The ignorance of the vulnerable has always been exploited by the powerful, urban poor in the city have always been in the clangs of the rich, the governance and the society at large. One such incident was seen in the slum community of Ketari (sugarcane) Mohalla of Ward No 21 in Patna.
On 24th November 2012, contractors from Gammon India Limited reached the neighbourhood of Ketari Mohalla and declared that the slum needs to be broken down since an Overhead water tank needs to be constructed in this slum as prescribed by the Bihar Urban Infrastructure Development Corporation under JNNURM.
Perturbed by this sudden news, the slum dwellers panicked and refused to be relocated. The contractor however came with a bulldozer at 2am on the 25th. Slum dwellers resolved to stand together and question the contractor about legality of this whole procedure.
Recently, Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) and its partner DEEP in Patna has done great efforts in organising slum dwellers to take ownership of their own community and be informed about various applicable schemes and provisions for their neighbourhood. In October, a Slum Improvement Committee was also initiated in Ketari Mohalla that comprised 5 women and one male member. This slum improvement committee took responsibility for representing and keeping the residents of Ketwari Mohalla informed.
On 25th morning all the slum dwellers and the members of slum improvement committee demanded a legal notice that must have been issued by the municipal corporation for eviction of the slum dwellers to be produced. The community stood united and pledged to raise their voice against any injustice done to them.
The contractors had no such notice with them, since no such notice was ever issued! Whims of the contractor would have evicted the slum dwellers from their abode! The community members rightly demanded that unless the correct papers are produced they shall not allow for any breakdown of their homes. The slum improvement committee highlighted how all government schemes such as Rajiv Awas Yojna, are now propagating in-situ development of the slum communities. Ketwari Mohalla was aptly equipped with knowledge and no bulldozer was strong in front of this power!
The contractors complained of financial loss of Rs 50,000 every day because of the slum dwellers but were not able to deter the community. The contract that the contractors later produced as issued to them in front of the slum dwellers only stated that a water tank needs to be constructed on the ‘land near PMC Sulab Souchalaya next to Kendriya Jal Ayog land in Adalatganj’. Nowhere in the contract was the need to evict the slum dwellers prescribed! The Slum Improvement (Vikas) Committee member – Sardari questioned the contractor and together all demanded that let the slum community inform the contractor on an apt location for the water tank such that it creates no harm for the dwellers and is also able to provide for the water facility for the slum dwellers and the surrounding neighbourhoods.
Later, realising and admitting that the community is well informed about their own neighbourhood, Municipal Corporation representatives, representatives of Bihar Infrastructure Development Corporation and Gamman India Limited, signed a contract – first of its kind- with the slum dwellers. This contract stated that no harm whatsoever shall be done to the slum dwellers and their properties and the water tank shall be constructed on the empty land in the same mohalla.
Gamman India and Bihar Infrastructure Development Corporation was impressed by the level of awareness of the community members now being represented by the slum improvement committee. Infact for all other such projects they suggested that these slum improvement committee’s shall be a point of contact within slums such that with equal participation of all stakeholders correct decisions can be taken for any development or infrastructural projects.
This is one example of how voice of the community members has been strengthened with knowledge and awareness and is way towards participatory equity based development in our cities. PRIA’s motto that ‘Knowledge is Power’ triumphs high.