Early on Monday, the worst fears of residents of slums in Thubarahalli seemed to come true. A posse of over 150 policemen, a team from the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and heavy machinery arrived on the dusty lanes of the area seemingly to carry out their threat of evicting over 5,000 slum-dwellers.
Blocking their way were thousands of slum-dwellers, supported by over 20 organisations who claimed that the action was illegal as there were no eviction orders and prior notices. Eventually, the deadlock was broken with a reprieve for slum-dwellers and landlords who were given three days’ time to clear garbage, set right houses and provide basic amenities. In all, nearly 20 houses at the start of the series of slums were demolished.
BBMP officials said the primary motive was to clear garbage in the area. “We have filed complaints against landowners as garbage was being dumped and then burnt illegally here. It is the duty of the landowners to provide water, drainage and basic amenities to the slum-dwellers on their land,” said an official.
However, Vijaykumar Seethapathi from Karnataka Janarogya Chaluvali, said though there were no eviction orders, the intention to demolish was clear through the use of heavy machinery. “You don’t need these machines to clear garbage. We now have three days’ time to look at all options, including legal ones. What this has done is scare the community, which has no place to go if evacuations happen,” he said.
The slum-dwellers, a majority of whom are from West Bengal, say they are being vilified as ‘illegal Bangladeshi migrants’ despite valid identification documents. Currently, electricity supply to the slums has been cut, leaving residents with no access to water through borewells.
Apart from a demonstration in the coming days, the organisations aiding the community have resolved to approach the court for a stay order before the lapse of the three-day deadline.
A police checkpost will be set up close to the Thubarahalli slums to prevent the vast tracts of land from being used as an unauthorised garbage dumping site.
Abdul Ahad, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Whitefield), said, after discussions with the civic body, it was decided to station policemen at Thubarahalli to ensure waste does not make its way to the area. “Based on complaint by the BBMP, we have already arrested and booked landowners under Section 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) of the IPC for allowing their land to be used for dumping garbage,” he said.
While there is some respite for slum-dwellers, landowners say they are under pressure to evict. A few have told their tenants to leave within 10 days.