Those from economically weaker sections have been given unfinished houses at Ragigudda
“If you can’t eliminate poverty, eliminate the poor. That’s the government’s grand plan,” says Shekhar, a Dalit leader at the controversial Ragigudda Colony for economically weaker sections, when The Hindu visited the site on Thursday.
This, from Mr. Shekhar, is no empty polemic. Disease and death haunt this multistorey housing project for the poor, bang in the middle of upmarket J.P. Nagar.
A month ago, Dhanapal Goundar (80) fell to his death from a flight of stairs that had not been protected by a railing. “We have been asking for the railings to be built for the last five months. Now my father is dead,” says C. Mani (55), a construction worker.
In March this year, 12-year-old Saraswati was hospitalised after she was stung by a live electricity wire that was left dangling dangerously by the men contracted to finish the job.
Brothers Jeeva (10), Santosh (13) and Arjun (15) are all in hospital suffering from Malaria. Their mother, V. Vasanta (30), claims the uncleared debris from the construction of the complex has become a breeding ground for mosquitoes, rodents and other pests.
The residents of the colony have not yet been given electricity connections, and so steal from nearby high-tension cables, only adding to the danger. Power fluctuations from the illegal connections have caused many accidents and ruined countless electrical appliances, they say.
They have not been given water connections either. Water stolen from Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board pipelines is often not enough, and has to be supplemented by that bought from tankers.
Some houses have no doors, and windows are without panes.
Dogs and birds enter and leave like the houses belong to them, claims Michael (35).
Evidently, the complex was not ready for occupation. So why then were they handed over to the beneficiaries? “Because the previous government was eager to claim credit for it in the lead up to the elections,” alleges Kani Ammal (55).
Saga of irregularities
The complex was inaugurated by the former Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar at a widely publicised function on November 21, 2012. Built under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission at a cost of Rs. 33.34 crore, the project was riddled with irregularities from the word go.
When The Hindu visited the site a few days after this, we found that hundreds of beneficiaries had been given fake allotment tokens by the government.
It turned out that their houses were allotted to politically connected persons, who did not even need the dwelling. Many of those illegal allottees sold their flats for a huge profit, The Hindu’s investigation had found. (‘How did my house become yours, ask allottees’, February 2, 2013).
The issue of unfinished construction was flagged by a subsequent report in these columns (‘More irregularities emerge at Ragigudda EWS quarters’, February 8, 2013).
Between two evils
But if the colony was incomplete, why did the residents move in? “Because life in the tin sheds where we were living was worse,” says Chand Bi (61).
Like in the case of the infamous Ejipura EWS Colony, the 1,443 residents of Ragigudda were evicted from their shanties on the same site in September 2009.
Then Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa had promised them new multistorey blocks within 18 months. Four years later, the houses are still not complete. Meanwhile, the residents lived in tiny tin sheds nearby.
“I have lost count of the number of people who died when we were in those sheds,” recalls Chand Bi. Some died of dog bites, some were bitten by snakes, while most just succumbed to diseases such as typhoid or malaria. “It was mostly the very young and the very old,” adds M. Kanna (31).
Ms. Chand Bi, a devout Muslim, is not observing a fast this Ramzan. “So many have taken ill, particularly after the rains, that many Muslims are not observing Roza,” she says.
Officials at the Slum Board, who oversaw the construction, refused to comment on the issue using the ongoing Assembly session as an excuse. “It would be a breach of [House] privilege,” said one official dismissively.