India: Kolkata MDA Eviction, Arbitrary Arrests

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India: Kolkata MDA Eviction, Arbitrary Arrests
By: AHRC
11 April 2012
 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received updated information from MASUM, concerning the forced eviction of the residents of 300 houses by the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority undertaken on 28 and 30 March 2012. The residents are reportedly victims of hurricane Aila from the Sundarban and those displaced from Nandigram of East Midnapur in West Bengal state. The residents had settled at Nonadanga since the state government had failed to help the victims to rebuild their house and lives. The KMDA arrived at Nonadanga with police force, made a public announcement that the people should vacate the place and proceeded to bulldoze the houses down without any further warning.

In fact the KMDA had made a similar announcement on 28 March demanding the people to vacate the premises within 12 hours, against which the residents had protested. Subsequently on 4 and 8 April, the state police allegedly with the assistance of street thugs associated with the ruling political party assaulted the members of a protest group who were protesting against the eviction and detained many of its members. Today, the evictees and those who supported them are either detained or have lost everything, including the shanties that many of them called a home.

Case Narrative

Nonadanga is a hamlet with residents from diverse social identities but with unique similarity of destitution and poverty. Nearly 300 families, who are living in abject poverty, occupied the hamlet. The families that stayed in Nonadanga are those who had lost their property and house to hurricane Aila and those who were evicted from Nandigram. The hamlet had old and new settlers who found refuge at the hamlet over a period of time.

On 30 March at about 10 am, officers from the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority and police officers from Tiljala Police Station and Police Head Quarter- Lalbazar arrived with 3 bulldozers, prison vans, other police vehicles and three fire engines, arrived at Nonadanga. The huge posse of police was had firearms and sticks.

The KMDA has not served any notice before their eviction drive though they made an announcement on 28 March at about 4.00 pm and had asked the residents to vacate the place within 12 hours. The residents, without success, tried their best to argue against the proposed eviction. All the shanties were razed and gutted down rendering the families once again homeless. Pregnant women, infants, the aged and students all were rendered homeless in the matter of a few hours.

The evictees however were not alone. Different civil society organizations gathered at the place and decided to protest against the incident. On 4 April, the police came down heavily upon the protestors. It is reported that the Kolkata Police along with a gang of street thugs who are allegedly the party cadres from the ruling political party assaulted the protestors. A huge police force attacked the protesters and started beating everyone ruthlessly, including women and infants, without any warning.

All their belongings, including clothes, stoves, cooking utensils, sheets used to set up a dwelling, ID cards, ration cards etc were all destroyed in the incident. It is alleged that the officers from the KMDA as well the state police in fact looted the people in broad daylight in the excuse of eviction and dealing with the protestors. Though required by law to prepare seizure documents, none were prepared, that today the victims have no record of what was looted from them by force by the officers.

Ms. Rita Patra, a pregnant woman, wife of Mr. Surajit Patra, who is originally from Bonshree Gouri village, Debipur, Nandigram, Purbo Medinipur district was seriously injured in the assault. Rita was admitted to the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, where, in fact the doctors asked her to withdraw her complaint, which she had by then made against the atrocity committed against her. The police refused another injured Ms. Rinki Das, aged about 21 years, wife of Mr. Rabi Shankar Das, to register her complaint. However the doctor who treated her injuries, Dr. Subhrajit Roy, has documented details of the physical assault she suffered at the hands of the police. MASUM has documented the statements of the victims and witnesses to the incident.

On 8 April, the Kolkata Police arrested 69 activists of the Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee (Anti-eviction Committee) of Nonadanga (a common platform of different civil society organizations), including women and kids when they were peacefully holding a mass demonstration at the Ruby Hospital crossing of EM Bypass. The protest was against the eviction and demanding proper rehabilitation of the evictees. A daylong sit-in demonstration against the Nonadanga slum demolition and forcible eviction, started at Ruby hospital junction at 10 am.

Shortly before noon, a large police force, led by Deputy Commissioner of Kolkata Police Mr. Basab Dasgupta, came to the spot and asked to call off the sit-in. The protestors refused to comply. The police then attacked the protest calling it illegal despite the police being informed about the protest meet beforehand. 69 protesters including evicted residents from the slum, including nine-year-old Monika Kumari Shaw, daughter of Mr. Dilip Shaw, were arrested. The child was kept in the lockup with her mother till 9 pm with all other injured protestors.

The police failed to issue an arrest memo and none were informed where they would be detained when they were arrested. The police took them to Central lock-Up at Lalbazar. At night all were released except seven civil society activists. The activists still in custody are Ms. Deblina Chakraborty, Ms. Debjani Ghosh, Mr. Abhijnan Sarkar, Mr. Samik Chakraborty, Mr. Partho Sarothi Ray, Mr. Siddhartha Gupta and Mr. Manas Chatterjee. They are with a number of non-bailable criminal charges fabricated by the police in connection with Tiljala police station case number 103 of 2012 dated 4 April 2012.

All of them are arrested under Sections 143,149,332,341,342 353 of Indian Penal Code, 1860. According to the police the activists provoked the people into committing a wrongful activity, illegal assembly, and wrongfully restrained and resisted policemen. All the allegations charged, as per police record, were made for their association with 4 March demonstrations along with the evictees. In fact on 4 April 2012, Prof. (Dr.) Partho Sarothi Roy, one of the arrested was on his duty at Nadia district. The police have produced some of the detainees at the local magistrate court and the court has extended their remand without considering the facts and circumstances of the case, as if the remand is a form of punishment.

Background Information

The evictees had to settle down at Nonadanga since the state government had completely ignored their requirement to have their houses reconstructed after the hurricane. Those who are from Nandigram also has a similar story to say since they were evicted from their dwellings during the police action and resultant violence in connection to the setting up of the industrial unit at Nandigram. The villagers who come to strange places like far away cities do not do it on their own volition, as opposed to popular misconceptions. They come looking for jobs and a livelihood since the villages where they stay fails to provide it. The loss of houses and property and peace in the villages is a catalyst in the process. The government cannot and must not evict persons without making available to them adequate requirements to sustain a decent life. This is the singular responsibility of the state.

Original Urgent Appeal

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