"It's a nightmare when it rains", says 50-year-old Krishnaveni, " Every year we dread the arrival of the monsoons". Hers is one of more than 1500 families living in the low income neighbourhood (‘slum' in common usage) which has come to replace the quarters built for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) at Ejipura.
Krishnaveni. Pic: V Sriram
Krishnaveni and her husband moved into Block 13 of these Ejipura quarters around ten years ago. Barely three years later, on November 10, 2003, this block collapsed. They then moved into one of the tin sheds, meant as "temporary accommodation", put by the then BMP (Bangalore Mahanagara Palike). It's been seven years since but Krishnaveni, now a widow, is still living in the same tin shed. The only difference is that the roof of her tin house now has gaping hole in it. So when it rains, it pours.
"We have to sit up all night to empty out the water just to prevent the house from getting flooded", says 56-year-old Vijayalakshmi resident of another tin house with a leaky roof. "When the winds are strong, they blow these tin roofs away", she says.
A roof with a hole. Pic: V Sriram
"The roof leaks when it rains, it gets very cold in the winter and in the summer it becomes unbearably hot", says another resident, 52-year-old Suresh Babu. Babu, a painter by profession, says another major concern is security. "Someone always has to be around. The doors are so flimsy that if we leave the house even for a couple of hours, people will break in and empty it", he says.
According to Arun of Ejipura's Samatha Sanik Dal, a youth association based in the slum, the power supply is intermittent at best and sometimes there is none at all, "Recently there was no electricity for days together. Only after we protested did we get power". He says the sewerage system at the slum is also rudimentary. "Only the drain on the main road is built properly. The rest of the drains are so shallow that even if there is a light rain, the chambers get filled and the houses get flooded".
Arun of Ejipura’s Samatha Sanik Dal. Pic: V Sriram
Ejipura now is a sea of tin sheds adorned by clothesline and dish antennae. At every corner there is piled up garbage and stagnant water. The girls are seen emptying overflowing sewerage chambers or carrying water home from the two water tanks in the slum, while the boys play in the rubbish. "Disease like Chikungunya and Malaria are rampant during the monsoon, especially amongst the children", says Babu. But this was not how it was meant to be.
Disaster in the name of housing
In 1991 the BMP completed the construction of 1,512 houses for the economically weaker sections on a 13-acre ( its estimated to be between 13-15 acres but a physical survey of the land is yet to be done ) plot, in Ejipura near Koramangala. The quarters consisted of 42 blocks with 32 houses in each of them.
X Luvies, President of the the Ambedkar Youth Association in Ejipura, alleges that these houses, meant to be allotted to the poor, were instead given to people who bribed BMP officials. "As soon as they got the houses, they rented them out to people who were actually in need of them", he says. According to him only 174 of the original allottees still live in Ejipura. The tenants had to pay an initial deposit of Rs 5000 and a rent of Rs 500 every month. This arrangement continued more or less harmoniously till November 10th, 2003 when Block 13 collapsed.
X Luvies, President of the the Ambedkar Youth Association in Ejipura. President of the the Ambedkar Youth Association in Ejipura. Pic: V Sriram
The collapse of Block 13 came as no surprise to anyone, considering the poor quality of construction. Within a few years of the quarters being built, Torsteel Research Foundation, a Bangalore-based test lab, commissioned by the BMP, had recommended reinforcing the buildings. The BMP chose to do nothing about these recommendations.
After the collapse on November 10, Torsteel in its preliminary report recommended the immediate demolition of 20 blocks along with repairs to the remaining 21 blocks. The then Chief Minister S M Krishna who visited Ejipura on November 20, directed the BMP to demolish all the buildings and reconstruct.
But the BMP claimed that it did not have enough funds to carry out the reconstruction and instead suggested that the project be taken up on a public-private partnership (PPP) model. Tenders for the same were called for in October 2004. After considering all the tenders the consultants, Bangalore based Infrastructure Development Corporation (Karnataka) IDeCK recommended Akruti Nirman, a Bombay based builder as the preferred PPP partner.
