Eviction of slum dwellers in Kolkata: Are Muslims being discriminated?

By Zaidul Haque, TwoCircles.net,

Kolkata: In the Muslim dominated Park Circus area, many slum dwellers are being evicted silently from their settlements near Number 4 Bridge in the city. However, questions are now being raises if they are being discriminated against by the state government because they belong to particular community.

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Eviction work has started near the Number 4 Bridge for the extension of a flyover from Science City to park Circus for over 4 km. Slum dwellers, most of whom are Muslims, have only been given Rs 12000 as compensation, ‘unofficially.’

4 No Bridge, Park Circus after eviction of slums on November 14, 2012.

However, few months back, when the government initiated eviction of a slum in Hindu dominated Nonadanga locality, only six kilometers from Park Circus, many social organisations had come forward to fight for compensation for the slum dwellers. The West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee and Urban Development Minister of the state Firhad Hakim had then announced that, State Government will take steps for rehabilitation and proper compensations.

Slum dwellers were allocated houses and flats under the Basic Services for the Urban Poor (BSUP) scheme and the Valmiki Ambedkar Awas Yojana (VAMBAY).

Those slum dwellers also got the support of political parties like CPIM, CPI, Forward Block, etc. besides social groups. However, everyone appears to be mute on the park Circus issue.

Few years ago, during the Left Government regime as well, when there were evictions in North Kolkata, slum dwellers were compensated and provided alternative flats.

TCN visited the place and talked to local residents and slum dwellers during the eviction. At least 1000 slum dwellers are living in the north side of the 4 No Bridge.

Many residents named Alam Bhai, apparently a local TMC leader, who asked them to co-operate for the betterment and developments of the city. TCN investigations found that few people were taking ‘consents’ from the dwellers for Rs 12,000. They were given veiled threat of facing slums being raised by bulldozers.

TCN tried to know the source of money for compensation, but it was not clear if it came from the government directly, as there appears to be no ‘official communication’ on the issue.

Some poor dwellers, however, appear ‘happy’ that they get Rs 12000 in cash and even thanked the local MLA and state minister Jawed Ahmed Khan for the money.

Unwilling to disclose his name, a police officer from nearby Topsia Police station told TCN that the slum dwellers have agreed to leave the place against Rs 12000.

Before the eviction of the slums at 4 No Bridge, Park Circus, Kolkata on 11th November, 2012

TCN talked to Local CPI councilor Farzana Chowdhury. She was not even aware of evictions. She added that no one came to seek her help and has no information about compensation. However, once informed by TCN, she now assures of all ‘possible’ help.

Most of the slum-dwellers, who ‘encroached’ near Number 4 Bridge are poor labourers, rickshaw pullers, rag pickers, etc, who fall below poverty line (BPL). Most of them came from neighbouring Bihar or Sundarbans area in the state and are living there for years, some for over twenty years.

Their children are studying in nearby primary schools or high schools and their terminal examinations are on. However, now midways they have to evict the place, with little government help or proper rehabilitation programmes.

Former Land and Land Reform Minister and veteran CPIM leader Abdur Rajjak Molla has just come back from Saudi Arabia after performing Hajj. He, however, told TCN that if slum dwellers, who are Muslims, are being discriminated it’s condemnable, and demanded that they too be rehabilitated like those from Nonadanga area.

TCN also talked to Ex Minister Hafiz Alam Sairani. He too pleaded ignorance on the subject.

Jamiat Ulama E Hind and AIUDF state leader Maulana Siddiqullah Chowdhury told TCN that their local workers will soon try to find out facts.

State Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim was silent on the eviction drive, but the project’s completion date will be pushed back by five months to November-December 2014.

In anxiety! On November 11, 2012. Many slum-dwellers were caught unaware, they were being evicted.

TCN talked to a slum dweller Noor Jahan Bibi, who is living for more than 20 years at the location. She said that they are poor and so cannot seek more compensation as they will then be forcibly evicted.

Slum dwellers say that they received no notice from the government. They are also afraid of local ‘party workers’ or local goons. While talking to TCN, Noor Jahan notices some young men and immediately changes her voice and says ‘she is happy to get Rs 12,000 compensation.’

Though it was necessary to extend the road over-bridge, the methods of evictions certainly raise questions, and hints at possible bias towards Muslims.