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“28-2-2002 Godhra Rayot, Naroda Patiya, efackter visthapit cooloni (Rehabilitation Colony for those affected by 28-2-2002 Godhra riot from Naroda Patiya),” reads the scrawl on a black signboard at the entrance to Citizen Nagar. In the backdrop is a huge black mound that rises almost 135 m high. This is where Ahmedabad dumps its garbage. “And here, Citizen Nagar, is where we have been put since 2003,” says Nadeemuddin Saiyyed, 52, one of the earliest residents of the colony that was set up on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Citizen Nagar is where 116 families from Naroda Patiya — and some from Gulbarg Society — were resettled in 2003 after over 100 were killed in these colonies on February 28, 2002 following the attack on the Sabarmati Express in which 59 passengers, including kar sevaks from Ayodhya, were killed in Godhra.
Now, 15 years after the riots, little has changed, say residents, except that the landfill behind them has got bigger, darker and the smouldering fires there more frequent. Rows of shanties — one room-kitchen-toilet quarters with corrugated tin sheets for roofs — line either side of a 10-foot-wide road that’s slushy with sewage. The colony has no corporation schools for its 100-odd children, no health centre and no piped water. Built by the Kerala State Muslim League Relief Committee and the Citizen Relief Service of Shah-e-Alam, initially 30 families moved in to Citizen Nagar — it now has a population of around 800.
Saiyyed, originally from Maharashtra, was one of the first survivors of Naroda Patiya who moved into the colony. “It was then called Nayi Basti (new settlement),” he says. During the riots, Saiyyed was separated from his family for two weeks. “All my five children (three daughters and two sons) and wife were untraceable. After hiding for two days in a house with several other Muslims in Naroda Patiya, we were shifted to a camp in Shah-e-Alam, Ahmedabad. After 15 days, a few people from another camp told me they had seen my family there. That’s when I learnt they were alive,” he says.
Today, his family of nine lives together in a shanty. Saiyyed, a carpenter, says he stopped working after two heart attacks and now depends on his two sons. At 11 am on a Wednesday, people are waiting for the Ahmedbad Municipal Corporation’s water tanker to arrive. Residents say it never comes before noon. And when the tanker finally reaches, women and children jostle to get to the tap. For the next few minutes, plastic buckets and pots clash as people squabble for their turn at the tap — the tanker won’t be back until the next day.
Residents say they depend on the tanker for their drinking water; for everything else, there is a borewell, but the landfill has left its water unfit for consumption, they say. There are no government schools in the area and most people can’t afford the private schools that charge around Rs 500 a month. An NGO, Gyan Shala, runs free classes up to the primary level, after which most children drop out. Asif Sheikh, 19, cycles nearly 30 km to his IP Mission School in Khamasa. His Class 12 Board exams start next month and the 19-year-old Commerce student says all that cycling leaves him too tired to study, but he has no option. His father doesn’t work and his mother works in a tobacco factory for Rs 4,500 a month. His elder brother, who dropped out after Class 5, is a tailor, he says.
Asif was barely four when the riots happened but he has grown up hearing stories of what his family went through. “My mother said that those days, my father had a beard and wore kurta pyjama, so everyone suggested he change his look to remain safe, but he did not agree,” says Asif. He talks without flinching about how his cousin and her 18-month-old son were burnt alive in Naroda Patiya on February 28. Asif had lost nearly two years of school before they were finally allotted the house in Citizen Nagar. “Despite all our financial problems, I want to study because I want to get a good job and get my family out of this hell,” he says.
While most of the men in the colony work as labourers or auto-rickshaw drivers, most of the women supplement their income by doing embroidery. Dressed in her school uniform — a maroon-and-black kurta, a black salwar and red hijab — nine-year-old Saista is anxious because she hasn’t done her school homework yet. Her school starts in the afternoon, but before that, the Class 3 student has to finish the applique work and hand it over to a garment unit close by. Saista’s is a family of five and the money she earns from the embroidery work is a useful contribution to her auto-driver father’s monthly income of Rs 7,000-9,000.
Residents of Citizen Nagar say that while they have learnt to live with the stench from the landfill, they are worried about how frequently they fall ill. With not even a dispensary in Citizen Nagar, residents have to travel to the Shah-e-Alam area which has a municipal health centre. That is nearly 3 km away but because of the unmotorable road from Citizen Nagar, the travel takes long. “The minimum auto rickshaw fare to Shah-e-Alam is Rs 100. Even for deliveries, we have to depend on each other,” says Yusufbhai Mansuri, 50.
“We have submitted several representations to the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, seeking basic facilities for the residents, but nobody paid heed,” says Congress corporator Badruddin Sheikh from Behrampura ward, under which Citizen Nagar falls. Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel who also holds the Urban Development portfolio, when asked about the condition at Citizen Nagar, told The Indian Express, “I don’t know anything (about this). I have got no representation in this regard”.
Asked about the lack of amenities in Citizen Nagar, Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner Mukesh Kumar said the colony fell in a “no development zone” — the area within half-a-kilometre radius from the dump. “But a lot of industries and residences have come up in this area. You cannot have illegal construction in a no-development zone and then demand shifting of the dumping site,” he says. Asked if Citizen Nagar was illegal, he said he would have to “check”. Kumar denies any plans of shifting the landfill. “The site has a life of another 10-15 years,” he says.
Over the last 14 years, Citizen Nagar has had several high-profile visitors, including then US Consul General Peter Haas. “People come and go, take our interviews but nothing changes. Now we have even stopped hoping that things will change. If not for us, we pray that at least for our children things should change,” says Reshma Saiyyed, 47.