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Slum demolition in Vadodara: Gujarat's cultural capital "fails" Right to Education law for displaced children

Counterview Desk
A recent survey of 118 families, who were “shifted” to Yamuna Mill Pratap Nagar area of Gujarat's cultural capital, Vadodara, after their houses were razed to the ground as part of the city's biggest slum clearance operation, has revealed how the devastation has adversely affected school going children. More than 2,000 slum houses, mainly belonging to Muslim and Dalit communities, were bulldozed in the operation, which took place in the third week of November. While about one third of those whose houses were shifted to alternative housing sites under construction more than 10 kilometres away, others began found solace with their relatives or are just living by the roadside even today, braving winter.
The slum clearance operation took place in Kalyannagar and Kamatipura in order to create space for implementing the Vishwamitri riverfront project on lines of the Sabarmati riverfront, projected by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as an urban model of development before he took over reins of power. The survey, whose results were handed over to the local authorities, found that the future of as many as 103 girls and 130 boys is at stake. Of these, 164 children come under the right to education (RTE) Act – as many as 68 children study from classes one to four, and the rest in classes five to eight. As for others, they are studying in classes from ninth to twelfth.
The survey, carried out by Vadodara's women's organisation, Sahyar, said that great majority of children, 169, were studying in the private schools at the place of their residence, while as for the rest, they were studying in government schools. The private schools where they studied included Jivan Bharti, Navyug Vidyalaya, Shri Krishna Vidyalaya, Sardar Vinay Mandir, Hill Memorial Arya Kanya Vidyalaya, and so on. “85 per cent of the children used to go walking to these schools”, the survey said, adding, “The parents did not have to spend anything for their transport.”
Pointing out that only 25 children have been able to get admission in a nearby school, the survey said, as for others they must still go about 10 kilometres away to study in their respective schools. While the children whose parents could spend about Rs 1,000 per month for transportation have begun sending them far away to study, as for others, they have no other option but not to send their children so far. “There is a sense of fear that small children cannot be sent in rickshaws so far away”, the survey said, “It is not known how many parents will continue to afford sending their children so far and for how many days.”
In fact, the view is pretty strong, according to the survey, that many of the children would join the labour force in the coming days, as there are fewer livelihood options with their parents at the new place of living. "There is about 30 per cent reduction in the overall income of the earning members after they were forced to shift to the new place", the survey said, adding, "This apart, there is a sharp rise in the expenditure of the parents compared to what it was earlier. Many of them have been forced to begin sell vegetables or earn a living by selling waste material after collecting it from house to house."
Based on the survey, the displaced slumdwellers of Kalyannagar and Kamatipura have demanded from authorities to “immediately ensure” the implementation of the RTE, which requires giving free transport to the school of children. “The RTE makes it mandatory for the officialdom to ensure free and compulsory education, and the cost of transportation has to be borne by the government”, the survey said, adding, “The destruction of the slumdwellers houses is illegal, as many of them lived on government land, and according to the slum development policy of the government, they ought to have been provided with housing at their original place of living, which has not happened.”
The survey said, as many as 118 children would require free bus to transport them to school every day at about 6:15 in the morning. Another 50 children would require bus to transport them at 11:15 in the forenoon. The buses should bring back the children, it pointed out, adding, “Actually, the RTE issue should have been sorted out even before the slumdwellers were sought to be displaced. Already, children have suffered for failing to study for about a month.” A copy of the survey has been sent to the People's Union for Civil Liberties,Vadodara, and the Vadodara municipal commissioner.
Quoting children, the survey said, Aftab Sheikh of class 7 complained that, often, they reached school late and as a punishment are not allowed to take their meal during the lunch hour. “Earlier we went walking to school”, he said, adding, “Most of the time the rickshaw hired for us reaches the school late.” Another child, Minakshi Prajapati, studying in class 11, said, “My parents have deposited Rs 8,000 for extra classes, and they now have to spend another Rs 500 to hire a van for the classes.” Shahnawaz Diwan of class seven and Jivan of class ten complained that they have to cycle 10 kilometres daily to go to school.

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