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Beautifying Varanasi? Displaced residents remind Modi of promised rehabilitation

By Rosamma Thomas* 

“Democracy is not a system but the natural tendency of India,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the 82nd session of the All India Presiding Officers’ Conference over a video call. This apex body of the legislatures of India celebrates its 100th year this year. Meanwhile, in Prime Minister Modi’s parliamentary constituency Varanasi, people displaced for various beautification projects have been appealing for the rehabilitation earlier promised.
On Wednesday, as the prime minister spoke of Indian democracy in glowing terms, a fresh complaint was registered on the website of the Prime Minister’s Office from the people displaced. The 120 families displaced in Khidkiaghat have not been rehabilitated as earlier promised – only 21 families have received a government-provided home.
Residents of Sujabad have seen their hutments demolished twice over – once during a visit of the prime minister to the area in February 2020 as a memorial was being inaugurated for Deen Dayal Upadhyay, and a second time for Deepavali celebrations in November 2020. 
The residents received no prior notice, and there was no rehabilitation plan in place, says Saurabh Singh, who had appealed to the governments several times in this matter. In all, about 500 people were rendered homeless in Sujabad and Khidkiaghat of Varanasi.
“On the night of November 29, 2020, over two dozen government officials visited the displaced families … before the Dev Deepawali celebration and assured them that they will be receiving land papers and proper rehabilitation in two days,” Singh’s complaint on the PMO website says. 
It adds that the officials stayed with affected families all night, and then took them a kilometer away to Rajghat Bridge early the next morning. The residents were kept under observation all day there, without food or water, and only let free after the PM departed by 9 pm that day. It was cold that night, and one elderly person did not survive that ordeal.
Since then, these homeless people have been running from pillar to post for the rehabilitation the government had promised. Among those living in the open are young, adolescent girls. There are no medical facilities for them. 
NGO Inner Voice Foundation has been providing them ration kits and blankets. Sharda, who lives in Khidkiaghat, said, “We are not educated and cannot expect government jobs. We get by with labour, we make some vessels for sale… but it is hard now that we are also homeless. It would be great if the government could offer rehabilitation. We have waited over a year now.”
Gulab, who has been waiting for rehabilitation at Sujabad said, “We have received a great deal of help from Inner Voice Foundation. Our families have little support, and it would be good if the government could help rebuild our homes.”
A call to the office of the chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh seeking a response on this matter was not put through to the senior bureaucrat. An email has been sent, and this report will be updated if a response is received.
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*Freelance journalist based in Pune

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