Her eyes well-up as she speaks about the notice she received from the Karnataka Forest Department dated September 1st 2009, informing her that her house is illegal as it is on forest land. She was to appear in court on September 14th with all her property documents, as per the notice.
Forty-year-old Baby Saroja is a resident of the Rajiv Gandhi Nagar Slum in Devasandra, Krishnarajapuram Hobli, of East Bengaluru. This area falls under Ward No. 55 – Devasandra*. The slum is crammed with tiny houses – mould, thatched and tiled roofs can be found, and water flows through the cracks of the crooked stone pathways. Most of the houses here have electricity supply from BESCOM.
Saroja narrates the day when she got the notice from “a watchman” and was forced to sign on it. “As there was no ink in the ink-pad, they made me sign from the soot of a vessel”, she says in Kannada. Luckily for her, her neighbours managed to get hold of that copy and destroy it. She eventually received another notice via post. And so did some of her neighbours who are living on land that belongs to the Karnataka Forest Department. Baby Saroja, a coolie worker, lives with her five sons. Her husband Narayanappa committed suicide about ten months ago.
The Rajiv Gandhi Nagar slum has about 34 houses, says Pushpalatha, member of the Ambedkar Social Welfare Association (a formal registered association formed by the slum-dwellers), adding that around 15 houses received notices. She says that in October 2008 the forest department did a survey of the area. “We protested that time. That time we went to the Slum Board. They told us not to get scared”, she says. Barely a year later, they received notices. “We got scared. First they gave 14th (of September) as the deadline. Then it was 22nd. We went to our MLA Nandeesh Reddy (BJP, Krishnarajapuram constituency) and asked him. He asked us not to go to the court and said he’ll speak to the forest department. We don’t know what has happened”, says the 36-year-old, who works as a domestic help. According to Veeresh A M of Citizens Voluntary Initiative for the City (CIVIC) of Bangalore, a total of 125 families live in the slum*.
Pushpa, as she is known in the community, leads the group of neighbours. “It’s only the women who are working for this. The men don’t do anything”, she says, adding, “People think we know nothing. We are not like that”. Incidentally, Pushpa herself has not received a notice.
Thirty-year-old Shivamma, who also received a notice, lives with her two daughters. Shivamma works as a domestic help, fending for her daughters, after her husband abandoned them for another woman. “This is where we live. Why should we leave this place?”, she asks. Her neighbour P Hemalatha also shares her anguish. “We have been living here for the past thirty years. We built this house. We don’t know what to do?”, she says.
Fifty-eight year old Rangamma has also been living here for the past thirty years. She also received a notice. “We are poor. That is why they are doing this to us. We don’t want to go anywhere”, she says, adding, “Let any official come. You’ll see what happens then”.
People whose fate is being tossed around
These women, with the help of CIVIC of Bangalore and Association for Promoting Social Action (APSA), a grassroots community development organisation, approached the Karnataka Slum Clearance Board (KSCB) to look into this issue. The KSCB is the state’s authority responsible for improvements to slums ranging from provision of basic amenities to hygiene to housing. Till they received notices, the residents say they thought they were living in a notified slum as they were issued Possession Certificates (PC) in 2005 by KSCB. Pushpa explains that even when they approached the KSCB, the officials told them not to worry and that their slum was notified. “When they took out the papers, we saw that our slum has not been declared”, she says.
The Rajiv Gandhi Nagar slum is located near the Gangashetty lake, also known as ‘K R pura small tank’ or ‘Diesel Shed lake’. “There are legal and illegal encroachments in the tank area”, says Range Forest Officer (RFO) of Krishnarajapuram Range, V Ganesh. His use of the words ‘legal and illegal’ to qualify encroachments only testifies to the official confusion on the status of the land. It is true that the forest department has issued notice to the dwellers, says Ganesh.
Ganesh says it would be easier for the department if the slum-dwellers responded to the notice saying they have received PCs from the KSCB. He goes on to explain that in 1996, the Tahsildhar issued Possession Certificates under the seal of the Slum Board. The lake is under the forest department as per the Laxman Rau Committee, after it was originally handed over in 1992-93, he says. He adds that the department’s ‘investigation into the matter’ will go on irrespective of whether the slum-dwellers respond to the notice.
However, the residents of the Rajiv Gandhi Nagar slum were told not to respond to the forest department’s notice by their MLA Reddy.
CIVIC Bangalore’s Veeresh A M says they approached the Deputy Commissioner (DC), Bangalore district and the KSCB to speak to the forest department regarding this matter. It is the DC who inspects a slum and then gives the go-ahead for notification. The Slum Board will first send a proposal to the DC. The Tahsildar will then send all the documents, pertaining to that property, to the DC. DC will verify the documents and send the draft notification. He will then visit and inspect the place in person. He will then declare the slum.
