Tag Archives: land acquisition

Ejipura Diary: 26th January to 9th February

26th January to 9th February

Relief work has since been split into two units- one at Sarjjapur where families have been sleeping in the corridors of the Slum Housing Board colony on Hosa Road, and the footpaths of Ejipura. The former is marginally easier to deal with- fewer people, and while they are miles away from their homes, schools and jobs, they are at least safe and far from police harassment, the rumours, the fear of having their belongings tossed out any minute. Katie, Meera, Mayank, Yateesh, Aditi and others form the Sarjjapur team and work dedicatedly. A school bus for children in private schools is organised and other children are admitted in government schools. Social surveys have been carried out in both locations, courtesy Azim Premji University students at Sarjjapur, and by volunteers at Ejipura. The process of identifying homes, rehabilitation sites, shifting vulnerable members of the community to chowltry halls in the vicinity begins, just as rents shoot up all over the city.

February arrives, bringing with it a shiny new fence that has been decorated in our faces and pronounces the dawn of a proud new PPP. Vijayalakshmi, a resident who stays near the Ganpathi temple, threatens the police with self-immolation when they try to get her to move to complete their dominion.

There is an effort to get all groups involved to work with each other on a common forum. It is offset by meetings with the community to figure out their expectations, directions relief work should take and obtain consent for any advocacy efforts planned. A grandiose protest is planned for the 9th of February.

9th February 2013

The protest is closely followed only by Maverick, the BBMP and the police, and matched in planning and strength. Maverick obtains an injunction that prohibits prohibits picketing, sloganeering and demonstrating anywhere within a 100-metre radius of the EWS land at Ejipura, including public spaces, roads, footpaths, private houses and the National Games Village complex.

Hundreds of lathi-wielding cops swarmed EWS from 9 am onwards in solidarity with the private real estate firm, outnumbering protestors for a good two hours.

Kaveri and Gee, along with Sumathi and Sunil, Vijji, are confronted by over 30 cops, including those who had beaten them, and arrested once again in the middle of relief work, trying to ensure there was no backlash on the community while the protest was in swing. A man who sees that they have been taken away is also thrown in, along with another man who cries out ‘but they were distributing food.”

I get there just as Sumathi is being pushed into a van. Gee waves from inside and before I can ask my rickshawallah to follow them, they are gone. Vijji is beaten badly and jeered at by the police while in the station for threatening immolation. It feels like a bad repeat of the 19th. Gopika, Geeta, Anu and others are also threatened with arrest when they try to go in or leave the Ganpathi temple lane.

I try to speak to the ACP of Adugodi Police Station and ask them where they’ve been taken, to which I receive no certain answer. “Why are these people protesting?” he asks me with mounting frustration. “They just have to get out and we will construct beautiful apartments for them.” I ask him why there are so many vans. “Because we will arrest now, we will arrest in the afternoon, we will arrest in the evening and we will keep arresting.”

The protest finally gets under way and around 1500-2000 people from varied groups and EWS residents make their way from the Ambedkar statue at Austin.  Water cannons and 3 large police vans arrive to welcome them at the turning from Viveknagar to Ejipura.

The protestors are stalled and not allowed to enter the colony. A sit-down ensues in the middle of the road for over two hours. Volunteers who have been trying to ensure that nothing happens to the community are threatened with arrest. Over 150 protestors court arrest and are taken to the Adugodi police station.


Ejipura Diary: 21 and 22 January, 2013

21st January 2013

I finally decide to leave my comfort zone and head to the site with Andrea and Stephie, taking Karthik’s videos with me.

I brace myself and search my head for the only memory I have of this place to compare it with what I am going to see now, despite having lived in Koramangala for 2 years. It is one of puttering through thigh-level sewage  in the rains inside an auto, water gushing through the tin roofs on to the street and people stranded outside their homes.

Even that does not prepare me for what I am going to see. It is a warzone. Mounds of rubble, fires burning from last night, 5000 people’s belongings lie strewn and buried. Only narrow frames of houses remain, police crawling in and out and all over the site. People are torn between going to work or keeping an eye on their belongings that the cops have threatened to start throwing out. Every single pipe has been occupied. Men and women alike burst out in grief. No one has slept for nights for the fear of being homeless the next. There has been no water or power for four days now. No one has been able to bathe and everyone has to resort to open defecation at night.

Eyes follow us everywhere as we try to talk to people who take a break between carting away the tin sheets that the BBMP hasn’t yet touched and extracting their possessions from heaps- plastic buckets, schoolbooks, utensils, house papers, pictures of gods stick out from under. I am suddenly acutely conscious of everything I own. Everything that can fit in half a tempo or be piled up on a bicycle is stowed away.

