On Friday morning, there was a lot of tension in the Ambedkar Nagar in eastern Bengaluru as the police, under the direction of Karnataka Slum Development Board, was set to go on a demolition drive to clear out encroachment on Bellandur lake’s buffer zone. This buffer zone, near the HAL Air-Borne Systems facility in Yemalur, houses around 1,000 people.
Officials of Executive Engineer rank of Karnataka Slum Development Board (KSDB) told TNM that they are keen to clear the area before Monday’s inspection by the Chairperson of the National Green Tribunal. The infamous Bellandur lake has been under the scrutiny of the country’s green court since February 2017 after the lake caught fire for the second time in a year. As part of the lake’s rejuvenation process, this land was supposed to be cleared of encroachment by November 10, as was reiterated by the NGT in its order dated October 21.
On Friday, a large number of police vehicles, including those of the Rapid Action Force (RAF), reached the spot. The number of vehicles parked on the side of the roads even caused a traffic jam on the Wind Tunnel Road which links the HAL/ Murgeshpalya areas with Bellandur via the Embassy Golf Link tech park.
However, following large-scale protests by the residents whose homes were set to be demolished, the eviction drive had to be stopped.
Many residents whom TNM spoke to claim that they have been living in this area for more than 40 years, with a majority of them having address proofs and BPL cards. Most of the area’s residents hail from Tamil Nadu and Telangana. While the men work as drivers, office boys or delivery personnel, the women work as domestic helps or caregivers.
A majority of the residents in the area have accepted the directive by the authorities to move to an apartment complex built by the KSDB in Marathahalli but they have sought for some more time. To force the residents from evacuating the spot, authorities had also cut power supply in the area.
Sasikala (32) said, “I was born here and have stayed here all my life, but now we are forced to move out. How will we get work overnight once we move there? What happens to our kids who have to change schools in the middle of the year? Also, we came to know that the new flats don’t have power and water connections. Before that, they want us to shift there, why?”
Another resident, Nitin, who has been living in the area for 15 years with his parents and works in the textile chemical industry is upset that he has to leave their home. “How can they ask us to leave just like that? We have built our lives with whatever little we earn and now all of this will be gone,” he said.
The residents say the notice for evacuation was given on October 31 and the notice period is too short. But KSDB officials who were present on the spot say that they had been told to move out a year ago and the October 31 notice was only a final reminder. Another reminder was given three months ago too, they said.
Not everybody got new apartments
While the area houses more than 300 families, only 237 families have been allotted a new apartment in Marathahalli. According to Slum Development Board, as per their survey, some of the families there were living on rent and did not own these houses, and hence are not eligible for rehabilitation.
Kalaivani, Sasikala’s neighbour, has not been allotted an apartment to stay. “Now where will I go with my family? I have been doing the rounds of various offices for months now, but no result. Even yesterday, I spent more than two hours in the DC’s (Deputy Commissioner) office,” she said. “My in-laws are visiting me now, how can I entertain them now when I don’t have a place of my own?” she added.
Shivakumar, another resident, said that many of the houses during the survey by the Slum Board were damaged due to the rains, so they had gone away to their relatives’ places.
“As a result, many people have been left behind without a place of their own,” he added.
Request for more time
Leelavati, an activist who works with the Karnataka Kolageri Nivasigala Samyukth Sanghatane (KKNSS), said they are now negotiating with the Slum Development Board and other authorities in the state to seek an extension of four months.
“How can the children be shifted in the middle of the school year? Also, the housing complex in Marathahalli does not have adequate water facilities for these people. How will they manage? We want the government to at least ensure the minimum facilities for the people to stay and give them time till the school term ends,” she said.
“The police was going to destroy the houses with belongings inside them had we not protested. How can someone do that when they could see people are already making preparations to leave?” she added. Office bearers of the KKNSS also held a meeting with the Chairman of the Slum Development Board to seek an extension.
A section of the residents have also gone to court against the eviction order and the case is still being heard by the City Civil Court.
Bhagyalakshi, one of the residents who have moved court, said, “The eviction drive is illegal. How can they throw us out when the court is hearing our case? We have valid property documents authorised by DC. How can they ask us to move to a flat with no water?”