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Nonadanga Eviction Questioning the Right to the City

The recent eviction in Nonadanga in Kolkata can only be understood against the wider backdrop of the implementation of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, which has been denying the poor of their right to the city, whether in Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata.

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Nonadanga Eviction information technology (IT) and IT-enabled services sector that will further
Questioning the Right to the City consolidate the power of the affl uent classes in the cities. Does this make
the cities better and more liveable for
Swapna Banerjee-Guha the large majority? No. Ready examples are Mumbai and Delhi where, since late

The recent eviction in Nonadanga in Kolkata can only be understood against the wider backdrop of the implementation of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, which has been denying the poor of their right to the city, whether in Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata.

Swapna Banerjee-Guha (sbanerjeeguha@ hotmail.com) is with the School of Social Sciences, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
april 28, 2012

T
he Nonadanga eviction drive and associated police atrocities in Kolkata have once again brought to light the exigency of the state machinery in West Bengal to pursue a development path that not only does not recognise the right of the poor to the city but even shows a thorough disregard to their right to rehabilitation in the event of development-induced displacement. The brutality of the eviction is a way of affirmation by the State that the poor are absolutely non-essential in the current city development framework, no matter what the rehabilitation policy says.

The country’s National Relief and Rehabilitation Policy states that before any development projects are fi nalised the state needs to minimise displacement, promote non-displacing or least-displacing alternatives (as far as possible) or offer adequate rehabilitation measures, especially to the weaker sections, prior to displacement, if at all displacement is unavoidable. The detention of the protesters of the Nonadanga eviction and their subsequent harassment indicates the manner in which the state government is going to deal with the resistance to such development schemes. It is interesting to see how systemic the tyrannical stance of the state is in such cases.

Whether such development projects are being pursued by the present government of West Bengal that vouchsafes its intentions in the name of maa (mother), maati (land), manush (people) or by the previous administration that used to invoke a specific political philosophy to speak of their concern for the poor, by now it is clear that the benefi ciaries of these projects are not the masses or the poor. The purpose of these projects is to make the cities more attractive for the rich and induce more and more corporate groups to invest. The motive is to persuade them buy more property, invest in land and real estate, in the

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1990s, several lakhs of slum-dweller families have been displaced for making way for a number of such development projects.

Actually, the victims of such development ventures are the poor and the underprivileged who are the first to be uprooted and devastated. They are forced to surrender their right to the city where they have been living or working for years, create space for projects that will make the city more beautiful and expensive, so that one day they will have no other option but to move farther to the distant peripheries with fewer and fewer prospects of survival. Sometimes their right to the city is taken away by the logic of the market, abetted by the state, sometimes it is taken away by direct government action that expels them from their homes, sometimes by illegal means through violence or contriving fires. In Mumbai fires in slums in Bandra (where the land value is very high) are a recurrent affair. Essentially the Nonadanga atrocity and the subsequent state repression have only served to reiterate the viewpoint of the state machinery in India vis-à-vis the prevailing development path and associated development projects. Individuals, groups or democratic rights organisations questioning the justifiability of such projects, whether in the cities, the villages or in the forests, will continue to be branded as antinationals or terrorists.

Making Kolkata a ‘World-Class City’

Let us come back to the issue of making Kolkata “a world-class city”. Since its formation, the new West Bengal government began announcing its urban vision of converting Kolkata into a world-class city, with London as its model. Accordingly, it has been formulating a series of plans to reconstruct new spaces in the city for beautification and up-scaling through numerous projects. Several parts of the city are getting earmarked

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for smartening; a number of buildings are being given a face lift; the Ganga riverfront is being developed as an expanded space of leisure (modelled on the Thames riverside in London!); a number of entry gates are being planned in different locations; unused tram compartments are getting converted into cafeterias or banquet halls; vigorous drives have been launched to give a free hand to real estate for constructing gigantic commercial and residential complexes in discrete locations, often displacing the poor who have been living and working in these areas for decades.

Are these projects a novel idea of the current government of West Bengal or are they unique to Kolkata? In both cases the answer is “no”. The previous West Bengal government also enthusiastically introduced similar urban development programmes, associated with displacement and eviction, following the prescription of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), the largest post-independence urban planning initiative in the country. And again, Kolkata is not the only city where such beautification drives are seen. One city after another, in different parts of the country, has joined the bandwagon, under the diktat of the JNNURM. Beautifi cation of Kolkata is only a part of a larger programme framed by a larger ideology, the imperative stemming from the nexus of big capital, international fi nancial institutions and the state machinery.

Revanchist Urban Renewal Mission

To understand it, we have to go back to 1990s. With the introduction of the new economic policy, Indian cities like many other cities of the developing world, entered into a global framework and started getting reshaped according to the exigencies of global capital. In 1991, the Mega City Programme of the central government was launched to revamp the infrastructure of large cities. Subsequently in 1996, the Expert Group on Commercialisation of Infrastructure estimated a requirement of around Rs 2,50,000 crore as investment in urban infrastructure for the coming 10 years. This made the entry of private capital in the urban development scenario a necessity as it had already been announced that the government lacked funds. Accordingly, a major overhauling of the administrative and legislative frameworks of the government was suggested that facilitated the involvement of international fi nancial institutions like the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) in drafting the urban reforms mandate for India. Finally in 2005 it took an official shape in the name of the JNNURM.

