A government that had been forced to shelve infrastructure projects for its failure to remove illegal settlers from earmarked land has managed to evict 383 encroachers for the Park Circus flyover, adopting a process that could become a model method.
In a state where removal of illegal settlers is a political hot potato, the eviction of 383 hutments from the 500-plus-metre stretch along the No. 4 Park Circus bridge without a murmur of protest is seen as a breakthrough.
The successful (and silent) eviction drive between November 7 and 12 removed one of several hurdles in the construction of the 9km flyover between Park Circus and the Parama rotary on the Bypass.
"We are so relieved that this passed off peacefully. We gave each hutment owner Rs 12,000 in compensation," said Vivek Bharadwaj, chief executive officer of the CMDA, which is overseeing the project.
Work on the 9km flyover ' HCC is executing the project but LandT will do the stretch above the No. 4 bridge ' had started in 2010 but ran into hurdles ranging from flaws in design to problems in removing encroachment.
"The encroachment hurdle is out of the way, thanks to proper planning, the involvement of known local faces and an extra expenditure of around Rs 46 lakh (Rs 12,000 to each of the 383 hutment owners)," an official said.
Sources said the private contractor paid the compensation after the government gave its green signal.
A reasonable cost escalation is a preferred alternative to a complete stalling of any project, which has become the norm in Bengal with protests greeting any kind of land acquisition and removal of encroachment.
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) was forced to scrap a plan to widen the NH35 between Barasat and Bongaon into four lanes after the government failed to hand over the required land by removing encroachments. A similar problem stalled the expansion of a 16km stretch of NH 34, between the airport and Barasat, and a 15km stretch of NH31 between Bagdogra and Siliguri.
Given this political backdrop, the strategy for the Park Circus eviction needed to be different. It all started with the CMDA and LandT getting in touch with a local club and a charity organisation after consulting MLA Javed Khan, who apparently got chief minister Mamata Banerjee's nod before getting involved.
So well-planned was the operation that Opposition leaders who generally lead the resistance against any such drive ' a method mastered by Mamata when she was one ' didn't get wind of it. "I didn't know about the eviction till it started," Farzana Choudhury, the local CPM councillor, told Metro.
The local Blue Star club and the Yusuf Memorial Welfare Society had been assigned to survey the number of hutments, based on which members of the club were to negotiate with the owners. The police were on stand-by but not involved in the process.
The voluntary groundwork done at the local level months ago helped. "We had done a survey on our own eight months back," said Saiful Islam, general secretary of the Yusuf Memorial Welfare Society. "We informed the authorities that the dwellers were ready to vacate if they received compensation to help them find other rented accommodation."
A team of volunteers came back into the picture two days before the eviction started. "We did a repeat survey of the number of hutments," said S.K. Alam, president of the Blue Star club.
The volunteers then explained the process of compensation to the settlers. Each hutment owner was given a date by which he/she had to leave. The compensation could be collected at Topsia police station by showing a token.
"We did not use a bulldozer. The settlers were asked to first take away their belongings and then pull down their huts," a volunteer said.
As the settlers themselves went about removing their belongings, a police contingent stood on the other side of the road. They never needed to cross it.
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