The displaced families took out a protest rally on Monday demanding their rehabilitation as the stalemate over allotment of homes between the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) and Kalyannagar residents continues.
The families were displaced during the VMC’s demolition drive in November last year. However, the civic authorities have conveyed that a compromise is possible in the form of alternate location, excluding Sayajipura and Kalali — where the corporation itself had suggested rehabilitation earlier.
On a scorching Monday, Kalyannagar residents arrived in hundreds, including women and children, to sit on protest in the VMC premises. However, the premises turned into a fortress with several units of the city police force stationed to contain the agitating residents.
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The police frisked residents entering the compound and sniffed water bottles to ensure that no one carried inflammable liquid or poison to attempt suicide. While schoolchildren held placards demanding homes in order to seek education, elders expressed apprehension that their wards might lose out a second academic year in a row. Residents shouted slogans demanding the possession of keys to the Kalali JnNURM flats, if not Sayajipura.
Shaheen Bano, a resident said her daughter had missed her academic session ever since the November demolition. A second year in a row would mean a dropout.
Bano said, “Ever since we have been displaced, my daughter was unable to attend school regularly. When there is no roof over the head, education is the last thing on a poor family’s mind. We need our homes so that our children do not end up becoming labourers at such a young age.”
A Class VII student, Aariz Pathan, said his parents had been unable to send him to school as living on rent about 7 kms from his school in Fatehgunj meant unaffordable travel cost.
Aariz said, “My father is a daily wage labourer at a godown. He doesn’t earn enough to send me to school everyday from Navayard, where we are currently put up. I have only appeared for my exams without preparing for them after the demolitions. I wish the VMC gives us homes soon or I will join my father to support the family and meet the expense of rent.”
The families have rejected the VMC’s proposal to shift them to Tandalja — a Muslim dominated neighbourhood, terming it a “ghetto option”. Professor J S Bandukwala, who has been agitating for the residents, said they were kept in the dark about the VMC’s plan to construct a ground plus seven-storey apartment in the Tandalja scheme.
Bandukwala said, “The VMC never told us the entire story behind its refusal to allot homes. They proposed Tandalja but didn’t mention that they would construct a seven-storey apartment. Where they are unable to provide water and basic amenities to the poor homes in four-storey apartments, how would residents living on the seventh floor carry pales of water from VMC tankers every day, even if we accept the proposal. Moreover, the homes will take time for construction and there are vacant homes in thousands that are ready for allotment.”
The families have demanded an official reason from the VMC about its retraction from the October High Court affidavit promising Kalali JnNURM homes. Arif Pathan, president of the Kalyannagar Rehabilitation Committee, said, “We are unable to understand why the VMC is not giving us the real reason behind the denial of homes. If they have stated in an affidavit in the HC that they would rehabilitate us in Kalali, what overcame them to go back on their word. Then they offered Sayajipura, we did not ask for it. And, after months of waiting, they want us to fend for ourselves for two more years before they construct a new scheme.”
Families and activists said the agitations would intensify in days to come if the VMC did not provide them the promised allotments.
On Sunday, four top officials of the VMC, including BSUP JnNURM Executive Engineer F J Charpot, VMC Encroachment officer Mangesh Jaiswal, city engineer P M Patel and additional city engineer Shailesh Nayak met Bandukwala at his residence to request a compromise.
According to VMC sources, the officers brought a proposal to relocate residents to Jambuva, about 20 kms from Vadodara city or to Tarsali, where another set of residents have been relocated, instead of the Tandalja offer was rejected by the families. However, the representatives of the families turned down the relocation to far flung areas and demanded that the VMC must rehabilitate them as per their original promise in November.
Municipal Commissioner H S Patel said the residents had gone back on their word about accepting Tandalja.
“What we fail to understand is that they agreed for Tandalja themselves. We have offered them a place of their choice in Tandalja. They objected to the seven-storey structure in our proposal and we said we are willing to construct a four-storey structure, as usual. However, now they are refusing the Tandalja scheme entirely. We are exploring possibilities of relocation,” Patel said.
When asked about the official reason for the VMC’s inability to hand out the Kalali JnNURM homes, as promised in the affidavit, Patel said the VMC — which is facing a contempt of court notice by the HC in the matter — will reply to the the court on May 7.