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Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Deprived of basic facilities, Kharagpur rail settlement 'encroachers' mull vote boycott

The reason for such government apathy was attributed to the fact that these bustees came up illegally on land owned by the railways. And, the only government communication dwellers received from time to time were eviction notices from railway authorities.
Last Updated : 21 May 2024, 10:55 IST
Last Updated : 21 May 2024, 10:55 IST

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Kharagpur (WB): Anger and disillusionment writ large on the face of 50-year-old Maksudan Bibi, a resident of the New Bus Stand Gandhi Nagar Bustee in Kharagpur, as she blurted out the daily struggles she has to endure to fulfill her family's basic needs for a decent living.

Maksudan, who works as a house help and has been living in the Gandhi Nagar slum for the better part of her life, said she never had drinking water or a proper electricity connection at home, not to mention the overflowing open drain running right in front of her house that turns the locality into a living hell during monsoons.

"Every morning I walk nearly a kilometre to fetch drinking water from the railways supply ferrule. The supply comes once daily for an hour. There is no drinking water at home if I miss that window on account of illness or other emergencies," she said.

Her one-room concrete dwelling, which has provisions for a kitchen but no toilet, was dimly lit with LED bulbs with electrical connection illegally hooked from overhead wires.

Maksudan's plight was unanimously shared by inhabitants of the 400-odd dwellings of the slum.

And it's not just the Gandhi Nagar colony, around 29 shanty towns spread across Kharagpur, some of which are over a century old, shared the same fate.

Conservative estimates put the number of affected residents, living without water and electricity, at over 50,000 in Kharagpur town itself despite all such bustees getting annexed to the Kharagpur Municipality as far back as 2010.

The reason for such government apathy was attributed to the fact that these bustees came up illegally on land owned by the railways. And, the only government communication dwellers received from time to time were eviction notices from railway authorities.

Ironically, though, the slum dwellers possess voter identity cards and other documents such as Aadhaar, PAN and ration cards.

"We have been living in these hellish conditions for decades. Every time there's an election, candidates promise us a solution but the problems remain as it was 50 years ago," said Basiran Bibi, Maksudan's neighbor, whose family has lived in the bustee for three generations.

"That's why we in our 'mohallah' have decided to boycott the polls this time. Let the politicians get a taste of what voters' disappointment looks like," she declared.

Kharagpur, which is a part of the Medinipur Lok Sabha constituency, will vote on May 25.

"Look at the open drains which run outside our homes. They are hardly ever cleaned and during the monsoon, this filth gets mixed with the water which stands up to the knee level for days on end forcing us to stay indoors," said Parveen Khatun, another resident, drawing attention to the stink that filled the air from the sewer lines.

The shanty has one public well at its centre and is used for washing and bathing, by men and women alike, throwing every semblance of modesty for its inhabitants to the wind.

"During summers, when there is excess need for water, this well dries up. That's when our real torture starts," complained Sk Siraj who runs a small business.

He supported the women's resolution to skip the polls on May 25.

Locals said that the area's Congress councilor recently paved the roads inside the bustee and put up a few street lights.

Interestingly, the bustee also houses families of railway employees. Their plight was, however, no different from the rest.

"We have no solutions from the government despite our votes and repeated pleas," said Y Durga, a gangman with South Eastern Railway's Nimpura yard for the last 17 years.

Shabana Khatun, a resident, said the government should regularise the colony by giving land rights.

"Water and electricity should follow next," she declared.

Local TMC leader Debasish Chowdhury claimed that the civic body has provided drinking water to some of the bustees, like Kalinagar, China Town, New Settlement, Shantinagar and Nimpaura Harijan Colony, by extending supply lines from regular civic wards to which these shanty towns are adjacent to.

Power supply, too, has been provided, taking advantage of their proximity to the regular wards, he added.

"The problem persists with the isolated bustees where such connections cannot be given purely on logistical grounds unless the railways, which owns the land, provides the necessary permission," Chowdhury said.

Stating that new houses can be constructed for the illegal encroachers under a central scheme, he said, "It all depends on whether the Centre chooses to take a humane stand on the problem and give up its ego. These lands were vacant railway plots anyway with no projects planned on them." Chowdhury, however, failed to point at an immediate solution for these encroachers who seem to have fallen through the policy cracks of the government.

"Leaders who have left these people in the lurch for so long have no right to ask for their votes. The responsibility to highlight their misery in Parliament falls on the representative of this seat which, sadly, was never done," he said.

Goutam Bhattacharjee, local BJP leader and former councilor, said, "Our party has been trying in its own way to bore tube wells for some of these bustees. But on most occasions, it's the TMC that blocks our efforts by lodging complaints to rail authorities." Stating that the party has its hands tied before government protocols which the rail must follow for such illegal encroachers, Bhattacharjee added, "No permanent solution can be found unless the BJP comes to power in this state."

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Published 21 May 2024, 10:55 IST

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