In response to CIVIC’s letter to the KSCB, the board wrote to the DC and Forest Department, requesting them to not evict the people. Citizen Matters spoke to the Additional DC B Nanjundeshwar, who says a communication has been made to the forest department to do a survey of this land and if the land does belong to the forest department, the Slum Board will take a decision on rehabilitating the slum-dwellers. “Survey No. 57 we have given preliminary notification”, he says, adding that a final notification will be done after the objections are considered. N Mohan, Assistant Executive Engineer, KSCB, says the slum was notified in 1994-95 after the DC inspected the slum. When asked why a slum that is on forest land was notified, he says, “Notification is not done based on who owns the land. It is done based on hygienic conditions. DC has declared it. Once it has been declared by him, Slum Board owns it”.
Where will the slum dwellers go, if it turns out they have to?
Revenue Inspector of Krishnarajapuram Circle K N Nagarajaiah says the Revenue Department has made plans to shift the slum-dwellers to Bidarahalli in Kannur, located in North Bangalore, beyond Hennur. “It has been sanctioned. The government has taken a decision. It can happen anytime, maybe two-three months”, he says.
On asking Nanjundeshwar about this, he says the KSCB is in-charge of identifying land for rehabilitation. N Mohan, Assistant Executive Engineer, KSCB, says around two acres of land has been identified near Varthur (Survey No. 115) and another two acres in Channasandra (Survey No. 119). “Some of the slum-dwellers are ready to move, but some are not. If the forest department asks them to move, then we will have to rehabilitate them”, he says. Pushpa, however, says that a KSCB official told them about being relocated to Sadharamangala, near Hoodi in North Bangalore.
Furthermore, there is confusion regarding the exact survey numbers of land involved. The Rajiv Gandhi Nagar slum comes under Survey No. 57 and 58, according to the slum-dwellers, CIVIC, and the RFO Ganesh. Even the notices issued by the Forest Department bear this number. However, Nagarajaiah says Survey Number 58 is called the Sanjay Gandhi Slum and not the Rajiv Gandhi Nagar slum. He says Rajiv Gandhi Nagar Slum is Survey No. 34. Mohan of KSCB says there is no Survey No. 58 and that the Rajiv Gandhi Nagar Slum is under Survey No. 51/1. Mohan’s statement is confirmed by KSCB’s notifications list, that Citizen Matters has downloaded from the organisation’s website at kscb.org.in. The list was last updated on August 30th 2008.
Mohan adds that the issue is likely to be resolved once a meeting of the various departments involved is called. He says that the local MLA Nandeesh Reddy approached him with regard to this matter. “He has promised the people”.
With lack of clarity and coordination between various departments, the ball appears to be merely bouncing through the offices of the Karnataka Forest Department, KSCB and DC. In the meantime, the residents of the Rajiv Gandhi Nagar slum are living in constant fear of being evicted.
The slum dwellers are also yet to hear from their MLA Nandesh Reddy. “The other day we went and waited in his office for three hours and he didn’t come”, she says. “We shouldn’t vote again”, says an angry Shivamma. Hemalatha says, “If you see, it’s the poor who always vote”.
Anger, fear and anguish – these women have mixed feelings. They are ready to fight tooth and nail to save their homes. For a section that is highly recognised at the time of elections, what are their expectations of the impending city council polls?
“We will ask for hakku patras (title deeds) and tell them we want to live here only. Only then will we vote. This is what the ladies have decided. We don’t know about them men”, says Pushpa, with a sigh.
Chronology – Occupation to eviction threat.
September 2005 – Possession certificates were issued by KSCB
23/4/2008 – KSCB wrote to DC seeking him to inspect the Rajiv Gandhi slum (survey no 57) and then declare it
22/9/2008 – Ambedkar Social Welfare Association wrote to KSCB saying the forest dept is causing trouble to them, saying they have encroached upon forest land
3/10/2008 – Ambedkar Social Welfare Association wrote to KR puram MLA Nandeesh Reddy
1/9/2009 – Forest dept sends notices to residents saying they are living on forest land, Ganga Shetty kere, KR pura survey no 58. Notice says they have to be in court on 22/9/2009 with all documents at 11 AM. A warrant will be issued otherwise.
10/9/2009 – Ambedkar Social Welfare Association writes to KSCB seeking protection from the forest dept.
15/9/2009 – KSCB wrote to Forest dept saying this slum (survey no 57) has to be surveyed by the DC and declared and therefore, asking them to not evict the people.
16/9/2009 – Ambedkar Social Welfare Association wrote to DC asking him to notify the slum and seeking protection from the forest dept ⊕
* Updated November 9th 2009 with correct ward number and number of people living in the slum:
1. *Rajiv Gandhi Nagar Slum in Devasandra falls under Ward No. 55 – Devasandra.
2. *According to Veeresh A M of Citizens Voluntary Initiative for the City (CIVIC) of Bangalore, a total of 125 families live in the slum.