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Relocation of residents of Shillong’s Harijan Colony ‘finalised’

Mazhabi Sikhs and other Dalit residents of the colony have been under pressure since a communal flare-up in 2018

September 01, 2022 08:13 pm | Updated September 02, 2022 10:40 am IST - GUWAHATI

Raising their voice: Women from Punjabi Lane in Shillong staging a silent protest over the land survey directed by the High Level Committee of Meghalaya government in this June 20, 2018, photo. File Photo

Raising their voice: Women from Punjabi Lane in Shillong staging a silent protest over the land survey directed by the High Level Committee of Meghalaya government in this June 20, 2018, photo. File Photo | Photo Credit: The Hindu Photo Library

GUWAHATI

The Meghalaya Government has “finalised” the site for relocating the Mazhabi Sikhs and other Dalit residents of Shillong’s Harijan Colony, also called Punjabi Lane and Them Iew Mawlong.

The Harijan Colony residents have been under pressure since May 2018 when a quarrel between a Sikh woman and a Khasi tribal bus driver over the alleged awkward parking of the vehicle in the colony snowballed into a communal clash. It eventually led to a move to evict the residents.

Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel continue to guard the entry and exit points of the 12,444.13 square metres colony — rows of hovels flanking a lane — adjoining Iewduh or Barabazar, the commercial core of Meghalaya.

“We have finalised the decision to relocate 342 families from Harijan Colony to the quarters of the Shillong Municipal Board (SMB) after the Urban Affairs Department identified the location as suitable,” Meghalaya’s Deputy Chief Minister, Prestone Tynsong told journalists in Shillong.

Members of some of the families in Harijan Colony are employees of the SMB.

The 342 families would be shifted after the residential quarters, in a dilapidated shape now, are reconstructed. The Urban Affairs Department has been asked to provide the designs and estimates for constructing the quarters, Mr. Tynsong said.

He said the government would meet the leaders of the Harijan Panchayat Committee (HPC) once a detailed reconstruction plan is submitted.

The site of the SMB quarters, officials said, occupies some 2.5 acres and is at a distance of more one kilometre from the Harijan Colony.

Taking possession

On June 4, 2018, the Meghalaya Government formed a high-level committee headed by Mr. Tynsong for examining all relevant records and documents relating to the relocation of the colony. Members of this committee held parleys with the Harijan Colony residents and recommended their relocation.

The HPC challenged the move in the High Court of Meghalaya, which ordered both the HPC and the committee to maintain the status quo of the colony.

But on March 31, 2021, the State government executed a tripartite lease deed with the Syiem (king-like chieftain) of Mylliem and the SMB for taking over the Harijan Colony land. The government took possession of the land in October 2021.

The HPC said the Syiem’s ancestor had granted the land for people from Punjab, brought by British rulers to work as manual scavengers, to settle down in the 1850s.

“The settlers of the colony should not think we are against them. We are not throwing them out but want them to be relocated at a proper place,” Mr. Tynsong said after the takeover, claiming the residents had thrice thwarted the committee’s bid to prepare an inventory of the families and their possessions.

He said the Harijan Colony was worse than a slum and not fit for human habitation while outlining the government’s plan to beautify the area.

The HPC had resisted the relocation plan that it claimed was being fuelled by builders eyeing the prime land of Harijan Colony to construct a shopping mall. It also questioned the government’s takeover when the case was pending in the court.

Set of conditions

But the HPC relented after a meeting with State government representatives in April this year.

“We realised that we cannot fight the system forever. We have never been against relocation and we are ready to move if the government fulfils our demands,” HPC chairman Gurjit Singh said.

Their main condition was accommodating all the Harijan Colony families in one location with 200 sq. m. per family, preferably in Shillong’s European Ward. The Meghalaya Transfer of Land (Regulation) Act, 1971, does not apply to the areas under this ward, enabling non-tribal people to buy property, including land, if a competent authority allows the transfer.

Non-tribal people are not allowed to buy land in areas beyond the European Ward.

The other conditions include not shifting a gurdwara, a church, two temples, a Valmiki Ashram and the Guru Nanak School from Harijan Colony; letting some 60 community shopkeepers to carry on with their business there; and paying ₹20 lakh to each family to facilitate the relocation.

A few other locations in Shillong had earlier been suggested for relocating the Harijan Colony residents. But opposition from locals made the government drop the idea.

The May 2018 incident was not the first siege of Harijan Colony. The first assault on it was in 1987, when the district administration demolished some of the houses. Some locals and the government started claiming the land after a part of the colony mysteriously caught fire in 1996, Punjabi Lane residents said.

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