Those who talk to us are convinced that they will be picked up the very same evening. They show us their certificates of demolition and biometric cards, while the majority complain that they have not received any.  I promise to return, head to a thinly attended press conference where I try to push pictures and videos on to the handful gathered, again believing in the non-partisan power of the press, when except for The Hindu, I have only seen otherwise. We go back to Karthik’s to try and upload more videos, when Gee calls- they have to be in court the next morning and somebody needs to be at site at the break of dawn in case the bulldozers arrive again. We set our alarms for 5 am and fall asleep at 3.

22nd January 2013

It’s 6 am when we get there. We’re each wearing three jackets and a shawl but shards of cold still wriggle their way in. A JCB is parked outside the colony, its operators asleep in the shadow of its jaws. I try to take a picture, but I’m interrupted by a man who wants to know why I want to take a picture of the men who broke his home. He doesn’t think it is possible that they were just following orders.

We start walking to the closest fire, only to stop at each pipe along the road where someone is keeping watch while his/her family tries to sleep. Each tells us their story, of biometric cards and demolition letters that never came and scraps of paper they’ve been collecting to deserve a spot in a mythical rehabilitation colony in Sarjapura.

 Karthik heads off to buy milk and coffee and biscuits and buns, as the colony slowly rises. We go from lane to lane and home to home, handing out one packet each or half a bun. We are thanked and we are shamed. Even still, we run out every 15 minutes and six trips are made just for breakfast. Along the way, we hear stories- of carpenters, of electricians, of single mothers, of hand embroiderers with university educated daughters, of proud parents whose children work night-shifts at call-centres and attend college during the day and have yet to come home to see their homes like this. Others beg us to take their 10th standard children and admit them in hostels.

We finish serving breakfast only at 11, breaking in the middle to get the women to court on time. A police van arrives and scores of cops get out. We walk to the police chief from the Crime Branch, tell him that activists have been invited by the BBMP Commissioner at 10:30 and try to get an assurance that demolitions won’t begin again until they receive word from after the meeting.

We are told that the police is only there for the BBMP’s protection; right after we meet the women who were battered two days ago, one sustaining a fractured leg in the lathicharge.

The atmosphere is manic and paranoid- we can neither leave the police buildup, in case BBMP chief engineer BT Ramesh comes and authorizes demolition, while at the same time, the Akshay Patra van rolls in for lunch and there are more than we-don’t-know-how-many thousand people who haven’t eaten in days.

Food runs out in half an hour, barely feeding 200 people. I have the hardest fucking time saying no to children who come back or have been sent to get seconds for the rest of the family. I find myself looking for traces of dal in plates to see if they’ve eaten before and ask young Nikat who befriended me if she can point out who’s already been served.

We get on Karthik’s bike to go fetch drinking water, beginning with 2 cans per lane, trying to reassure residents who haven’t had water to drink for a while that there’s more coming. On the ethernet, mails go out and word begins to spread and the phone calls begin. The first volunteer we see there is Dr. Sylvia, followed by BSW students from St. Joseph’s with their professor who dragged them out of class, followed by Pushpa, who helps us delegate work. We hand out 2k a head and send them to get more food from the closest restaurant. Others are sent to get more cans of water and yet another batch is put on a social survey to see if they can come close to a headcount so we know how much food to order. An informal meeting is called for on relief strategy. Since my number has gone out on a lot of mails, I now find myself  responsible for coordinating relief, volunteers and food.

I return to the main street, only to see that the MLA Harris has arrived to personally insult every volunteer or outsider he can find; some of the girls are in tears, others use this as a chance to ask him pressing questions about the relocation site in Sarjapur to which he has no answers. More help arrives despite it, and the day is consumed in trying to keep it together.

Operation Green Wash

Today, as we popped UNEP palliatives to our skewed sense of self-importance, New Delhi played host to cruel irony, in this International Year of Forests. For today, the panchayats of Dhinkia and Gobindpur are under attack by their own state government that thinks nothing of flexing state muscle for the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, BHP Billton and POSCO. Today began the acquisition of thousands of acres of forest and agricultural land for cold, hard steel, while human chains stand in opposition.

As per this report, police have already blocked the road to Dhinkia, and aren’t allowing any outsiders in or word out. “We are searching all vehicles and persons round the clock to prevent entry of any armed person into Dhinkia,” says a sub-divisional officer for Paradip, just as he lets the reporter know that 12 platoons of armed police have been deployed.

POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti  reported on 3rd June that ‘the administration is now sending loudspeakers on vehicles around the area, threatening people with the use of force if they do not consent to the destruction of their farms within 24 hours.’ Police, of course, contend that the PPSS is the real threat.

A total of 173 false cases have been filed against those who have been protesting against the project since 2005. Thousands have gathered on the village border to resist acquisition, and 17 protesters have been arrested since that note was sent out.
And there isn’t one law in the book that hasn’t been broken in this back-and-forth between a resilient people and an indifferent environment ministry, tossing them right back at a state government that wants them out at any cost.

