May 24, 2021 1:47:53 am
As one enters ‘Sewage Basti’, a slum of migrant workers situated adjacent to a canal near Gyaspur metro station shed at Juhapura of Ahmedabad, a giant poster of Chief Minister Vijay Rupani is being used as a temporary rooftop shed for a shanty.
The poster depicts Rupani feeding drops to an infant as part of the state government’s health scheme for children, even as the children living in the slum run and make merry in the background.
Another shanty has used a poster of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rupani related to a welfare scheme for differently abled or ‘divyang’ as rooftop shed.
The people of the Sewage Basti claim that these posters had fallen from billboards during Cyclone Tauktae and used them for temporary “repair” of their shanties which were destroyed.
To save themselves from the havoc of cyclone, over 400 families had taken shelter in a sewage treatment plant and other under construction sites on the intervening night of May 17 and May 18.
On the morning of May 18, the slum residents returned home to find their shanties destroyed. For the next couple of days, as heavy wind and rainfall lashed the city, the people of Sewage Basti were left homeless as they tried their best to salvage what they can.
“On May 17 morning, all of us had gone to under construction sites to work and we returned by evening when heavy wind had already started. With nowhere to go, we just packed our belongings and food in a ‘potli’ (round cloth bag) and rushed to the sewage treatment plant. All night we stayed at the plant. Next morning when we came back, all our shanties were completely destroyed,” said Monu Gundia (25), a migrant worker from Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh.
“I was lucky that my shanty is situated right next to the wall of sewage treatment plan so I was protected from the harsh winds and I decided to stay at my shanty with wife and three children. My shanty did not suffer much damage but several hundred families have been rendered completely homeless due to the cyclone. Not one politician, neither from the ruling party nor the opposition, has visited us,” said Gogabhai Devipujak (38), a native of Sarkhej in Ahmedabad, who is into the business of providing sand for construction work.
A total of 400 migrant families mainly from Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh and Dahod district in Gujarat reside in shanties adjacent to a canal near a sewage treatment plant. As per the residents, they have been staying here for the past 15 years, as part of construction industry workforce.
However, the land belongs to Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and thus the residents neither have electricity nor water connection. The residents claim they have identification documents of their native places but none of Ahmedabad.
The men and women in these families, as part of unorganised labour sector in Ahmedabad, head towards Juhapura cross roads every morning, looking for work. However, not all are lucky everyday as construction jobs in Ahmedabad have been depleting since the lockdown.
“For the past one month, I have been visiting the Juhapura cross roads every morning for nothing. Few lucky men from our basti get selected on random basis and they get paid somewhere between Rs 250 and 400 for a day’s work,” said 40-year-old Ramesh Kalia, a native of Jhabua in MP.
According to the residents, after the cyclone effect ended, they scrambled to find wood, twigs and anything that can be used to resurrect the shanties.
“We woke up early and went to the canal side to find wood and twigs. Earlier, my shanty was made of bamboo sticks but everything was destroyed. So now I have used plastic and wooden sticks cut from bushes to support my shanty.
Many others have also used political posters which were found lying on the road after falling from billboards due to cyclone effect,” said Dilip Ganava, 24, also from Jhabua.
According to residents of Sewage Basti, nights were worse during the cyclone as they had to sleep on empty stomach. Food is another issue as residents find it difficult to cook without wood.
“There is no electricity connection in our basti since its existence. Therefore, we use lamps and wood for light and cooking purposes,” said Goga Bhai.
“After the cyclone, all our wood and food material were wet, so we spent two days and nights without food. We managed some food from the market,” said Ganava.
Haji Asrar Baig Mirza, Congress councillor from the Maktampura ward under whose constituency area the basti falls, said, “We provided ration kits to the people affected by cyclone in two settlements — Sewage Basti alongside Fatehwadi canal and one near an ice factory in Vishala area — through a charity event. The relief work should have been done by the state government but unfortunately it’s not happening.”
An NGO Mazdoor Adhikar Manch has stepped forward to help the inhabitants to compensate for the lack of empathy from the political class.
“On May 19 morning, we reached the slum for rehabilitation work and provided some food ration to the needy. Currently, we are undertaking a survey to find out how many families require food ration on urgent basis and another round of distribution will begin from Tuesday. There are over 400 children in the basti and since lockdown, any chance of them joining the mainstream has been lost as government schools were they were enrolled are also closed. We fear that soon, they will join their parents in the construction work industry,” Meena Jadhav, general secretary, Mazdoor Adhikaar Manch.
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