KATHMANDU, May 9: Over 250 squatter homes were demolished when the authorities sent bulldozers to the slum settlement on the bank of the Bagmati river near Thapathali Tuesday morning.
Around 1,000 people living in the settlement have become homeless and, with nowhere to go, are now forced to live in the open at the UN Park nearby. Many squatters were seen sitting under trees at the UN Park in the evening while a few were taking away their belongings in tipper trucks.
Security persons pitched tents in the area to camp overnight and make sure the squatters don´t install temporary structures overnight.
Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Kathmandu Town Development Authority and the high-powered Committee for Integrated Development of Bagmati Civilization used three bulldozers with massive security backup to evict the squatters. Around 1,800 Armed Police Force (APF) and Nepal Police personnel were used in the operation.
Panic stricken children and women were seen crying out in despair as the bulldozers started to wreak havoc at six in the morning. A few families at the western end of the settlement could not even remove their belongings before the bulldozers arrived from the direction of the maternity hospital. Others living farther upstream were exerting pressure to not evacuate the houses. But they later removed their belongings after seeing the bulldozers ruthlessly flattening even the furnished houses.
Security personnel fired teargas shells and rubber bullets to disperse the squatters when they tried to resist. Dozens of women and children who were used as a human shield were arrested and later released. Twelve landless squatters were injured in the scuffle with police, three of them critically with head injuries. All the injured are receiving treatment at Bir Hospital.
A primary school inside the settlement, with over 150 students, was also demolished. “All the property of the school has been destroyed in the demolition drive,” said Kalyan Adhikari, teacher at the school, Mechi-Mahakali School, adding, “We don´t know where the students will go now.”
Bimala Thapa, a seventh-grader at Guheshwari Secondary School, could not go to school Tuesday as her house was destroyed by the authorities. “I will go to school only after this matter is resolved,” she said. She said she had not eaten anything as of 2 p.m. Tuesday, and her seven-year-old brother was taken away by police.
Nisha Pandey, 13, a fourth-grader at the demolished school, said her father has been missing for five years and her mother is bed-ridden. Her elder brother, who went to the Gulf for work around eight months ago, has not been in contact since. His wife, the sole breadwinner in the family, was employed in a church at the settlement, but that too was demolished Tuesday.
Sunil Tamang, four, is worried as the cart her mother used to sell vegetables to support the family, was also destroyed by police.
“I have nowhere to go,” said Maya KC, 45, showing bruises all over her body from police beating. “All our belongings were buried under our demolished hut,” KC complained. She said she had not eaten anything since the previous night when she saw police cordoning off the settlement. “I felt too depressed to cook. We could not sleep the whole night.” she added.
All of her kitchen utensils are buried in the rubble. She said that after her husband was maimed in a road accident her family of six moved to Kathmandu for the schooling of four daughters. “We cannot survive for evem a month on the produce of our land in the village and my husband is unable to work,” she added. She ran a small tea shop in the squatter settlement to support the family.
Among the other displaced, dozens are pregnant and postnatal women. They seemed terrified by the thick presence of the police and the warnings to vacate the place within two hours.
The Landless Scatters Struggle Committee (LSSC), has decided to organize a protest in response to the demolition. The committee has announced a general strike for Wednesday and said a torch rally will be organized Tuesday evening. “The revolutionary government has decided to solve the problem of squatters with bulldozers and bullets,” Padam Devkota, chairman of the committee, said. “This demolition drive shows how hollow is the Maoist slogan of food, shelter and clothes,” he added. He said the scatters have nowhere to go and will remain under the open sky. Devkota threatened to launch a nationalwide campaign in response of the government action.
The squatters had built their homes on the bank of the Bagmati from six years back.
Squatters to be relocatedto Ichangunarayan
The families of genuinely landless squatters evicted from the bank of the Bagmati River on Tuesday will be relocated to Ichangunaraya, says the High-power committee for Development of Integrated Bagmati Civilization.
The committee has recognized 39 families living on the river bank behind the Maternity Hospital in Thapathali as genuinely-landless squatters.
"We are ready to provide Rs 15,000 to each of the 39 evicted families for temporary lodging arrangement," said Mahesh Basnet, president of the committee. "Later, they will be relocated to Ichangunarayan."
The Department of Urban Development and Building Construction (DUDBC) has already purchased five ropanis of land in Ichangunarayan for resettlement of the evicted landless squatters´ families.
Earlier, all 251 families living on the river bank in Thapathali area were asked to fill out verification-forms distributed by DUDBC. However, only 67 of them had filled out the forms. Of them, 39 have been identified as genuine landless squatters.
The committee has asked even those families who earlier refused to participate in the verification process to fill out forms and cooperate with the government´s eviction drive. "Those who first refused to cooperate with us can still fill out forms and claim their rights to be relocated," said Basnet.
According to Basnet, all landless squatters living along the river bank in Minbhavan, Shankhamul, Teku, Thapathali and Tilganga area will be evicted from the public land within the ongoing fiscal year. However, the evacuation drive that began on Tuesday will not continue for the next few days. "We will review our action," said Basnet. "We will resume the drive only after that."
Earlier, when DUDBC had asked all landless squatters living along the riverbank from Tilganga to Teku to participate in the verification process, altogether 1084 families had filled out the forms claiming to be genuinely landless. Later, DUDBC had decided to involve only those landless squatters living in Thapathali area in the first phase of verification process.