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Virbant Ahmedabad? Sabarmati riverfront oustees offered poor quality houses sans water and sanitation

By Hitesh Chavda
Even as the Vibrant Gujarat investors' summit entered its second day, facts have come to light suggesting how indifferently the oustees of a top state-sponsored project in Gujarat's business capital, Ahmedabad, are being treated by the state authorities. Latest information at the Ahmedabad Muncipal Corporation (AMC) suggests a sharp rise in complaints regarding extremely poor quality of houses, offered to hundreds of people uprooted because of the Sabarmati Riverfront, a project tom-tommed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a “model” of urban development for other top Indian cities to follow.
While Opposition leader in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), Badruddin Shaikh, a Congress councillor, has officially demanded that the oustees' living conditions, riddled with poor sanitation, lack of drinking water facilities, and pathetic quality of housing construction, should be “urgently addressed”, a visit to the area by this correspondent suggested that the authorities are, indeed, unconcerned towards the large number of complaints they are said to have received from the residents.
About five years ago, the AMC authorities “cleaned up” most of the Sabarmati riverfront of the slum in order to “beautify” it as a sort of picnic spot, setting aside the state government's own policy of rehabilitating slumdwellers at the very place where they stayed. Most of those who were “removed” were allocated housing accommodation far away from the their place of living, with experts pointing towards how it has affected their livelihood (click HERE to read).
A visit to one of the sites revealed that even five years later the uprooted families have not settled down. In 2010, exactly 992 houses were provided to the economically weaker sections, majority of whom belonged to the Muslim minority community, in the Santhoshnagar area of Baherampura in Ahmedabad. The new site was named Sikandar Bhakht Nagar.
Sikandar Bhakht was one of the early Muslim politicians who joined the BJP. Bakht, who passed away in 2004, was a Delhi-based leader who was in the Congress, served as a Cabinet minister in Morarji Desai's Janata government in late 1970s, and joined the BJP in 1980. He became Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha in 1990s, and later in his career was made Cabinet minister in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, which he remained till 2002.
The Government of India provided 50 per cent of fund under the Jawarharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), floated by the previous UPA government in Delhi to develop urban infrastructure, for the construction of these houses. One of the JNNURM's components has been to provide housing to the poor. Rest of the amount was provided by the AMC and the Gujarat government.
Direct interaction with people at the Sikandar Bakht Nagar suggested that people still live in sub-human conditions. Babukhan Pathan, a resident of the housing colony, said, “Most of the houses face the problem of poor construction. Worse, there is no water connection in many bathrooms, sewage pipelines are broken at most of the places. To sum up, there are huge issues with quality for the type of work contractors, chosen by the authorities, have done.”
Walking into a bathroom, Pathan showed how the water from the ceilings had started seeping into his house because of the poor quality of construction work. He complained, at several places, even the plaster has not been completed, both inside the houses and the outside walls, and the tiles have started coming out. “This is true of all the 900-odd houses here”, he claimed.
Another resident, Yusuf Sheikh, said, "There are huge problems of cleanliness and drinking water in the area. Don't we have the right to live as equal citizens of Ahmedabad? Why are we being discriminated against only because we are poor?” Taking this correspondent around, he added, “The cement concrete of the terrace and many houses’ walls are coming out.” Other residents also complained that nobody is listening to them once they were allocated these houses in 2010.

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