In the mid-1980s, Azad Khan settled on a desolate piece of land in southern Rajasthan, bordering Madhya Pradesh. Others followed suit. They were clueless it was government land. “I remember the ADSP, Govardhan Lal Meena, came here in 1991 with bulldozers and told us that our houses were illegal. He razed all of them,” said Siraj, 43, a resident of Mehtab Shah Kutchi Basti in Pratapgarh. The families did not vacate the land. “We started getting notices from the tehsildar every six months or so to pay a fine of Rs 35 or more,” said Mohammad Fareed, 32, who settled here with his father Mohammad Saeed, 75.
The notices were served on occupants under sub-section 3 of Section 91 (unauthorised occupation of land) of Rajasthan Land Revenue Act, 1956. In 1997-98, authorities came back to demolish the settlement, Fareed said. “Our councillor, Ramesh Meena, protected us.’’
Somewhere in between, Zafar Khan’s family settled in the area and built a house. Around 2000-01, the notices stopped, say locals. In their place appeared government surveyors, cartographers and videographers — for a comprehensive detailing of the “encroachment”.
Things changed further on January 26, 2008, when Pratapgarh was carved out of Udaipur, Banswara and Chittorgarh and made Rajasthan’s 33rd district. “Soon, the district collectorate, police lines, stadium, a girls’ college, SP office, Nagar Parishad…all these buildings started coming up around our settlement,” Munna said. “The district authorities tried to push us out, as the land was now precious…”
Munna said the surveys were even more intense, although there were times the residents felt relieved — “like when (former CM) Ashok Gehlot announced that all illegal settlements before 2004 would be regularised”.
“However, it never translated to any benefit for us on paper,” he said. “We finally moved court a few years ago, but the case dragged on.”
Over the years, as the local administration intensified its efforts to evict the “unauthorised occupants”, a voice became sharper: that of Zafar Khan.
In a letter to District Collector on May 26 last year, Zafar stated, “This settlement has been here since 1985 and recently we were told that our homes will be razed and we will be shifted to a three-storey building. Sir, we don’t want to shift to those buildings as they are to be made with ‘wastage material’. The Nagar Parishad wants the building to collapse and poverty and the poor to be buried underneath.”
As both sides resisted, Zafar attracted attention through his “sarcastic letters, and by virtue of being the most vocal defender of Kutchi Basti,’’ said his brother Zulfiqar.
“Perhaps it was this pent-up anger of officials that manifested into his lynching,” alleged Nur Mohammad, Zafar’s brother.
Zafar’s wife Rashida said, “They harassed us; they hated us for being here. And my husband always came in between. They want this land.” Zafar died on Friday after he was allegedly assaulted by Nagar Parishad Commissioner Ashok Jain and other civic body employees when he tried to stop them from allegedly photographing women of the Basti who were defecating in the open.
Jain, who denies the charges and claims they were there simply to follow up on Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, said,
“There are more than a hundred homes in the Basti, of which 18 have been regularised. Others don’t fulfill the criteria and are illegal.” Asked about funds allotted for toilets to residents of Basti, Jain claimed that he does not remember.