Beneath the over bridge that connects parts of this megacity to another, that sees thousands of vehicles fly by its way, beneath the flyover that eases access for tens of thousands, live Kolkata’s very own under bridge squatters.
There’s a huge bed, planks of wood knocked up together with bricks to hold them up above the ground. Cardboard sheets and newspapers make up the mattresses on which the city’s underbelly sleeps.
“Cars fly by all night. It’s scary.”
Situated in one the city’s busiest areas, the trio of Gariahat, AJC Bose and Park Circus flyovers house a number of families beneath them.
Small hawkers who sit on the pavements of the surrounding market place live here. Every evening the area comes alive as children who live here, play around the cars parked under the flyover, right next to their beds. One resident says it’s a good place to live in, with their work place so close by, though the fear of an accident is ever present.
“This life isn’t very easy. We live here because we have nowhere to go. You have to be alert all the time, else your belongings get stolen. My cell phone was stolen the other day.” says Manoj, who’s been living here for the past 3 years.
Rajeev and his family occupy a small area too. “We used to live in a slum nearby. It was demolished. We had nowhere to go, and that’s how we landed here.”
Few years back a car crashed into a parked motorbike. The motorbike flew onto one of the makeshift beds which have been put up by the residents. Luckily, nobody was injured, but this incident is just a sign of how scary living on the streets of a major city crossing can be.
Sewage is another issue. In the absence of a sewage system, these road dwellers have to use public toilets, or in their absence, the footpath. They use hand pumps located nearby for their water needs and all the waste water from their washing just flows onto the streets.
The global business summit earlier this year ensured that the government took special interest in repainting and sprucing up all the cities flyovers. But nobody bats an eyelid at the squalor beneath, as squatters continue to use the flyover as a roof over their head.
The local government has gone on eviction drives many times to clear up the spaces beneath the flyovers and use it as parking space, but as the mayor Sovan Chatterjee helplessly put it, “they keep coming back.”
The Kolkata municipal corporation has been able to clear up few stretches of land which are now used as parking lots.
The problem isn’t just about reclaiming these spaces but also providing alternative housing for the ‘squatters’. Eviction is made difficult due to the inadequacy of the local officials entrusted with the task. Locals have claimed that the police are just interested in ensuring that the squatters remain. “They receive bribes which has become a steady source of income; an income which they do not wish to forego” says a local.
While the government is busy trying to evict these squatters, students of Jadavpur University started an initiative to distribute clothes and food amongst those who live beneath the lifelines of this city. A number of NGOs come forward with a helping hand, with clothing redistribution drives reaching a peak during the winters.
With nowhere to go and a seemingly disinterested government, with a risky day to day living coupled with police officers who’d rather just pocket ill gotten money than perform their duties, no suitable solution can be found for the recovery of the illegally occupied land and the rehabilitation of the homeless people who inhabit it.
Note: Image used in this article is only for representational purpose.