Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Memories of development

The state govt’s love affair with property developers is actually not so new. In the early 90s, thanks to the good offices of the former chief minister, private land along Calcutta's Eastern Metropolitan Bypass (opposite the Salt Lake Stadium) was summarily acquired by the state govt and handed over to a business house to build a hospital. This business house brought in a foreign hospital chain to build and start the hospital; and then sold its share to them. Over a period of a few years, using its good access to the party/chief minister, i.e. its 'fixing' abilities, this business house made a neat and sizeable profit. Needless to mention, this is a posh hospital, where one will have to search very hard to find any low-income or economically weaker section patients.

And next to this people's hospital, on the Kadapara hillock, is another example of public land being quietly given over to another business house, this time a real estate company, to build a folksy “heritage mall”. Though the city is starved of open and recreational spaces, public land is privatised; one has to pay a stiff entrance charge to get into the mall. There one will find costumed pseudo/kitschy vendors of street foods, giving a feel of the 'real' thing. And so many of the beautiful and wonderful intellectuals, artists, poets etc would regularly be found in this mall, gracing cultural events and poetry readings, celebrating the favour with which they are feted. But nobody ever questions the privatisation of public land, and the rape of the public domain (they would of course talk about Vietnam, Cuba, now Venezuela, imperialistic globalisation and what have you...).

In the early 1980s, a foreign NGO had obtained land from the state govt in the fringes of Salt Lake to construct a large number of good quality houses for pavement dwellers. Some of these were allotted by the party to its favoured clients. The rest lay unoccupied, because those whom the party wanted to give these to refused to move (the pesky Duttabad households, the survivors of the erstwhile fisherfolk of the area - so that they would go away from the side of the new Bypass that had come up). Many houses were vandalised (by party- and police-backed criminals), leaving not a trace of a housing complex. A couple of hundred houses still remained. In 1987, a group of homeless people from various parts of Salt Lake, rickshaw-pullers, labourers, maidservants etc, who had been repeatedly evicted, occupied the empty NGO housing complex. They then appealed to the govt to permit them to live there. In January 1988, using brute force, they were evicted. Today there is not a trace of these houses either, and the whole site has become part of the Salt Lake electronic / software complex.

Extracted from my article "Sinister Design To Appropriate Slum Land In Calcutta?"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting website with a lot of resources and detailed explanations.