An eviction drive of nearly 55 hutments and slum dwellings from a land parcel that will be part of the Gandhi Ashram Precinct Development Project by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) along with officials from the Ahmedabad district collectorate had to be postponed on Tuesday following protests from the residents.
Police personnel in bulletproof vests, an ambulance, police jeeps and a JCB machine along with officials of the AMC and the district collectorate made a retreat after the slum dwellers, including women and children, sat outside their hutments in protest, aided by civil society organisations such as the Mazoor Adhikar Manch.
Following negotiations and requests, deputy collector JB Desai assured the residents that they will be given a week’s time to make arrangements and said the officials handling the eviction will be back at 10 am on November 30.
On November 20, the dwellers were informed orally to empty the plot, without any written notice either by the the AMC or district collectorate’s office.
As per a survey of the inhabitants conducted by the trade union Mazoor Adhikar Sangh, some of the slum-dwellers have been residing at the location prior to 2010, with most of the dwellers being notified tribes and denotified tribes.
Ramesh Srivastava, executive committee member of the Manch, made a representation to the Ahmedabad collector, Ahmedabad municipal commissioner and deputy municipal commissioner on November 11, seeking rehabilitation as per existing government policy.
“At least 80 per cent of these residents are eligible for rehabilitation under the Regulation for the Rehabilitation and Redevelopment of Slums 2010. Ideally they should be eligible for rehabilitation under the Gandhi Ashram Development Project as well, but even if the latter does not hold, the former provision does. The eviction is being carried out in complete violation of due process,” said Srivastava.
According to deputy municipal commissioner IK Patel, since the land is not owned by the civic body and is under the ownership of the Ahmedabad collectorate, that is the state government, the residents shall not be eligible for the slum rehabilitation policy of the civic body.
Deputy collector JB Desai, who is the member secretary of the eight-member coordination committee constituted to rehabilitate residents of the Ashram properties, said that those being evicted do not count as Ashram residents and are “encroachers” on government wasteland and thus “do not require to be given notices”.
The plot of land will be used for one of the internal roads that will be part of the Ashram Precinct Development Project, Desai said adding, “Ashram residents are (considered as those who are) tenants of the (six) trusts. Only tenants of the trust are eligible for resettlement or rehabilitation and there must be a document agreement (such as a rent agreement, as proof of their tenancy) with the trust.”
According to Dhimant Badhiya, a coordination committee member and an Ashram resident, 121 “Ashramites” have accepted compensation money and 20 other “Ashramites” have accepted to be rehabilitated at an alternative site.
After getting a week’s time, the Mazoor Adhikar Manch plans to make representations to the municipal commissioner and the executive council of the Ashram Precinct Development Project as well as “move the Gujarat High Court if necessary”, said Srivastava.
Tushar Gandhi, great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, issued a statement against the eviction on Tuesday, stating, “Saving and safeguarding the rights to shelter of these poor people is more important than saving the Sabarmati Ashram… It is absolutely un-Gandhian to use the excuse of redeveloping Bapu’s Ashram by displacing the poor and rendering them shelterless. Bapu had dreamt of a country to protect the rights of the daridranarayan (service to the poor is equivalent in importance and piety to service to God), he would have vehemently opposed adding to the misery of the poorest of poor and weakest of weak in his name.”