Railways Demolishes Surat's Slums; Flyovers, Plastic Covers Only Shelters Now

With tears in their eyes, the slum dwellers are asking where will they go?

My Report
3 min read

Video Producer: Maaz Hasan
Video Editor:
Ashutosh Bhardwaj

It shouldn’t be a crime to be poor... but in India it seemingly is. On 24 August, around 500 jhuggis of Mafat Nagar, Angashi Nagar, and Milan Nagar in Surat, near the railway lines, were demolished by the Railway Police leaving hundreds of poor homeless.

I went to meet the families who had been living in the locality for decades. When I reached there, the scenes were heart-wrenching. How would you feel and what would you do when your house is suddenly demolished? What would you be able to run away with when your house is destroyed in front of your eyes?

With tears in their eyes, the slum dwellers are asking where will they go?

A razed Milan Nagar slum near railway line in Surat

Photo Courtesy: Zuber Shaikh

The women and the children were inconsolable. The men were in shock because they didn’t know where to go and what to do. All of them just left to live in an open field.

A couple of days later, when I went there again, it was raining. People didn’t have roofs over their heads. Some ran to take shelter under a flyover, some ran towards nearby buildings, while others decided to wrap themselves in plastics.
With tears in their eyes, the slum dwellers are asking where will they go?

Resident of Surat's Mafat Nagar Slum taking shelter under platic shed in the rain.

Photo Courtesy: Zuber Shaikh

If you are wondering who these people are and why have they been evicted, let me tell you about them. There are around 21 settlements with about 10,000 slums, or as people commonly call them, "jhuggis", on the railway land between Surat and Udhna. They had been living there for over five decades.

On 19 August 2021, the Gujarat High Court vacated its 23 July 2014 interim order of maintaining status quo, which permitted the Western Railways to go ahead with the Surat-Udhna to Jalgaon project to lay a third railway track. The Railways served the notice to the slum dwellers to vacate the land within 24 hours. On 24 August, the Railways went ahead with the demolition.

The matter was heard in the Supreme Court. The Apex Court, on 25 August, ordered to maintain status quo on demolition till 1 September which was again extended to the next hearing which is due on 16 September 2021.

While we still have a week to go for the next hearing, those evicted have nowhere to go except to live in the open field, footpaths or under the flyovers.

“We are living on the footpath. We are daily wage labourers. We are going to the bathroom to drink water. We are sourcing drinking water from toilets and bathrooms. We don’t even have clean water to drink.”
Hameeda, Resident

Residents of the slums feel cheated of the promises that are made to them before every election.

“Our condition is very bad. It’s been 4-5 days; we have not eaten. We are waiting for assistance; waiting to see if the government comes to help us. But no one has come. During elections, everyone comes asking for votes. Today, who is coming for our help? No one is coming to see us. We have been chucked out like insects.”
Kailashi Devi, Resident

These people are waiting for the government to help them by providing an alternateive accommodation under their housing schemes.

“You introduced housing schemes for the poor saying you will give houses for free to poor people. Why are you not giving them to us then? We are also poor, living in the slums. Come and give us houses. Every day, you read in the news that the government is doing so much for the poor. But we are dying of hunger, and no one is giving us anything. I urge the government with folded hands. Please give us space to live.”
Kailashi Devi, resident

All eyes will be on the Supreme Court when it hears the matter on 16 September. I hope the top court protects their right to shelter and right to live with dignity, a fundamental right given by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

(All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)

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