By Abdul Bari Masoud
New Delhi: The National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), a broad-based coalition of NGOs, on Tuesday strongly condemned the demolitions of working class and Dalit localities in the name of ‘Smart City’ in Varanasi which is the Prime Minister Modi’s parliamentary constituency. Demanding immediate rehabilitation of the hundreds of uprooted poor people, it took a dig at the Modi government’s pet slogan ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ saying even in the PM’s constituency basic dignity and rights are not guaranteed to the oppressed people.
The Alliance said the Modi government has been selling the dream of a ‘Smart City’ to the citizens for years now and has spent thousands of crores on this scheme across the country.
In the ranking released by the Government of India in September 2020, Varanasi held the ‘first place’ in the country. It is claimed that ‘world class’ facilities would be provided here. But in the midst of these claims, one must ask: to what end and at what cost is this happening?
Right amidst the ‘festive days’ on January13, 2021, in the area around Teliana railway line in Varanasi, the houses of hundreds of working-class people, many belonging to Dalit communities, were demolished by the Government.
It is sad to note that no other alternative has been provided for most of them in terms of rehabilitation. The eviction of people from their homes in the midst of the Covid pandemic as well as severe cold is not only inhumane but also in violation of the orders of the Supreme Court.
“For all high-talk around ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’, the poor and working-class communities are not guaranteed basic dignity and rights even in the parliamentary constituency of the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi”, it underlined.
This is not the first instance where people’s homes have been destroyed without providing rehabilitation. During the last 4-5 years many such settlements have been destroyed in Varanasi. Demonstrations have been organized by the residents and democratic rights organizations for rehabilitation, but none of this seems to matter to the government or district administration.
This again reveals the anti-worker character of the Yogi and Modi Governments, it added.
Most people who lived in the demolished settlements are manual scavengers, sweepers, daily wage labourers or work in other people’s houses. Due to the destruction of their settlements, there is a threat to not only their health, but also their livelihood. Currently, most of these people have been forced to live on the roads.
It said “NAPM strongly condemns the Varanasi administration and the Government for forcibly destroying the homes of hundreds of people from oppressed communities, Dalit and working class, without any rehabilitation, in the name of ‘Smart City’. It also calls upon the administration to:
- Immediately make proper arrangements for the rehabilitation of all the evicted families.
- Provide immediate, fair and just compensation to all the displaced people.
- Not demolish any house or colony, or evict people from their homes without complete and just prior rehabilitation.
In a signed statement, the Alliance highlighted that “In Chennai, Delhi and many other cities of the country, settlements of the working-class people, especially belonging to religious minorities and oppressed caste communities are being demolished.”
It also demanded that in view of the Corona pandemic, the Centre and all the state governments should immediately stop all evictions and issue a complete moratorium on the same.
The statement was signed by a host of prominent activists including Medha Patkar, Dr. Sunilam, Adv. Aradhna Bhargava, Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Kavita Srivastava, Prafulla Samantara, Lingraj Azad, Sandeep Pandey, Rajeev Yadav, Mohammad Masihuddin, Eric Pinto, Abhijeet, Arundhati Dhuru, Zainab Khatun, and others representing different organisations.