In Bengaluru, officials demolish shanties, but BBMP Commissioner says he did not authorise it

Published : January 22, 2020 12:43 IST

Mohammed Nur Hussain, whose shop was demolished, showing his identification documents. Photo: Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed

The demolished shanties with the highrise apartment complex in the background. Photo: vikhar ahmed sayeed

The demolished shanties. Photo: vikhar ahmed sayeed

On January 18, Saturday, at around 10:30 a.m., Mohammed Nur Hussain was surprised to see a heavy deployment of policemen around the cluster of shanties where he lives and an excavator entering the mud track that leads to the shanties. Hussain is from Darrang district in Assam and has been living here, behind Mantri Espana apartment at Bellandur in Bengaluru, for the past five years. He runs a small provision store that provides the daily ration needs of the large community that lives in these shanties. “When I saw the JCB (as the excavator is commonly known), I ran back and warned everyone in the jhopdis to come out,” he said recounting the events of the day.

The residents confronted the officials waving their documents that established their citizenship, but they were brushed aside. The officials, led by an unnamed Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) official, indicated to the excavator to begin its demolition work. Picking up whatever little they could, the residents ran from the excavator before it mowed down one entire row of shanties stretching over 100 metres. While it is difficult to estimate how many shanties were in that row, considering that the flimsy tin sheet-and-tarpaulin structures were clumped together cheek by jowl, Hussain put the number at 200 and said 500 people lived there. The entire settlement had around 5,000 residents, he added.

“I don’t even know why and how this happened. There was no warning given to us or any verification on who we are,” Hussain added. He hastily removed a sheaf of laminated cards, including his Aadhaar card, PAN (Permanent Account Number) card and driving licence. From another pocket he fished out a printed document that lists his name in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) compiled last year in Assam. “What else do you want to prove that I am Indian? How can my jhopdi and shop be destroyed? Who do I complain to?” he asked plaintively as he fetched his rental agreement with the landowner.

Over the past three days, it has become clear that this demolition is completely illegal and there is still no confirmation as to who authorised it. BBMP Commissioner B.H. Anil Kumar said the action was unauthorised and added that action would be taken against the BBMP official who ordered the demolition. But how was such an act even allowed in the first place is a question that remains unanswered.

Arvind Limbavali, the local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of the Legislative Assembly, apparently had a role to play. He has repeatedly said that illegal Bangladeshi immigrants live in unauthorised colonies in his constituency, Mahadevapura. He put out a series of three tweets on January 12, in which he alleged that “residents from other areas have settled here, some of them are suspect to be illegal immigrants of Bangladesh”. He also stated that the officials concerned were reviewing this information to take suitable action.

The January18 incident followed this assurance by Arvind Limbavali. There are also news reports stating that the officers who carried out the demolition drive were motivated by discussions about the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) and wanted to target settlements of Bangladeshi migrants. This fact could not be verified independently by Frontline, although in October last year the police had deported 60 persons from Bengaluru claiming that they were illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. There are also reports that residents of Mantri Espana, the high-rise apartment next to the cluster of shanties, had complained to BBMP officials about the eyesore that the shanties had become. Security guards at the apartment complex denied this reporter entry to speak to the residents.

Altaf Mondal from Silchar in Assam and Salim Fakir of Delhi sat in the shadow of a propped up tin sheet next to the demolished shanties. Altaf works as a security guard with a private company, while Salim works in the housekeeping department of another company. They are lucky as their shanties escaped the demolition but live in the fear that their houses could be razed down anytime.

“We don’t live in these shanties by choice but because we can’t afford to live anywhere else. The rent here is around Rs.1,500 and there is electricity and water. We don’t even have to pay a security deposit. I earn Rs.12,000. Where else can I stay?” Altaf asked. Many of the residents whose shanties were demolished have returned home, according to Altaf and Salim. “Just like all these people who live in the apartment complex, we are also not from Bengaluru but come from far-away places like Assam, West Bengal, Tripura, Meghalaya, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi to work in this city. We are also Indians just like them, so how come they are not thrown out,” Salim asked. Salim was only reiterating a well-known fact: a lot of residents of Bellandur are from different parts of India who have come to Bengaluru to work in the many Information Technology companies that are present in the area.