A BBMP demolition drive that began on Friday January 18th at Ejipura's EWS slum quarters, near Koramangala in south Bengaluru has driven up tensions and trauma. Around 200 people protested at BBMP head office on Saturday morning. The protesters included around 25 EWS quarters residents, along with residents from slums across the city who came to pledge support, most of them women. Around 30 Dalit organisations supported the protest. The quarters are a ramshackle bunch of tin-sheds.
Demolition of a building. Pic: Navya P K
Yasmeen, 49, with her 4-year-old son, waiting outside their house with their belongings. Pic: Navya P K
When residents protested against demolition, the police forced them to retreat. Pic: Navya P K
Many police personnel were deployed at the site to suppress the protests. Pic: Navya P K
While demolition was going on, Maverick gave compensation to the original allottees of the new flats to be built here soon. (Seen submitting documents). Pic: Navya P K
A mother and her daughter waiting outside their house with all their belongings. Pic: Navya P K
A demolished house. Pic: Navya P K
On Saturday noon, five activists from among the protesters met BBMP Commissioner H Siddaiah. The activists say that Siddaiah gave them a verbal assurance that demolition would be stopped temporarily, for about two months. "We asked for two months because children in the slums have to complete their annual exams," said one of the activists, Rajendra Prabhakar. The activists claim that Siddaiah called BBMP Engineer-in-Chief B T Ramesh right in front of them, and had ordered him to stop the demolition. No written order was issued though.
The protesters went back to Ejipura, only to find that demolition was continuing. Ramesh, who is monitoring demolition in the site, told Citizen Matters that demolition cannot be stopped without a written order. At the time this article was published, the activists had gone back to the BBMP office to get the written order, but Siddaiah was not available in his office. Meanwhile, demolition is continuing in the slum in full swing.
Protests had intensified in the morning at BBMP office, after police action and violence escalated further at the EWS colony. On Saturday morning at around 8.30, women and children were detained when they sat on the road leading into the EWS quarters, to prevent demolition. Two activists who were leading the protest - Kaveri Indira and Gee Ameena Suleiman - were dragged into the police van. After this, other women who were protesting, courted arrest.
While police said that only around 25 were detained, residents and activists said that some 50, including children, were taken. Officers at Banashankari women's police station, where the women were taken, refused to give information.
BBMP Engineer-in-Chief B T Ramesh said that 500 houses were demolished on Friday, and that the rest may be demolished on Saturday. Overall, 900 families are going to be out on the streets.
Updated 20th January: Of the protesters detained Saturday, 21 have been remanded in judicial custody. This includes two activists, Kaveri Indira and Gee Amina Suleiman, and 19 women residents of EWS quarters. Babu Rajendra Prasad, ACP Bangalore South, confirmed this. All 21 are in Parappana Agrahara Central Jail now.
Tensions began earlier in the week
Earlier, January 18th, Friday morning started with a shock for residents of the slum. On Thursday, local MLA N A Haris had come to the quarters and announced that all houses were going to be razed down. He had said that the residents have only 48 hours ie., by Saturday morning they should vacate.
But bulldozers came to the quarters without warning, on Friday morning. When residents resisted, they were beaten by the police. Seven residents - five women and two men - were detained and sent away in a police van. They were released in the evening only.
Over 1000 families staying here have to make way for a EWS quarters and a mall to be jointly developed by BBMP and Maverick Holdings (which owns Garuda mall near Brigade Road). Of the 15 acres of land here, almost one half is reserved for EWS flats, and the other half will have a mall. While some residents are legally qualified to get flats in the new EWS quarters, 900 families are going to be out on the streets.
At least a hundred policemen were in the area on Friday morning, chasing hundreds of men and women who dared to resist. While buildings were being demolished, police wielded their lathis and forced residents to retreat to a corner.
Initially residents were told that only the houses of those who had willingly vacated, would be demolished immediately. But in some cases, the families were asked to collect their belongings and move out quickly while their houses were being pulled down. B T Ramesh, BBMP Engineer-in-Chief, told Citizen Matters that "such things could happen in one or two cases".
By Friday noon, all residents were told to collect their belongings and sit outside their houses. BBMP and the police told Citizen Matters that the demolition will continue until the entire area is vacated, and that no extra time will be given to residents.
Residents' main concern is that they have nowhere to go in such a short time. They have been promised houses in Sulekunte village along Sarjapur Road. Sulekunte village is outside city limits, in the southeastern outskirts of Bengaluru, some 15 kms away from EWS quarters. The long distance means that residents would have to spend a lot for their commute to the city daily, for work. Karnataka Slum Development Board (KSDB) is supposed to build apartments for the 900 families in a 5-acre plot there.
