Dazed and wearing an off-white shirt, Ajmer sits on the side of the road, propping himself up against a fence. Around him, men and women walked past holding their belongings over their head. Pamphlets and family photos lay scattered on the ground.
The 38-year-old security guard has lived in a slum in Byrasandra in Bengaluru for around 10 years now. On Thursday, he helplessly watched as excavators demolished his home along with over 350 homes in the slum. The demolition was carried out after the land was handed over to BEML Limited, a defence public sector undertaking located nearby.
"There was no time to remove my household items, the demolition was done. Now, I am on the street and have nowhere to go," says Ajmer, distraught at the sight of his home reduced to debris.
The demolition of the slum began at 11 am on Thursday with police officials at the slum to ensure that residents were evicted. While some residents had already left the slum before the demolition, many residents packed up their belongings and left the slum just as the demolition began. By the end of the day, the slum in Byrasandra was unrecognisable.
It is flanked on two sides by towering buildings â€” the Bagmane Tech Park and the BEML headquarters. Over 350 homes were demolished on Wednesday despite residents pleading with officials to stop the demolition.
Notices were issued about the demolitions in advance. Two notices, from December 2020 and January 2021, was stuck on the doors of homes in the slum.
Three hundred and three families in the slum were allocated new homes built by the Karnataka Slum Development Board in Marathahalli, 10 km away. However, residents said 84 families were not allocated new homes.
The slum came up in the 1990s and the land was acquired by BEML over 10 years ago. Documents showed that the Bengaluru Urban Deputy Commissioner had directed the land acquisition officer to hand over the land to BEML in October 2007. The beneficiary list allotting new houses for the residents of the slum was prepared in 2012.
However, residents like Ajmer found themselves left off the first beneficiary list. "We submitted applications asking for a re-survey and this was done in June last year. Once again, there are people here whose names have not been included in the list," Ajmer adds.
The verification survey Ajmer is referring to was conducted in June 2020 and following this, the number of beneficiaries was reduced from 313 to 303 with officials citing the deaths of ten people living in the slum. "Many families who are protesting say that the verification survey was conducted one day during the pandemic. These families have been marked as DL or 'door locked' in the survey," says Siddarth Joshi, an activist.
Three categories of families are yet to be allocated new homes - those who were not present during the verification, those living in temporary shelters and those who started living in the slum after the survey was conducted.
Even among those who have been allocated new homes, there is a reluctance to leave the slum in Byrasandra. Narayanamma, a 44-year-old domestic worker works in an apartment near the slum and says it will be tough to continue her work by commuting from Marathahalli. She has five daughters and four dogs in her home. "This is the only home I have known and I wanted to continue living here," she says.
Narayanamma, a resident of the slum.
Residents in the slum are mostly employed in daily-wage work in and around Byrasandra. Men were employed in jobs like housekeeping, construction work and as security guards while women worked as cooks and cleaners in apartments nearby. The residents were mostly from different parts of Karnataka and from neighbouring states like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Residents like Narayanamma managed to shift out of the slum into their new home in Marathahalli, but 84 families who are yet to be allocated new homes turned up at the slum development board office in Seshadripuram to protest. Even on Friday night, the protest by those rendered homeless by the demolition continued, with protesters asking officials to conduct a fresh survey and examine their documents again.
Families protest against demolition at Slum Development Board office, Sheshadripuram
KR Puram tahsildar Ajith Rai told TNM that the beneficiary list was finalised by the slum development board and the dispute is between the slum board and the residents. A slum development board official told TNM that the houses have been allotted after conducting multiple surveys and there will be no changes made to the list of beneficiaries. "We will look into this but we cannot allot houses to newcomers at the slum," says the official.
With the impasse between the residents and slum development board officials, the protests are set to continue on Saturday.