Protesting activists arrested as BBMP’s earthmovers get down to business on prime land

Heartrending scenes were witnessed as the excavators went to work. Every time their gigantic metal claws moved, they smashed homes, roofs, water tanks. Anything that came in the way.

In the aftermath, the now homeless Ejipura residents ventured out, salvaging what was left of their belongings, trying to pull out a mangled tin roof here, looking for anything else they could pick up there.

For the second day in a row, residents resisted, without much success, their ejection from Ejipura. They are not the original owners of the sheds but tenants who have moved here, most of them working, or finding work, nearby.

On Saturday, the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) resumed its demolition of the shanties at the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) Quarters with heavy police protection. This grim task was preceded by the arrest of around 25 residents and rights group activists. They included Kaveri Indira, a researcher from the Indian Institute of Science, and Gee Ameena Suleiman, a filmmaker. Both had joined the protest against the forced eviction and demolition, and tension prevailed when the police led them away.

The BBMP has entered into a joint development agreement with the Maverick Holding and Investment Pvt. Ltd. to construct multi-level residential complexes for the original 1,512 EWS allottees in around seven acres of the 15 acres and commercially exploit the remaining prime property by constructing a mall. Each acre here is worth Rs.10 crore to Rs.12 crore.

Power, water supply cut

The demolition, which was suspended for a few hours in the afternoon in view of the growing protests, resumed in the evening after the electricity and water connections were cut. It took just a few minutes for Samuel David, his wife Sumati and their four young children, all under 10, to find themselves without a roof over their heads. Their belongings have been bundled up and the family is yet to come to terms with the catastrophe.

“My children were having their food when the police asked us to come out. The officials then started demolishing the houses along the lane. We tried to salvage whatever belongings we could. We now have no place to go to,” lamented Mr. David, who said he was epileptic.

300 huts demolished

The colony residents claimed more than 300 sheds were demolished on Saturday and that the police used their canes liberally to scatter the protestors. They didn’t even spare children and senior citizens, they alleged.

Gracie (70), a long-time resident of the colony, has sustained injuries on her right hand. “I was going to a shop nearby when the police suddenly started caning the residents here. I am not able to even lift my hand now,” she said, weeping in pain.

Caught off guard by the demolition, the remaining residents are worried and are trying to frantically make alternative arrangements.

Ammu, a domestic help, has packed off her three young sons to a relative nearby. “Only three sheds remain on our street: all others have been demolished. My husband and I have packed our belongings. We are still trying to figure out what to do tomorrow when the officials return with the bulldozers.”

Even in probably the worst hour yet of her life, Ms. Ammu was seen comforting Parameshwari, a senior citizen who lives with her two granddaughters.

“I am old and unwell. My 22-year-old granddaughter is the sole breadwinner in the family. We have no one to turn to. We don’t know what to do if our shed is demolished,” Ms. Parameshwari said.

No lights, toilets

With no light and toilets, several residents huddled together on the streets in the night. “We are not the original allottees. We live in these sheds paying a rent of Rs. 500 a month. We have paid advance of around Rs. 10,000. Why have the officials made arrangements only for the allottees and not us? How is it okay to render us homeless?” asked Venkatesh, who works as painter.

Meanwhile, slum dwellers from across the city staged a protest in the BBMP head office expressing solidarity with the Ejipura residents. Demanding the latter be given time to vacate, they alleged that the officials were hand-in-glove with the developer, and thus the forced eviction.

Commissioner’s claim

When contacted, BBMP Commissioner Siddaiah said he had directed the officials to bring down only the unoccupied sheds. He said he would direct the officials to coordinate with their counterparts in the Karnataka Slum Development Board and help the families who have been rendered homeless be accommodated in Sarjapura.

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