9 June 2003
To: The Mayor
Howrah Municipal Corporation
We, the undersigned organizations, work in different fields of the society among the downtrodden people. We have received complaints and have been informed that on February 2, 2003, thousands of people were forcibly and illegally evicted from a piece of land at Bellilious Park, 129, Bellilious Road, Howrah, by the administration. We have enquired and investigated into the matter and our fact finding teams have found substance in the allegations.
The fact finding teams found that on February 2, 2003, in the morning hours, a large number of people, almost 700 families, were forcibly evicted from Bellilous Park, Howrah, with the active participation of a huge armed police force, a Rapid Action Force consisting of about 500 personnel. Two/three bulldozers were employed to demolish hundreds of brick built houses and related structures, a school building, temples and statues, and thousands of people were rendered homeless in a day. Ambulances and fire brigade teams were present at your insistence to secure a smooth eviction.
The background of the incident is (in short) that an organization namely Howrah Ganatantric Nagarik Samity filed a writ petition in Calcutta High Court in the year 1987 on the issue of pollution in the park, popularly known as Bellilious Park. Under an order passed by the Division Bench of High Court, Calcutta, the Municipal authority was directed to remove the trespassers. Under the garb of the said order thousands of people, the permanent residents who were in legal possession, were evicted by force on February 2, 2003 by the administration without giving proper rehabilitation or even any proper notice and opportunity to the residents of the said area… Surprisingly, the residents were evicted, but neither the judiciary, nor the administration, nor the Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC), nor police gave the residents any opportunity of being heard before the eviction drive. The administration never cared to make any scrutiny or investigate to find out the legal status of the persons/families evicted.
We have gathered information that the land of Bellilious Park is not solely government land and property. The facts as disclosed are that thousands of sweepers/scavengers, coming from the Dalit community, were employed at Howrah Municipality hundreds of years ago and they were not allowed to take any rented accommodation in the localities of upper-caste people in the town area… The sweepers used to carry night soil on their heads. The municipal authority itself constructed a two-story quarter in part of the said park. The municipal records reveal that a large number of employees of the Municipal Corporation were residents of the park, and [their families] had been residing there for more than 100 years. It is equally true in respect of other government employees of Railways, Nationalised Banks, Public Sectors etc. A number of residents produced not only ration cards in their names but also Election Commissioner’s identity cards, birth and death certificates, service records, etc., all showing the address of the park, 129, Bellilious Road, Howrah, as proof of their legal permanent possession and residence. Some residents even contested elections from this address. The residents have claimed that altogether 7000 people resided there.
It is learnt that the municipality has a development and beautification scheme and it has engaged a private all-famed developer for exploiting the park for commercial purposes. Already there are a number of shopping complexes which have not been affected by the drive of eviction. It proves that you acted in the interest of rich and influential persons and the evicted people were ignored. The people were evicted suddenly without any rehabilitation scheme and there is no plan of any authority for alternative accommodation for the evicted people who were permanently in legal occupation.
All the evicted people belong to the Dalit community. We observed that gross illegality has been inflicted upon the residents of the park as they were evicted without any prior notice… The evicted people got no opportunity to place their case before any authority. It is an accepted position of law that persons in settled possession cannot be evicted without due course of law. The right to life of the citizens of the park, as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, has been nakedly violated by you in order to secure complete vacant possession of the park. You misinterpreted the term “trespassers” as mentioned in the High Court order, and evicted all persons and ransacked and looted the wealth of the victims.
We observed that the evicted people are living under horrendous conditions at the Belgachia garbage dumping ground, on open streets, under the scorching heat of the sun without shelter and drinking water, in the absence of a minimum sanitary system. The evicted people are forced to live under inhuman conditions due to your illegal actions. The ensuing rainy season will further aggravate the already deteriorating conditions, and there is every possibility of epidemics breaking out. Already four persons have succumbed to death under these inhuman conditions.
We strongly protest and condemn this illegal eviction of innocent Dalit people from Bellilious Park. It is a fact that all evictions of common people from their settled possession without any programme of rehabilitation as a precondition are violations of human rights and natural justice…
We demand immediate and proper rehabilitation of the displaced persons/families of Bellilious Park, Howrah, at the same site forthwith, with adequate compensation for the affected families for the illegal acts of eviction…
We shall be constrained to take the matter to any forum both in national and international forums and also to higher legal platforms… if you fail to act as desired…
Howrah Dalit Forum
Akhil Bharatiya Anusuchit Jati Jubajan Samaj,W.B.State Committee
Yuba Janahit Jana Sakti Shangha
Khurut Harijan Kalyan Samity
Shelter for Homeless National Forum, Calcutta
Bastibashi Samanya Samity, Khidirpur, Calcutta
Gardenrich Slum Development, Calcutta
The Dalit Association, Howrah
Ambedkar Jagrity Sangha, Howrah
Progotishil Mahilla Samity (Howrah Branch)
Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM)
Kolkata NGO Forum for Street & Working Children
Footnote: This is the edited text of a letter delivered to the Mayor of Howrah on the occasion of the first protest at the Howrah Municipal Offices subsequent to the Bellilious Park eviction, on 9 June 2003, involving some 600 persons.