About sixty tribal families at ASR Nagar of port city Vizag in Andhra Pradesh are on the brink of uncertainty, with the slum set to be demolished ahead of the G-20 meeting. Bulldozers, armed with police, are expected to arrive anytime to evacuate the area where these families have taken shelter for four years.
Ahead of the G-20 meeting, scheduled to be held at the end of March, the tribal families, notably those belonging to the vulnerable Chenchu, Mondi Banda and Devara Banda communities, have been asked to quit the area. This will be the second time these families will be uprooted without being properly compensated or given temporary accommodation.
The irony: Showcasing tribal art, displacing tribals
The officials of Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC) visited the slum area on Sunday, instructing the residents to vacate immediately. The authorities reportedly warned them that they would come with bulldozers and JBCs if they did not comply with the orders. The hapless tribal people are knocking at every door to forestall the calamitous situation of being rendered homeless.
Incidentally, the tribal families are being forced to vacate the colony two weeks after the state special chief secretary Y Srilakshmi revealed that the state government wants to introduce the great and unique tribal culture and traditions of Vizag district to the delegates attending the G-20 meeting.
Delegates from 40 countries are expected to attend the G-20 meeting in Vizag on March 28 and 29. Since the region is home for many tribal communities, the government wants to showcase the tribal art, and crafts and colourful culture of Visakhapatnam and neighbouring Alluri Sitramaraju district during the meeting, Srilakshmi said, revealing the details of the arrangements.
The special chief secretary also said that the repairs and black-topping would be taken up on 97-km stretch of roads under the GVMC limits. “The Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Region Development Authority (VMRDA) and the Roads & Buildings (R&B) Department had identified critical areas, which would be spruced up for the event. The Beach Road stretch would also get a facelift,” Srilakshmi told the media. The area where the 60 tribal families live falls in the zones selected for beautification of the city for the G-20 gala.
‘Violation of human rights’
Noted activist and former secretary, Government of India, EAS Sarma cried foul. He dashed off a letter to Dr KS Jawahar Reddy on Monday morning, stating that evacuating the tribal families amounts to violation of human rights. The retired IAS officer underlined in the letter that evicting the Girijana families squatting on either side of the areas whenever the VIP pass through has become an ugly feature of Visakhapatnam, adding that it’s a blatant violation of every norm of human rights protection and the law of the land.
“The Chenchu tribals from ASR Nagar, who were earlier displaced by the same authorities on an assurance that they would be given regular shelters, have been threatened with one more displacement, without any regular shelters being given to them for the last several years. It is unfortunate that the delegates to the G-20 meetings, who represent several countries, are themselves unaware of the proposed human rights violation taking place in the name of their meetings at Vizag,” Sarma said in the letter.
Cautioning that such a violation would attract the attention of the global human rights organisations to the wanton manner in which the authorities in India have been treating their indigenous communities, a matter that should cause concern to the Union Ministry of External Affairs, he urged the chief secretary to desist from going ahead with the proposed displacement of the tribal settlement at ASR Nagar and also desist from displacing similarly placed hawkers, vendors and small shop owners who are eligible for protection under the relevant Central legislations.
All these families were evicted from the area they had been living in 2018 with a promise that pucca houses would be built for them by the then TDP government. Nallbothula Satish, a member of a group facing the threat of eviction, narrated their woes after they gave up their land to the housing programme.
“In 2018, Telugu Desam government had asked us to vacate the land to facilitate a housing programme. We vacated. But we were not provided with any temporary accommodation. In 2019, YSRC formed the government, but its promise to provide permanent houses remains unfulfilled. It has been four years, but no house has come up. We have constructed huts and sheds wherever a piece of land is available, hoping that the government would soon allot permanent houses. But instead of a house, we were served another eviction warning,” Satish told The Federal.
Lakshmi, an activist from Progressive Organization for Women (POW), who has been fighting for the housing rights of the displaced tribals in the district, said these families were in no way a problem for the G-20 VIPs travelling on the National Highway. “It should not be forgotten that these families have been evacuated from their colony to make room for the construction of a housing colony. The construction is still going on even after four-and-a-half years,” Lakshmi said.
“They were not paid any compensation nor given any temporary accommodation, So, they had to construct a small shed or hut to live as they cannot go to far-off places in the town. Now, another evacuation is staring at their faces. We have come to know that names of these families, who gave away their land, have not figured in the list of the beneficiaries shortlisted for the allotment of the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO) houses. What kind of justice is this?” Lakshmi asked. She urged authorities to accommodate them in the so-called semi-finished houses constructed on the land where they lived four years back. The state government officials were not available for comment.