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Weeded out for a lake view

Tuesday, Jan 11, 2011

Deepa Kurup
Residents fear what resettlement bodes for their children, livelihoods
— PHOTO: DEEPA KURUP 
 
HAVES AND HAVE-NOTS:A jogging track snakes by the degraded Puttenahalli lake even as residents of the slum (left) are threatened with eviction.

BANGALORE: Ashwathamma traces the periphery of Puttenahalli lake with her index finger, pointing to the stark disparities of life that encircle the water body.

While her slum, home to no less than 109 families, faces eviction for encroaching upon one side of the lake, at least two apartment complexes and a few houses dotting the lake's shore line remain untouched.

Posh encroachments

Forget asking them to vacate, civic authorities have recently constructed a jogging track around the lake (for them), says Ms. Ashwathamma. The lake, choked with water hyacinth, is flanked on two sides by roads leading to large residential complexes, most of which have encroached on the tank bed and its catchment.

Last month, the slum residents got to know from newspapers that the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) will “expedite eviction of squatters” on Puttenanahalli, Dorekere and Uttarahalli lakes, all part of its lake rejuvenation drive. None of the squatters have received notices and what angers them is the BBMP's claim that they will be “resettled” and provided homes in Bettadasanahalli, near Electronics City. “A cruel joke,” fumes Rajashekar S., who has lived here for over a decade.

He explains: “Our children study here and our livelihoods are here. Even so, we'll leave if provided an alternative.” To call the Palike's bluff, he produces a sheaf of government documents collected over years. When first approached by BBMP in early 2009, residents had agreed to move. Eager to develop the lake, and because only this patch of slum was “disposable”, the Palike lured residents with alternative land and housing.

Barren dump

Believing the BBMP, many signed the undertakings and travelled to Bettadasanahalli for a quick recce. “We were shocked to find that the 2.4 acre land allocated to us was a rocky and barren site: no housing, no sign of water or electricity. How could we live there?”

Worse, Bettadasanahalli residents were unhappy that land in their village was being handed on a platter to ‘outsiders' who threatened to beat them up, recalls Manjunath, an auto driver who lives here.

When contacted, a BBMP official maintained that they will be rehabilitated. Eviction, they said, would be completed in a month.

It's not as if the residents' lot is any better here: they live by a rotting lake with stagnant water, flanked by reeking drains. However, relocating means they will lose their livelihoods, Lakshmi, a domestic help, says: “How will we women find work there? We will have to travel into the city to work.” They also say Bettadasanahalli has no schools.

Politician-builder nexus

They all now live in fear of eviction. Their petitions and protests over two years have fallen on deaf ears. They allege that builders are pressuring authorities to clear the area to free the land to widen an approach road to a gated community behind the lake.

Asks 65-year-old Narasaiah: “They told us we have to leave so they can make this lake beautiful. But if they care about the lake, why do they allow sewage to enter the lake? Why is it that none of us have seen the water (covered by weeds) for years now?”

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