Slum dwellers in Bhubaneswar held a massive march on November 22 from Mahatma Gandhi Marg to Vidhan Sabha against their proposed eviction from Saliasahi region in the city. Later, a huge public meeting was held in which more than 20,000 people participated. This 7 km-long march in the city was organised to highlight the issues of slum dwellers.
It should be noted that the slum dwellers of Saliasahi region of the city had not been served any notice directly by the government agencies. Rather, the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation served a general notice in the newspaper asking the Saliasahi residents to vacate their homes for the widening of a road. This method of informing the residents, by publishing a notice in the newspaper rather than informing them directly, clearly shows that basic provisions of law have been violated. If an individual has encroached on government land, then the procedure is to serve notices to that individual and follow the legal procedure of a trial, however, the BMC chose to do otherwise.
Nearly 25,000 families will be uprooted because of this widening of the road. Saliasahi also happens to be a designated forest region which is inhabited by more than 75% tribals. Surprisingly, not a single claim of the tribal people has been settled by the government in the region.
Also read: What Makes A City ‘Smart’?
Bhubaneswar is a smart city under the smart city mission. One of the tasks of the smart city plan is to displace a large section of the people from the city and shift them to the fringes. The prime land must be developed for not just widening the road but also to use it for real estate speculation. However, the people have decided to rebuff these sinister designs and thousands participated in the march and public meeting.
Odisha is one of the few states considered to be quite positive in the framing of legislation for the regularisation of slums with entitlements to slum dwellers. However, five major municipal corporations of the state which include Bhubaneswar and Cuttack have been kept out of the ambit of the Act. It is shocking that the most populous cities of the state, which inhabit the largest slums are kept out of regularisation. The Odisha state is one amongst the least urban in the country with just 17% urban population, whereas the average in India is more than 34%. Yet, cities play an important role in the state’s economy and slums form a big part of these cities. In some cities, nearly 40% of the population is residing in the slums.
The slum dwellers’ march was led by the Saliasahi Anchlik Committee which comprise various political parties and other representatives of the slum dwellers. The major political parties include Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist-Red Star), Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist-Liberation) and other civil society organisations. One of the leaders of the movement, Salo Marandi, is also the state secretary of the Adivasi Adhikar Manch. Other leaders who addressed the rally include CPI(M) leader Janardan Pati, former finance minister of Odisha, Panchanan Kanungo, and others.
Later a delegation of the slum dwellers met Praful Kumar Malik, Minister of Steel and Public Works and submitted a memorandum to him. The delegation comprised Salo Marandi, Jaidev Naik, Shivram Sahu, Malati and other leaders of the committee. The memorandum focuses on four main issues:
No eviction from the slums.
Provision of 600 square feet house for every household.
Individual notice to be served to the slum dwellers and appropriate time be given to them for reply.
Proper settlement of the slum dwellers to be done with a comprehensive plan. Forest Tribal Act must be extended to the tribals occupying the land.
The minister assured the delegation that the state government will intervene and shall find out why a general notice was served through the newspapers. He also assured that the demands of the slums will be adequately taken up and no eviction process shall be unleashed.
The writer is former Deputy Mayor of Shimla, Himachal Pradesh.