It’s an attitude evident in Orissa CM Naveen Patnaik’s Jekyll-and-Hyrde routine best illustrated here.

Just as it is evident in the way the last attempt at  judicial remedy was postponed, citing lack of time when it’s the people of Jagatsinghpur who are struggling against the hourglass.

Time is entirely relative in the environmental clearance process. It can be sped up and slowed down as per the whims of this hydra-headed public-private beast. All we can do is throw as many strategic spanners in its path, and be damned by the business papers

E.g. 1: Not a man to miss riding the wave of precedent, Mines Minister Raghunath Mohanty wants to accelerate the process of getting gram sabha approvals, approvals that ArcelorMittal really won’t need when the state clears out 8000 acres for its massive steel plant in Orissa’s once forest-rich Keonjhar district. 

E.g. 2: Jairam Ramesh, tired of having to explain his duplicity, decided to go on an a cathartic clearance spree. Amongst the 40 permissions awarded that day was a thermal power plant in Dholpur, Rajasthan that will draw its water from the National Chambal Ghariyal Sanctuary that is also home to the endangered Gangetic Dolphin. Committee members complained that project proposals running into hundreds of pages reached their homes after they’d arrived in New Delhi, giving them no time to prepare their objections.

That “there’s more to life than POSCO”  was clearly spelled out by the media and the administration, who chose to caricaturise/focus the national agenda on how quickly the prime-time resistance guru, Baba Ramdev, would break his fast or be broken, how much money was spent on air coolers, tents and hospital beds, and the number of ministers who came to meet him.

So, where will you be, Inspector Greenback, when the police arrive in Dhinkia with their lathis and torches, snip away at hundreds of betel vines, set fire to homes, beat women and children, throw activists and local leaders into jail? How many ribbons did you cut; how many CSR saplings did you shove into this soil that we’ve sheared, bombarded and laid bare to gross personal profit on this day of shame and destruction?

No, we must thank you for the incredibly sensitive idea to set up a bio-diversity museum in a state where you’ve successfully hacked away prime chunks of forest and handed them over to the highest bidder. Monuments of flowers, you say, will compensate the unmarked graves and prisons full of those who’ve resisted the violence of your development. Then again, who cares for the fatelines behind 2997 thumb prints vetoing India’s largest foreign direct investment.

A centre for biodiversity studies and Olive Ridley turtles? Yay! What are you gonna teach them students? How sometimes you have to say “chalega, lekin thoda dekhke boss” to a missile testing base right next to the largest turtle rookey in the world? That the more endangered the species, the better the funding? Special modules on how to grow a thicker skin if you have something to protect,  how to say *conditions apply when all you mean is yes, yes, and yes? What next? EIA Speed-reading classes with a special note on how to scan Palli Sabha resolutions? 

Speaking of doing the right thing- where are you now, Rahul Gandhi? What’s it going to take to put your cherubim face to Dhinkia, or for that matter, Sompeta, Polavaram or Bellary and declare shame on your party’s policies that have put people and their environment last?

Where are you now, Messrs. Ramdev, Hazare & Co.? Isn’t this corruption/prana pollution at its most blatant, when the state holds its people to ransom for foreign currency? Isn’t the empowerment of the gram sabha closest to the kind of swadeshi alternative that you’ve proposed in your list of demands?

No, what we need is to a send a bill to a system in the hope it’ll cut us a cheque, enumerate sins committed in retrospect. And so we wave  a blanket cause as vague as the ‘war on terror’,  in the continuing world tradition of focussing on the unattainable, and sidelining the specifics.

Perhaps now, as you’ve been evicted from your grounds, now that you’ve seen the flip side of the state’s tolerance for non-violent protest first-hand, you might get a taste of what grassroots environmental movements have been up against for years. 15 years of peaceful agitation in the case of Narmada, 6 years against POSCO. The people of Kakarapalli and Santabommali continue 9-month long hunger strike, hoping someone will notice. and the people of Dhinkia and Gobindpur brace for the worst, determined to fight till their last breath.

 As our foxy minister once implied, violence against bio-diversity is a sustained ‘learning and evolving process’, especially  for communities and conservationists who discover that the law and fancy international environmental treaties don’t really apply to them. It’s a A sentiment that goes really well with the fucked-up UN theme of “Forests: Nature at Your Service.”

On this World Environment Day, we stand to inherit an ecosystem that only has place for omnivorous capitalists, their henchmen and those enslaved in the worship of power. While those that produce anything of worth, any creatures besides us  that walk the earth, those that understand nature’s laws and preserve its balances, those that bring value to its discarded excesses are the first to go on this self-consuming civilization’s hit list, as we pander delusions of saving this damned planet.