Detailed plans were chalked out to equip the cities to function as nodes of global finance and acceptable to the credit-rating agencies. To achieve the above, a mandatory decoration of the cityscape was prescribed, to make them look beautiful. An aggressive – almost revanchist – urban development programme was introduced all over the country in the form of gigantic infrastructure and real estate projects targeting a small section of the elite as the chosen clientele. The think tanks behind this initiative, like the McKinsey Global Institute, considered the urban poor as the biggest impediment to the materialisation of such projects and recommended a drastic reduction of the slum population in large cities, proportionately from 60% to 10% (as in the case of Mumbai) making displacement a fundamental component. A careful analysis shows that the timing of the introduction of JNNURM coincided with a number of anti-people blueprints under the new economic policies.

Operational Framework

Let us look at the operational framework of the JNNURM in order to contextualise the increasing vulnerability of the poor in Nonadanga and other slums in Kolkata and other cities. The mission is classifi ed into two parts: Submission A, entitled Urban Infrastructure and Governance (UIG), accounting for 65% of the initial total funds of Rs 50,000 crore, administered by the Ministry of Urban Development. All infrastructure and beautifi cation projects come under this head. Let me mention here that in the Eleventh Plan, public-private partnership (PPP)

april 28, 2012

was accepted as the prime alternative to fund infrastructure projects following which the infrastructure budget rose sharply from Rs 260 crore in 2007-08 to Rs 560 crore in 2011-12. A crucial fact in this respect is that with the introduction of JNNURM, real estate was given an incredible boost by allowing 100% foreign direct investment.

Submission B, entitled Basic Services to the Urban Poor (BSUP) accounts for the remaining 35% of the funds, administered by the Ministry of Urban Employment and Poverty Alleviation, including slum improvement and rehabilitation and access to basic services under its head. All previous central government schemes for the urban poor got annulled and brought under the mission. Needless to mention, proposals that have been given priority by the mission are all from Submission A, incorporating mega infrastructure projects, gigantic commercial and residential complexes, shopping malls, cultural signature projects and urban spectacles. Funds have always been released for these projects while the Submission B projects went on to receive stepmotherly treatment in terms of accep tance and fund allotment. One must note that one of the official agendas of the mission has been to make cities “slum free” over a period of time. A drastic shift from provision of basic services and low-cost housing to marketdriven projects has been underway, the latter taking the lion’s share of the JNNURM budget. The mission has essentially worked towards intensifying social inequality through a grandiose planning mechanism and has helped cities to gradually get rid of the poor from vital locations, thereby raising the value of the land.

Excluding the Poor

Against this backdrop, we go back to the Nonadanga residents. This is the area that was chosen in 2007 as one of the BSUP resettlement sites for slum-dwellers who had been evicted from different parts of the city for implementing the Submission A projects of JNNURM. The resettlement project in Nonadanga has been officially and jointly run by the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA) and the Kolkata Environmental Improvement Project (KEIP), the latter

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EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

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being the owner of the land. The residents have been eking out a living by working as informal workers in various organisations, or as domestic workers, rickshaw pullers, construction workers and similar other occupations. While they live in abject poverty, their contribution to the city’s economy is unquestionable. No mission funds have come to provide schools or health centres in the Nonadanga Resettlement area. Whether the funds were released or not utilised is a different question altogether into which we are not entering now.

Real Estate Goons

As the area is now on the verge of a commercial boom with the real estate goons having their eyes on the entire neighbourhood, all of a sudden the residents (who had been officially relocated here from their slum colonies and that too under BSUP provisions of JNNURM) are declared illegal encroachers who, according to the state machinery, can only deserve expulsion without any notice. Goons of the ruling political party who have control over the area and who once had allowed these people to build their hutments in lieu of “protection money” have now joined the government to oust them. The urban development minister has ordered expulsion of all illegal encroachers. Besides the residents, the supporting protesters too – belonging to democratic and leftist organisations or human rights groups – have been treated in a high-handed manner. Unless there is a political motivation such behaviour cannot be explained. The arrested activists were denied bail, sent to jail till 26 April and slapped with false charges, including sedition or links with “Maoists”, a standard practice in West Bengal since the 1970s (from the time of the Naxalbari uprising) to suppress antistate protests by intellectuals, students and other middle class people.

Essentially, the Nonadanga incident exposes the true intent of the present

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-West Bengal government or, for that matter, of any state government in India vis-à-vis the urban poor. As I have mentioned, it could not have been otherwise because any government practising the formulae of JNNURM with dexterity can have no other approach. The very purpose of the brazen neo-liberal doctrine of JNNURM is promotion of exclusionary urban development, to make cities “world class” and habitable for the rich. And this brings us to the issue of the basic right of the people to their cities. Who will decide that right? Who will defi ne it, grant it or deny it? Who will exercise it?

The time has come to decide whether the answers to these questions will come from assertion at the institutional level or through social movements with support from a large cross section of the people. We need to understand that the right to the city has to be democratised through a collective effort. Only such an undertaking can provide the dispossessed a wider arena of struggle.

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Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
april 28, 2012 vol xlviI no 17

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