Around 500 people of 100 families, who had squatted at the government’s affordable housing project buildings in parts of the city, have been evicted over the last three days. The state government wants to bring in another set of people who need to be moved out for the Arpa river beautification project, a Congress poll promise to create a riverfront.
These residents, mostly day-workers, rickshaw-pullers and house helps, who either migrated from nearby villages or were born in a slum that has since been demolished, claim to have lived in the Atal Awas buildings for years. A major chunk of these buildings, in the urban areas, are still lying vacant, many without electricity and water connections.
In the midst of Covid pandemic, these 500-odd people have been suddenly forced to the streets.
“Every year we sent applications, explaining our problems, telling them about us living illegally in the non-allotted houses. We asked for electricity and water connections and that we be allotted those houses,” said Amar Goswami (50), a resident who was evicted.
“Our children are registered in government schools nearby. How can that happen if we moved in February?” said Sheetal Patel (60). She along with others had written to the authorities, including the collectors’ office, for allotment.
When contacted, District Collector Saransh Mittar said the residents were ‘lying’. “They moved into the empty houses in February or March, which is criminal trespass of government property. They were living somewhere before they moved here in February, they can go back,” Mittar said.
However, the evicted residents said they had written to the government multiple times informing about their stay and requesting allotment. Around 200 people now sleep on the roads next to the multi-storey structures that till two days ago were their homes. Some are wrapped in mosquito nets while others sit clustered around a 50-Watt bulb.
Many have small children. For example, Jayakumari’s daughter was just two days old when they were evicted. The 5-day-old is sleeping fitfully, as her 28-year-old mother rocks her, sitting along a road outside a house she had been living for over two years in Baheterai in Bilaspur district.
A kilometre away, Ranu Khan (33) is trying to put her five children to sleep, under the sky. “I was thrown out of my husband’s house with my youngest daughter like this. This was my home, now where do I go with them?” Her 8-year-old son whispers, “They didn’t even let me take my school books”.
“Last night, some social workers gave us food at 2:30 am, but today the food got over before it could reach us,” said Malti Sahu (42) on Sunday. Her sister-in-law Rakhi is looking for a hand-held plastic fan as her 5-month-old son Monu is crying due to heat. “During the day I feel like I will die. There was also no water,” Rakhi said.
Rukmani bai (58) was nursing her 20-year-old son who was sick when the policemen came knocking. “They threw us out and then locked the house. We were not even given an hour. None of us have worked during the lockdown. Mahamari ma ghar konno nahi devat hai (No one is giving us a house due to the pandemic),” she said.
Activist and lawyer Priyanka Shukla, who was contacted by some of the residents, said: “While on one hand we are claiming to be helping the poor in this state, on the other hand we are making several people homeless. What was the urgency to take up a beautification project in the middle of pandemic. Where does the government think these people will go?” she asked.
“The government knew these people were living here for years, why throw them out during a health crisis, even as number of Covid cases are increasing in the city and the state,” Shukla said.