HYDERABAD: For billions of optimists in the world, new year is an omen of good fortunes in daily life. But a pall of gloom descended on the slum dwellers along the Musi River near Afzalgunj, who were evicted two days prior to the New Year's eve. Though they were returned the land the same day, their huts had been demolished, leaving them to spend their New Year's eve below the star-lit sky in temporary shelters.
“I have lost all my belongings. I have to now start from scratch to build my home,” said an inconsolable Ravi, 32, one among the 78 families whose huts were demolished in the wee hours of December 29, 2011. With the burden of his loss on his shoulders, Ravi lamented, “We pay rent to the owner for the land we stay in, and it was unfortunate that the authorities had to demolish our huts at 5 o'clock in the morning. This is not just inhumane but also illegal.”
Ravi's neighbour Kashi too echoes similar sentiment. “We get our drinking water from the corporation taps and nearby wells. Neither do we get a ration card, nor our children go to schools. But, we managed to build huts and get electricity connections with the help of our landlords. But, now, after being thrown out, we have to rebuild everything from the start.”
Adds Rajamma, another slum dweller, “Through one of the government schemes for housing, 32 of the families in the slum had paid a demand draft of `22,905 for a permanent home and the rest on a monthly installment scheme. But we have not been registered yet. And when we approached the MRO of Nampally mandal, he threatened to tear away our documents.”
M Rakesh Singh, who claims to be the owner of one of the lands sided with these rag pickers. “After being evacuated from the Shivaji bridge near Afzalgunj, these people have been staying at this site for a couple of years now. And I am, very surprised to know that this land belongs to the Government now.” He further added, “From my grand father's time, we have been doing agriculture at the riverfront. If Government takes away this land for a proposed garden here, I will also be on the roads along with these dwellers.”
Md Ashfaq, of CHATRI (Campaign on Housing And Tenurial Rights), an organisation working for housing rights of the urban poor, admitted that 285 families were evacuated from beneath the Shivaji bridge as part of Musi Revitalisation Project in 2007, and the Government had promised houses for them either at Nandanavanam colony in Karmanghat or at Ghouse nagar near Bandlaguda. “While a lot of them moved to the makeshift tents provided at Nandanavananm colony, around 78 families found a place near the Central Library at Afzalgunj and started staying over there for a rent of Rs 100 per month per hut,” says Ashfaq. “The government's relief measures are not fair.”
These rag pickers whose tales of sorrow remain unheard and unspoken by society, had migrated from Kurnool two decades ago. Since then authorities have thrown more nomadic challenges at them than the uncertainty their life ever could.