In May 2006, the BMP claimed that there are some discrepancies in the bid presented by Akruti's bid and recommended that the contract be given to the second highest bidder, Maverick Holdings and Investment Private Limited, Bangalore. On October 31st 2006, at the last meeting of the council before its dissolution, the BMP council passed a resolution proposing to give the project to Maverick.
Battle in the courts, as people wait
On November 15, 2006, the losing bidder, Akruti Nirman Ltd (a Mumbai-based builder) filed a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court, against the BMP and Maverick Holdings. They alleged that the proposal to award the tender to Maverick was illegal and obtained a stay which lasted till June 2008. On May 29, 2008, the last day of Governor's rule, the Principle Secretary Urban Development Department sent a notice to the BBMP (BMP had become Bruhat-BMP by then) asking it show cause for passing October 31 resolution. When the BBMP failed to respond to the notice, the government cancelled the council's resolution on June 9th and the same was presented to the court.
The two contractors then approached the newly elected Yeddyurappa government asking them to resolve the issue. On September 18th 2008, the the cabinet decided to award the contract to Maverick Investments and a government order stating the same was issued on September 28. On November 4th, Akruti Nirman Ltd, now called Akruti City Ltd filed another writ petition challenging this decision, initiating another protracted legal battle which is yet to be resolved. Counsels for both parties, Maverick and Akruti made their final arguments on March 12, 2010 and are now awaiting verdict.
The Ejipura timeline
1991: Completion of EWS quarters which was started in 1987
November 10, 2003: Block 13 collapses. Government decides to demolish all the buildings.
October 2004: BBMP floats tenders for the reconstruction of the EWS quarters.
February 2006: Infrastructure Development Corporation (Karnataka) IDeCK recommends Akruti Nirman as the preferred PPP partner.
May 2006: The BBMP claims that there are some discrepancies in Akruti's bid and it identifies Maverick, the second highest bidder, as the PPP partner
Ocotober 2006: The BMP council passes a resolution proposing to award the contract to Maverick.
November 2006: Akruti files a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court challenging the council's proposal to award the contract and obtains a stay against construction.
The stay remains till 29th May 2008.
July 2007 an 18 month old baby and Perumal a 40 year old man are killed and 3 others are injured when another block collapses
August 10, 2007: Siddique dies of contact with live wire in a demolished building
November 9, 2007: Block 34 collapses killing 11 year old Xavier and 15 year old Gabriel and injuring 5 others.
May 29, 2008: Governor through the Principle Secretary UDD sends a notice to the BBMP to show cause for passing October 2006 resolution.
June 9, 2008: As there is no response for the BBMP, the resolution is cancelled.
September 26, 2008: The state government issues a government order awarding the contract for construction to Maverick
November 6, 2008: Akruti Nirman, Now called Akruti City Ltd gets a stay on construction from the HC.
March 12, 2010: Both parties make their concluding arguments to HC and are awaiting the Judgement.
Residents cling on to papers
While the litigation on who would get their hands on this prime piece of real estate raged on in the courts, tragedy struck residents of the EWS quarters. In July 2007, another block collapsed, killing an 18-month-old baby and 40-year-old Perumal .and injuring three others. Palike officials claimed that people had been asked to evacuate the building but had refused to do so. On August 10th the same year, another child Siddique who went to play in one of the demolished buildings came in contact with a live wire and died. Barely three months later, on November 9th 2007 on the day of Diwali, Block 34 also collapsed, killing 11-year-old Xavier and 15-year-old Gabriel and injuring five others.
Life in between tin sheets. Pic: V Sriram
Since then all the 42 blocks have been demolished and the 1512 families have all been living in temporary tin sheds. Residents were fearful that the original allottees would return to lay claim to the new houses promised to them. To allay these fears, in June 2007 , the Kumaraswamy government issued Identification Papers to all the residents, irrespective of them being tenants or allottees.
As they await the court's verdict, residents are holding on to these papers and a hope that someday this uncertainty will end and they'll have a home of brick and mortar. "In this fight between these two contractors, it's we the poor, who are suffering", says Arun "We don't care who gets the contract as long as we get a decent place to live in" he says.
Mayor S K Natraj, Uday Garudachar of Maverick and Hemanth Gulati of Akruti City Ltd, when contacted declined to go on record as the matter is subjudice. ⊕