Turning a Bangalore shanty town into a mall
(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)
The Bangalore city government and a private developer kicked more than 1,500 poor families out of subsidised housing in January, razed their neighbourhood and left them homeless. The reason? They want to build new, better housing – and a mall.
The flattening of 15 acres in the neighbourhood of Ejipura is another step to refurbish India’s information technology capital, where rents and property values have risen thanks to foreign companies pouring into the city and people from all over India seeking good jobs. As is often the case when there is money to be made, poor people are in the way.
City police and developer Maverick Holdings Pvt Ltd forced people to leave their tin shanties on Jan. 19 and 20, and sent bulldozers in to raze the rickety dwellings. Some have left, others have been living on the footpaths or inside large drainage pipes in the area. They have no shelter, toilets or running water for washing and drinking. They are carrying little more than clothes and a few possessions.
“It has been three weeks since we came on road and are unable to find a house that suits our budget,” said Vennila, who has left her three children at a friend’s place until she finds a house.
The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagar Palike (BBMP), or Greater Bangalore Municipal Corporation, promised to house about 900 evicted families 22 kilometres away in Sarjapur, a village on the southeast outskirts of the city. It will be two years before they are ready, according to the BBMP. Public transportation also makes it difficult for people to get back into Bangalore where their jobs are, said Karthik Ponanappa, a volunteer. (A city official disputed this in an article in The Hindu, saying the area is up and coming and has good transportation access.)
Activists who have brought food, clothes and blankets for the people who were kicked out say that one woman died because of exposure to the weather. Temperatures at the time were as low as 16 Celsius by night and around 29 or 30 by day.
“Even the weather is a harsh to us. How are we expected to survive on our own without a shelter?” said Vijayalakshmi, who at one point threatened to set herself on fire with kerosene if she was forced to leave the pavement outside the construction area. “It’s freezing here, even though you cover with blankets. But I will stay here for my children who (are) studying in the nearby government school.”
The city first allotted subsidized housing to people in the neighbourhood in the early 1990s, but most of those people rented out their places, said Issac Arul Selva of People’s Union For Civil Liberties, a human rights group.
The city in 2005 planned to tear down and reconstruct the public housing after several incidents in which facades crumbled and injured residents. Seven years later, with the construction undone, the Karnataka High Court said that only 293 of the original 1,512 original housing recipients would be entitled to new housing. They also were supposed to receive 30,000 rupees ($564) per family to find housing until the new dwellings in Ejipura were complete.
About 900 families whom the court did not recognize as authorized owners or renters would get new, subsidized housing in Sarjapur, and still others would get nothing. In the end, some 85 people were left on the streets, according to volunteers who were helping the homeless. The Karnataka Slum Development Board must pay more than 570 million rupees ($10.7 million) to fund the project, and has yet to get central government aid for the project.
Finding another home nearby has become impossible for people, many of whom survive on 150 rupees a day, less than the cost of a pack of cigarettes. Rajendra Prasad, who says he has lived in the area for more than 20 years, said homeowners have raised the advance deposit on flat rentals to 40,000 rupees ($753) with a 4,000-5,000 rupee ($75-$95) down payment, knowing that demand is high. He said he would have left the slum long ago if he earned that kind of money.
Maverick representatives handed out cash to get people to leave the site, according to people who witnessed it. Nobody has said who came up with the cash. A few accepted 5,000 rupees, said Francis, who said he has lived there for 14 years. That won’t pay for too much shelter. Some people took as little as 2,000 rupees, ($38) volunteers in the area said.
S. Prathiba, a ninth grader at the Government School in Ejipura, said she was going to school after two weeks as she lost her uniforms and books in the demolition. Her parents and she are now living on the street, she said.
Though people in the neighbourhood said they received only verbal notices to leave in December, they had plenty of time to move, said BBMT’s chief engineer, B T Ramesh in an interview. They received notice to move in October, and many residents were unauthorized to begin with, he said.
“Even if you give one year’s time, they won’t move out and would continue to stay there,” he said. Maverick did not respond to multiple telephone requests for comment, and company officials at the Ejipura site declined to be interviewed.
It would be hard to argue that the city and the developer broke any laws. It is a good intention to house the people, provided there is housing to give. Forcing people to leave their homes to improve the quality of life in a city is not unheard of, but doing it to build a mall doesn’t seem right.
The trouble with being poor in India is that it’s easy to be overlooked. Bad things happen to them all the time – farmer suicides, forced evictions for mining companies and factories looking to exploit the land – after a while, it’s not a headline anymore. As for malls, young newly middle-class Indians like to socialise amid the shops, the restaurants, cinemas and air conditioning. Meanwhile, the people who used to live where the food court will stand will be hovering just outside and just on the edge of sight.