Tension prevailed among the residents of a temporary settlement in Bengaluru’s Munnekolala near Varthur on Wednesday morning. Over 200 residents of the settlement located opposite the Sobha Dreamacres apartment complex in Varthur fear eviction by the local police.
Topi Sheikh, a 30-year-old resident of the settlement in Munnekolala, who is from Odisha, had returned to his 20x10 sq ft hutment after work on Tuesday afternoon at around 3 pm, when a commotion at the entrance of the settlement caught his attention. When Topi Sheikh, went to inquire, he saw a police officer standing and issuing a warning to the residents, who had gathered around.
“He was the new inspector of the Varthur Police Station. His name is Putta Obala Reddy. He said he had taken charge just three days ago and wants to ensure that all settlements like ours in his jurisdiction would be wiped off,” Topi Sheikh said.
Topi Sheikh’s neighbour, Sanjay Sarkar, a 29-year-old hailing from Nadia district in West Bengal, works as a dry waste segregator. Sanjay says that he was the first to speak with Inspector Obala Reddy when he arrived at the settlement. “He told us that we are all Bangladeshis, who are living here illegally. When we showed him our identity documents, he told us that he didn’t care and that we must vacate the settlement within the next two days. He said our houses would be demolished on Saturday,” Sanjay Sarkar added.
Around 70 to 100 residents of the settlement gathered outside Sanjay’s residence on Tuesday evening to discuss their next course of action. Sanjay Sarkar, Topi Sheikh and Shafiullah – residents of the settlement, decided to call the site owner and ask him to intervene. Munikrishna Reddy is the owner of the land demarcated as survey numbers 42/3 and 42/4, where the settlement is located.
Speaking to TNM, Munikrishna Reddy said that he arrived immediately and decided to approach the police along with the residents. Munikrishna Reddy and Shafiullah collected photocopies of the Aadhaar cards and Voter IDs of all residents and submitted it to the Inspector.
“He just refused to look at it. He accused us of being Bangladeshi and he said that Mamata Banerjee had ensured Bangladeshis had fake identity documents. When we told him that there is a High Court order against illegally demolishing the houses, he said he doesn’t care about that,” Shafiulla said.
Munikrishna Reddy said that Inspector Obala Reddy allegedly threatened to file a case against him for “harbouring illegal immigrants” if he did not ask the settlement dwellers to vacate the houses within the next two days.
“The police are putting pressure not only on me but also other site owners. There are around 40,000 people living in sites like mine in Munnekolala, Lalmatti settlement located near Kirti Apartments, Kalikatta located near Vaghdevi School and Balagere and Thubarahalli. All these fall under the Varthur limits and the inspector told us that he would ensure all these settlements are gone,” said Venkatesh, another plot owner on whose land a settlement has come up.
Topi Sheikh said that the police checks on the settlements dwellers has increased ever since the hutments at Thubarahalli were demolished earlier in January. Many huts in the Thubarahalli settlement was demolished in January but now both the BBMP and the police are claiming to the court that they had played no role in the demolition.
Speaking to TNM, Inspector Obala Reddy denied the allegations made by the residents and said that he only went to inform the settlement dwellers that the police would not allow illegal immigrants to live there. “I did not call them illegal immigrants. I only told them that if there are any illegal immigrants living there, they must inform the police. I did not say they were all illegal immigrants. There is obviously some miscommunication,” Inspector Obala Reddy said.
Varthu Sub-Inspector Dharanesh KL said that the police conducts surprise checks at the various settlements to check for illegal immigrants. He said that the confusion with Inspector Obala Reddy may have risen as they had received a copy of the High Court order regarding the settlements only on Wednesday morning.
Zia Noumani, a member of Swaraj India Party along with activist Khaleemullah went to the Varthur police along with a few residents on Wednesday. The police assured them that no evictions would take place. "Police has to rectify its mistake and communicate to slum dwellers that there has been a miscommunication by Obala Reddy," Zia said.
“I have been collecting identity documents of people living in settlements in our jurisdiction since the last two years. My job is to ensure that no illegal immigrants are living in the settlements. We are not out to harass citizens but we have no option but to conduct surprise checks to weed out the immigrants,” he added.