar (National Alliance of People’s Movements).