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Dalits of town near Ahmedabad protest against 5-yr delay in allocating housing plots set aside for them

By Our Representative
Hundreds of safai karmacharis, mainly belonging to the Dalit Valmiki community, have protested against the failure of the Gujarat government to allocate them land for building houses in Viramgam, a town situated in the neighbourhood of Ahmedabad, whose vicinity is likely to see major industrial activity in the near future. The local municipality gave a nod for two plots of land – Survey Nos 377 and 178-- measuring 21,954 square metres way back in 2010, so that they could build their own houses. But so far nothing has been done to allocate the land to the "neglected" families, many of whom are permanent members of municipality, while others are daily wagers.
Headed by Safai Kamdar Hak Rakshak Samiti, and supported by Ahmedabad-based Dalit rights NGO Navsarjan Trust, five representatives of the rally – Shanti Shankar, Rajesh Makwana (both of the Safai Hak Rakshak Samiti), Kirit Rathod, Ramilaben Parmar and Jayaben Parmar (of the Navsarjan Trust) – represented to the chief officer of the Varamgam municipality with a signed letter to bring an early solution to the long-pending issue. The representation said that the delay in allocating plots has been happening despite repeated reminders by the district collector Ahmedabad to hand them over to them.
Kirit Rathod told Counterview at the end of the rally that the last plea by the district collector reminding the local officials of Viramgam to act was sent on May 23, 2014, “and so far he has sent as many as three other reminders over the last three years.” However, he added, “The local officials are not sensitive towards the issue at all. They have simply ignored the Dalits’ right to get the plots under a government scheme, forcing us to take out a rally to pressure the officialdom to act.”
Kirit Rathod, second from left, after handing over letter
Rathod said, the plots are not being allocated to the Dalits despite the fact that Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel, as former revenue minister last year “assured during her visit to Viramgam that the plots would be allocated.” He added, “This was not for the first time that she gave the assurance. She did this at least twice earlier. Yet, the local officialdom has failed to act, and the Dalits are not being allocated any land.”
Rathod said, this is not the only issue that the Dalits face. “Even if they get land, it would not be easy for them to build houses. What they will get is just about Rs 40,000 from the government, while the rest of the amount – Rs 60,000 – they would be given as soft loan. You cannot be expected to build even a small room with Rs 1 lakh. They will have to shell our rest of the money from their own pocket. It is indeed a tall order.”
Rathod further said, unlike in the big cities, where the slum-dwellers are being offered free flats, the government has “no scheme for the smaller towns, operating under as municipalities, where the poor could get their own house free of cost.” He added, “There is a clear effort to neglect the plight of the poorer sections of smaller towns, which are fast becoming part of the fast industrial process around Ahmedabad.”

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