Kolkata, West Bengal, India
In a brutal eviction drive, to uproot nearly 6000 slum dwellers in the vicinity of Eastern Bypass, Kolkata and demolishment of their 1200 shanties for a suggested ‘beautification’ and ‘development’ programme took place by the personnel of Bidhan Nagar Police Station and Rapid Action Force (RAF) on 04/10/2009 from 6 to 10 a.m., the drive not only made them homeless but posed serious challenges to their life and livelihood.
The affected faced ruthless physical assaults and even women, pregnant women and children were not spared from police atrocities and many of them sustained injuries during this heinous displacement drive without the mandatory provision of a court order for the same. The dwellers are mainly daily wage labors from socially marginalized sections with a sizable number from religious minority community.
The composition of the populace is again common to this metropolis as they were victims of internal displacement from their rural natives and came to Kolkata, the nearest metropolis for a better pasture and sustain their life. In this course their families settled alongside a stinking sewage just adjacent to the place of affluence; Salt Lake.
The age of the said inhabitation is nearly 30 years and by that only the residents having adversary possession rights over their living place, according to the domestic law of the country. Again it should be emphasized by the civil society that the people were not migrated by their own wish but under compulsion as state failed to provide them basic livelihood option at their natives. The whole eviction drive was done without prior and proper R&R (rehabilitation and resettlement) package, what was against the basic justification and legal validation.
Our fact finding over the issue revealed that on 3/10/2009, Saturday, State Urban Development Authority announced the eviction through public address system without proper information on the time and date for the proposed eviction and in very next day on 4/10/09, Sunday, a large posse of police from Bidhan Nagar (south) police station with Rapid Action Force personnel; numbering in 7 to 8 hundreds with lathis and firearms with empty trucks and bulldozers reached at the place. The raiding party totally ransacked the slum. The personnel in uniform demolished every earthly belongings of the community and not even spared cooked food. Having the prior assumption about the eviction, some residents hided few materials of emergency need at different adjacent place but the Policemen forced the affected people to unhide the same and burnt those in front of them, thereafter. There were four tube-wells, bored by the slum dwellers by their own money. Police destroyed those sources of drinking water. The raiding party indiscriminately lathi charged on the dwellers without any provocation or resistance by these marginalized population.
The eviction drive was purposefully done on a Sunday, when all the offices & courts are closed restricting the dwellers to make any complaint before administration or court of law.
All the material belongings were snatched from the people and looted by the police personnel. Not a single seizure list were made out by the police.
The eviction drive compelled the people to leave the slum. And few of them were spending their days little far from the place under plastic sheets. But every night they were threatened by the police and ultimately on 12/10/2009 police again torn apart those sheets and forced them to live under the bare sky.
On 16/10/2009 a street corner meeting was organized by some Civil Society Organizations (CSO) and their network, named as GRIHA ADHIKAR MANCH (GAM). On 21/10/2009 a team consisting representatives of this network and the victims met with the officer in charge of Bidhan Nagar South Police Station. He referred them to meet with Mr. Ashok Das, the Sub Divisional Officer (SDO) of Bidhan Nagar. While the representatives met Mr. Das and demanded for proper rehabilitation, Mr. Das shirked off and said the whole responsibility is upon Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA) but he did not utter anything about the brutal treatment committed by the police and thus he washed his hands.
The incident not only tarnished the basic tenets of fundamental rights as guaranteed under Article 21 of Indian Constitution. But also bared the anti people act of the state with complete apathy for socio- economically marginalized community. Here I want to recall the state actors that international right to adequate housing is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and our State has international obligation to obey as a party.
Apart from the said infringements, the incident violated few other universally accepted principles or rights for the people, such as:
- The right to non-interference with privacy, family and home
- The right to be protected against the arbitrary deprivation of property
- The right to the peaceful enjoyment of possessions – this forced evictions occur without mandatory warning, forcing people to abandon their homes, lands and worldly possessions
- The right to respect for the home
- The right to freedom of movement and to choose their residence
- The right to education – we are attaching a list of school going children with regular and informal schools, an NGO run education center was demolished during the drive.
- The right to security of the person – implementing authorities not spoke out about any rehabilitation measure make the populace more insecure and vulnerable
- The right to effective remedies for alleged human rights violations