As work on the wall along the Saraniyavas or Dev Saran slum goes on in full swing after the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) decided to reduce its height to four feet following The Indian Express report on how it would mask the slum on the roadshow route of US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 24, the residents now fear eviction.
A fence will run parallel to the wall, the columns of which stand higher than the wall as per the earlier design, on the side of the road where the AMC plans to plant trees. Majority of the dwellers this paper spoke to were concerned — “where would we go”.
The plantation along the 600-metre route between the four-feet wall and the metal fencing along the footpath would include bamboo and evergreen trees, said AMC sources.
Sushilaben Saraniya (45), a resident of this area on the government land between Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport and Indira Bridge, says her husband’s family had been living there for five decades. Her husband Ramanbhai, the breadwinner of the seven-member family, is a carpenter who works for daily wages.
“They (AMC authorities) came here, demolished our houses and started constructing the wall. Now they are asking us to leave. Where would we go? We have no idea where they would rehabilitate us,” she said.
Ignoring a query on the reason behind the construction of the wall, she said, “We want our houses here only with water facility that was there earlier… We are labourers who work in bungalows for a living… we have been living here for decades and will continue to live here.”
One of the oldest couples at Dev Saran — Sardarbhai (95) and Ramuben (60) — who has been living her for 50-60 years, said the place was given to them by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
“There was nothing but jungle here then… we would get frightened… people were scared to come here. There was a cremation ground here where bungalows have come up now. There was no road. Indiraben (Gandhi) gave us these, she said this is yours… no one will evict you from here. We like this place and will not leave,” said Ramuben.
Another resident, Sonal Saraniya (50), echoed Ramuben’s concerns, and said, “We do not like to move anywhere else. They (AMC officials) came here and said that alternative arrangement was being done but we do not know where.” The family of four survives on the income of Sonal’s husband who is a cutler going around the city on his bicycle.
Bhimabhai Saraniya (45) runs a small make-shift grocery shop in the slum and earns Rs 100-200 on daily basis. He too expressed fear of being evicted. “Nearly 15 shanties towards the road were pulled down last month by the corporation authorities saying that they were encroaching upon the land. Now with this wall, they want to evict us, too,” he said.
Municipal Commissioner Vijay Nehra said, “Two months ago, I visited the site and had an initial discussion of in situ construction of houses (at the same place). The plan can be moved only when they agree to it. We would construct houses for them free of cost, the market value of each would be Rs 20 lakh.”
On the demolition and construction of the wall, he said, “During my visit, we noticed that some new constructions were coming up towards the footpath. A few of the dwellers voluntarliy demolished them, while the AMC demolished three. The wall is also to prevent encroachments on the footpath.”
Residents said the wall has replaced green sheets that used to be put up earlier to “hide them during VIP movement”. Anilbhai Jeswani (35), with a family of seven, who runs a grocery store in the slum, says, “They are saying this wall is being constructed due to Trump’s visit. The work is on since January. During every VIP movement, they do this to us. They have been covering us for long now. This wall will lead to water-logging… this area usually gets flooded during monsoons.”
A similar “beautification” was done during the two-day visit of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe’s to Gujarat to attend the 12th India-Japan annual summit and the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in 2017.
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