December 01, 2019

Slum Dwellers hold massive march in Bhubaneswar

Salo Marandi

A MASSIVE march of the slum dwellers was held from Saliasahi to Vidhan Sabha on November 22  in Bhubaneswar against their proposed eviction. Later a strong public meeting was held in which more than 20,000 people participated.  This seven kilometre march in the city brought the issue of the slum dwellers to the fore.

It may be put on record that the slum dwellers of Saliasahi region of the city have not been served any notice directly by the government agencies. Rather, the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation served a general notice in the newspaper asking the Saliasahi residents to evict their homes for the widening of a road. It is quite strange that the basic provisions of law have been violated. If an individual has encroached on government land, then the procedure is to serve notices to that individual and follow the legal procedure of a trial; instead the BMC chose to serve a general notice in the newspaper.

Nearly 25,000 families will be uprooted because of this widening of the road. Saliasahi, is the region which also happens to be designated forest region which is inhabited by more than 75 per cent tribals. Surprisingly, not a single claim of the tribal people has been settled by the government in the region.

Bhubaneswar is a smart city under the smart city mission. One of the tasks of the smart city plan is to displace a large section of the people from the city and shift them to the fringes. The prime land must be developed for not just widening the road but also to use it for real estate speculation. However, the people have decided to rebuff these sinister designs and thousands participated in the march and public meeting.

Odisha is a state which is considered to be quite positive in the framing of legislation for the regularisation of slums with entitlements to the slum dwellers. However, the five major corporations of the state that includes Bhubaneswar and Cuttack are kept out of the ambit of the Act. It is shocking that the most populous cities of the state, which inhabit the largest slums are kept out of regularisation. The Odisha state is one amongst the least urban in the country with just 17 per cent urban population, whereas the India average is more than 34 per cent. Still cities play important role in the state’s economy. The slums are quite large in Odisha. Some of the cities have nearly 40 per cent slum population residing.

The march of the slum dwellers was led by an active Saliasahi Anchlik Committee which comprise various political parties and other representatives of the slum dwellers. The major political parties include Congress, CPI(M), CPI(ML-Red Star), CPI(ML-Liberation)  and other groups of civil society. Salomarandi one of the important leaders of the movement is also state secretary of the Adivasi Adhikar Manch. Prominent leaders who spoke in the rally include Janardan Pati, CPI(M) leader, former finance minister of Odisha- Panchanan Kanungo and many other leaders of the movement.

Later a delegation of the slum dwellers met Praful Kumar Malik, minister of steel and public works and submitted a memorandum to him. The delegation comprised Salo Marandi, Jaidev Naik, Shivram Sahu, Malati and other leaders of the committee. The memorandum focuses on four main issues:

  • No eviction from the slums.
  • Provision of 600 square feet house for every household.
  • Individual notice to be served to the slum dwellers and appropriate time be given to them for reply.
  • Proper settlement of the slum dwellers is done with a comprehensive plan. Forest tribal act must be applied on the tribals occupying the land.

The minister assured the delegation that the state government will intervene and shall find out why a general notice was served through the newspapers. He also assured that the demands of the slums will be adequately taken up and no eviction process shall be unleashed.

This is a major intervention at the behest of the slum dwellers and a great relief to them who campaigned since last 30 days for this large mobilisation.