The fate of at least 30,000 families — 6 lakh people — at Manjalpur hangs in balance after the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) announced to implement a Town Planning (TP) scheme in an area of approximately 11.70 lakh sq meters (117.01 hectares). Residents, who purchased their properties from individual buyers 45 years ago, are agitated and ready to fight for their properties.
According to officials, several years back the said land was reserved for a Gujarat government housing scheme project. However, the project was never realised. According to rules, the notification for the scheme lapsed after 10 years. But the government did not reverse the notification officially. According to officials, during this time, the Gujarat Housing Board (GHB) got shut. It was later revived by Narendra Modi during his tenure as the chief minister. During this time, the individual land owners of these areas, mostly farmers, sold off the land to willing buyers. Families say they have been residing here for over four decades. Today, most houses are raised up to be at least two-storey and house roughly families of five each.
V M Mali, a resident of the area, says, “The VMC has sent notice of the TP scheme’s implementation to the original owners of the land, from whom we purchased homes. This is ridiculous because they are very well aware that the lands have been sold several years ago. We are paying all hefty VMC taxes, including property tax, drainage tax and water tax and other utility bills. How come the VMC collects all these taxes from us if we are not supposed to be here?”
Residents said that on Monday, a group of officers of the VMC had arrived to explain their plan of developing the area. Rajkamal Solanki, another resident, says, “The implementation will leave us homeless. We have spent several years building these houses and we are not illegal slum-dwellers. In lieu of our land, they are offering us a one-room kitchen apartment in under-construction housing projects in distant areas that are almost inaccessible from the city.”
Corporator Chinnam Gandhi has rallied around the residents in this matter. Gandhi says that the idea of implementing the TP scheme is politically motivated and the Mayor has been ill-advised as the government notification on the land lapsed many years ago. Gandhi says that the decision is not even in line with the rules of TP Scheme implementation. “First of all, a TP scheme can be implemented in an open area of more than 550 hectares. Here, on almost 85% land, homes have been constructed and are standing for several years. Secondly, a TP Scheme needs to have provision for a hospital, public spaces, schools and gardens apart from the commercial use or selling off the land for redevelopment. Last and most important, what provisions have been made to relocate these residents and is the compensation commensurate with what will be taken away from them? This is a thoughtless decision,” Gandhi says. Gandhi had opposed the proposal that was passed in the General Board of the VMC on March 13, 2013.
Town Development Officer (TDO) Alpesh Majumdar says, “We addressed the owners meeting on the day the intention to implement the TP scheme was declared on June 19. Some VMC land is also occupied by unauthorised people. The people are being misguided about the TP scheme as there is no immediate demolition happening. The entire process will take time to be implemented and it is not always that it is implemented in its entirety the way it is planned.” On Thursday, thousands of anxious residents will join a protest march from this area to the VMC office.