Sanhati, April 18, 2010
Sriman Chakraborty and Shamik Sarkar travels to the rehabilitated colonies and talks to the residents. The reports appeared in two issues of Sangbad Manthan dated 1st and 16th March, 2010. They have been combined and translated by Suvarup Saha for Sanhati.
On both sides of the railway tracks from Ballygunge (South Kolkata) to Budge Budge (suburb of Kolkata) there were several thousand families – the residents of Gobindapur Rail Colony – who were living there for generations. When the railways decided to evict them, about 1700 of these families were ceremoniously rehabilitated in Nonadanga beside the EM Bypass Road. Bapi Mondol of Nonadanga Rights and Public Service Association informed us. The small make-shift tarpaulin shelters that were provided at the very beginning are still all they have. The buildings where they are to be rehabilitated are still under construction.
Buildings for Rehabilitation
Families who were evicted from ward numbers 105, 106, 107, 108 and 109 of Kolkata municipal Corporation have been already been provided with housing in Nonadanga. For this, they had to pay 5000 rupees initially. There are 27 buildings arranged in 3 blocks – Block A, also known as Sarat Malancha houses 448 families in 14 buildings, Block B has 16 buildings while Block C has 10. Each building is 4 storied; each floor has 8 rooms measuring 9ft.x14ft. with a tiny balcony and a miniscule lavatory. Understandably, these balconies have been converted into kitchen by the residents.
Water, Health, Public Distribution System
Each block has only one tube-well which provides drinking water to majority of its residents. Some of them, who commute to the city for living, bring jerry-cans filled with water back. There is no Hospital of Health Center around. The privately owned hospitals like Ruby General are way too expensive for them. They still rely on the far-away government run Chittaranjan or PG hospitals or get treated by local quacks and homeopaths. Many families have not yet got their ration-cards (needed to collect PDS groceries) transferred to this place. Those who have, need to travel about two kilometers to the Choubaga or VIP Market to get the `ration’. In absence of ration cards they have to buy kerosene form the black market. Also, in the flats one cannot have an earthen oven for cooking as before, so kerosene is an absolute necessity.
The evicted families were earlier mostly employed as house-maids, rickshaw-pullers, auto-rickshaw drivers or shop-workers. Since this place (Nonadanga) is far away from the heart of the city (where they used to live), the employment opportunities have shrinked drastically. Those who used to work as maids in five houses now only get time to work in two, because of the time wasted in commute. Many families whose kids used to go to school earlier have been forced to have them drop out simply because there is no affordable school in the neighborhood.
Shacks still exist
Not every family has a `flat’ yet. They still continue to live in the shanties made of plastic sheets or earthen tiles. They don’t know when they would have a proper home, or if they will ever have. Chandana Das is such a housewife going to the nearest tube-well with an earthen pot. When the Panchannagram Basti was gutted, they were relocated here. Her husband has a vegetable stall in Choubaga. They are yet to have their name in the coveted list of flat allotment. On March 16, she along with hundreds of families who have no idea when they would be permanently rehabilitated, are to march from College Square to the Mayor of Kolkata with their demand of immediate rehabilitation.
Uttara Sardar was rehabilitated in Nonadanga after being evicted from Haltu Canal-side. She talked to Sriman Chakraborty and Shamik Sarkar on March 13, 2010.
How was your life before?
We had a room made of bamboo-canes when we used to live in the canal-side in Narkelbagan-badamtala under ward 107. There was balcony as well. The room was trifurcated into three separate rooms, in two of which my two sons lived separately. During the monsoons we used to cook in the balcony, where our goats would also be tethered. The elder grand-daughter lived with me, along with my husband and my mother. There were also Jamun trees, jack-fruit trees. The jack-fruit tree doesn’t bear fruits any more. The Jamun tree would fruit twice a year. The spring fruit is big and juicy. In monsoon they are a bit sour and small.
I never wanted to come here. Here, the space is so small, and there are so many kids, also I cannot raise my goats here. We have been living here for past 30 years. We used to rent a place in Tollygunge after my marriage. We had two kids there. When we saw many others to build homes in the canal-side, we did too at our own expense. My husband used to work as a construction helper and as a paint-man, while I used to work as a domestic help.
How are you now with a broken family?
My two elder sons rent separate places and hardly care for us. They taunt us as `flat-residents’ and say that they are drained economically by paying the rent and can hardly help us. The youngest stays with me, earns and share his wage with us. But once he gets married, he too will get separated. I had to sell my goats for such paltry sums – people in this building objected to the smell – I had to do the deal in such hurry. Even after coming here, I used to work at the same houses, but cannot do any more. I met with an accident last October. I was on my way to work, a Maruti van hit me from behind. Now I have a constant pain in my head. I have started forgetting things. This causes a problem in running the shop that we have set up now. Saw a doctor at Ruby, then at Chittaranjan. They want me to do a scan, but that costs 1500 rupees. They gave me some medicines – had some, but I haven’t been able to take all. When we were there, everyone had a job. Even now, many are continuing with their older jobs, some are changing jobs as before. But I cannot afford to work anymore.
What have you got and what else do you want from the government?
Is there any use of making demands? Will they give us anything more? Whatever they have done is half-hearted. People have to arrange for grills and window panes for the safety of the kids. The new buildings are better built – though they are small but they look nice. In our older buildings, some have broken pipes, some have crumbling windows. If someone is out of home for 10-15 days, burglars can easily break in by knocking down the doors. Also, we have not got any title-deeds for this home, except for the receipt for 5000 rupees that we paid and the voter ID. We could not afford to make any enhancements in our third floor room except for a shelf to store stuff. If there is a visitor from the village, it is really difficult to accommodate. I do not have a ration card. I have been there so many times but have always been diverted to this person or that for some signature. I have applied for the BPL card, given my names and details – let’s see what happens. For the shop, I haven’t paid anything extra – there was some space which we used up. There is a problem of drinking water – the water is so salty. It was so much better in Haltu, and before that in Tollygunge. Even pulses don’t get properly cooked in this water; we have to get better water from other places. It is such a pain to pump water from the tube well. I tend to buy water for 5 rupees, but cannot afford every day. Yesterday there was hardly any sale at my shop, I asked the water seller to give me water in credit. I hardly make profit from the shop, but have no other alternative.
Shankari (10) was cleaning some utensils in Uttara Sardar’s shop. She has lost her mother, father doesn’t care about her. She has a brother and lives with her grandparents. She is a little mentally challenged. She doesn’t like to go to the school and usually roams around during the day. People usually make her do sundry work in lieu of some meal. It was around 11:30 in the morning and we asked her what had she eaten from the morning – she remained silent, characteristically.