Under a relentless mid-morning sun, Maimunisa and her husband salvage the last of their belongings — utensils, clothes, firewood — from the home they have lived in for 25 years, and one they have been asked to destroy.
Unmindful of the election code of conduct that prohibits new civic projects, the Karnataka Slum Board (KSB) has instructed residents of the city's largest and oldest slum Lakshman Rao Nagar to demolish their homes, promising them new flats.
In the last 10 days at least 350 houses have been demolished, leaving 1,500 people in cramped temporary shelters they built themselves using corrugated sheets bought with their own money.
Families will have to live in these 10 ft x 10 ft shelters for one year, until four-storey flats are built here as part of a “Basic Services to Urban Poor” scheme sanctioned under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). Curiously the scheme, being hastily implemented by KSB, was sanctioned as early as 2006.
The project involves resettling 920 families at a cost of Rs. 19 crore, according to KSB sources.
The displacement is not only a violation of the BBMP election code of conduct that came into force on March 7 but also a breach of JNNURM guidelines that mandate that the implementing authority provide transit shelters for the displaced, Issac Arul Selva, editor of journal, Slum Jagattu, and a resident here, told The Hindu.
He believes that the project timing is no coincidence: “It is a coercive tactic to get residents to vote for a political party that has a stronghold in the area and is driving the project. People fear that if they don't elect the party's candidate, they will remain homeless.”
Civic problems abound at the temporary site located around a kilometre away from the old homes. Pushparaj, a daily-wage worker, says his family has no access to drinking water or to toilets.
“We had Cauvery water connections in our old home. Now the nearest borewell is a kilometre away. The water is contaminated and several children have fallen ill,” he says. His wife Mary complains that their three children now have to walk twice as long to reach their school. “We told KSB to wait until their exams are over. But they didn't listen,” she adds.
Malliga's family is still resisting the shift and have asked for another week. “My daughters and their children live with me. I've heard the new site is not fit to live in,” she says. KSB has given identity cards to each of the displaced residents.
“But that doesn't guarantee us a quarters in the new complex,” said Malliga. She has been warned that if she does not demolish her house, bulldozers will.
Officials at KSB insist that the demolition began on March 5 two days before the code of conduct came into force. They, however, admitted that they were unable to provide a transit shelter, blaming “lack of space”. Asked why the project was being implemented now, after four years, KSB Commissioner S. Puttaswamy said that it took time to “clear hurdles”, including getting the consent of residents.