B T Ramesh says that the Sulekunte project will be ready in the next one and a half years only, and that until then residents will have to stay somewhere else on rent. But residents earn too little, and finding a house for rent means that they would have to shell out Rs 4000-5000 as monthly rent, and around Rs 50,000 as advance payment.
Most families here earn about Rs 150-200 per day, and there are at least four members in most families. For them, the monthly rent would be almost equal to or higher than their earnings, and there is no way they can pay the advance amounts. Currently some residents are not paying any rent, while others are paying Rs 1000-1500 as rent to original house owners.
Moreover, residents say they are not sure if the Sulikunte project even exists. They have no details about it, and are skeptical that the project would be completed in stipulated time even if it is taken up. But now that there is no option, many are ready to take the offer. "There is no place to go, and I don't know what to do. If I don't agree to go to Sulikunte, I may not get any housing at all," says Yasmeen, 49. Until recently, most residents had resolved not to vacate. Many are not so sure anymore.
Residents' case in court
To readers unfamiiar with the Ejipura EWS saga, all this talk of quarters, residents and the new Maverick Holdings' project may seem confusing. It all began with the promise of new housing in 2004 to the original residents here (allottees). Construction of that new housing is about to begin now.
There are two categories of people in the present quarters - one, those who had originally bought the rights to the new quarters from BBMP, and second, those who paid original allottees to get power of attorney or are staying on rent. It is the second category of people who are being forcefully evicted now.
Some people in the first category - i.e., original allottees - had filed a case earlier in High Court. HC ruled last August that BBMP and Maverick should go ahead with the project and that only original allottees should be given the new flats. Court also ordered Maverick Holdings to pay Rs 30,000 to the original allottees still staying in the quarters, as compensation. Maverick has paid around 100 people already and says a 100 more may be paid.
This order did not recognise those who are staying on rent, and hence they have no rights on the land now. These residents have filed a case in High Court recently saying that their issues were not mentioned in the earlier case, and that they should also be given flats in the same area. Many of them had been staying here for long, some for over 15 years.
They point to BBMP Council's resolution in mid-2000s saying that both original allottees and other residents will be given new flats. BBMP had issued ‘guruthina chittis' (ID cards) to the non-allottees living here as proof of residence. Residents have been holding dharnas over the last few months, and have been trying to get a stay order on the eviction, through their case in the HC.
Rajendra Prabhakar of the activist group PUCL (People's Union for Civil Liberties) claims that BBMP's sudden action now, is because it has received notice from the court yesterday to appear on the residents' case. PUCL had helped residents file the case.
BBMP officials have tried to evict residents from this land many times, after court's earlier August order. This time, while Haris asked residents to move out on Thursday, Slum Board officials had brought biometric cards with them. These cards are given to those who have guruthina chittis. Non-owner residents can use the biometric card as proof, to get flats in Sulikunte later.
Coercion to collect cards
On Thursday, at the end of the day, only 41 residents out of 900 had collected their biometric cards from Slum Board. This is despite the ultimatum given to residents, that they will lose both their houses plus claim to the Sulikunte flat, if they do not collect the card.
The houses of those who had collected the card, were soon demolished. Most residents were worried about what to do, while BBMP officials seemed to inflate the numbers of those who had collected the cards.
While only 41 had collected the cards as per Slum Board's list, Ramesh told Citizen Matters that 100 had collected the cards and that their houses were demolished. When the discrepancy was pointed out, Ramesh gave another version, that the other 60 houses were demolished because they were vacant. G S Balaji, Maverick Holding's CFO for this project, who was at the site, gave another version - that all the demolished 100 houses belonged to original allottees who had vacated earlier.
Ramesh said that BBMP will contribute 10% of the cost of the Sulikunte project, and hence residents will not have to pay anything to the Slum Board, to get those flats. (10-12% of the cost is what residents usually have to pay Slum Board to get a house). Ramesh says that central government is also contributing to the project, and that the project is awaiting central government's approval now.
The biometric card drive is continuing. Residents say that they want more time at least, but are scared to speak to officials. "They are not giving us the opportunity to talk. We don't want to go and get beaten by the police. If I was given a week's time, I could have tried to find a house," says Babu, 46, an auto driver.
A few residents support eviction
There are a few residents supporting the eviction, who are supporters of MLA Haris. Ajmal Pasha, 30, a car driver, says that residents should have moved out much earlier. Pasha himself has moved out. "The activists here fooled the people saying that they can get back land through dharnas and the court case. Now it has come to this. The MLA fought so hard for us and got us the land in Sulikunte." He says that residents should have saved money instead of complaining that they have nowhere to go now.
Another supporter of Haris, named Riyaz, said that he already moved out to a house in Lakkasandra. Both Pasha and Riyaz have collected their biometric cards and plan to move to new flats in Sulikunte. However there seemed to be very few people like them, who could vacate as they were financially better off.
The fate of those who are being forced out, is a big question mark now.