Rezina Bibi works as a maid; Abul Hassan pulls a rickshaw in the Dum Dum area; Motahar does the same… Eking out a living is a struggle, but finding a shelter is not, for Rezina, Abul and many others like them ever since they crossed over, illegally, from Bangladesh years ago. That’s thanks to the deserted airport staff quarters inside the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport area.
And the authorities are engaged in a blame game, making it easy for the “encroachers” to stay “undisturbed” in the quarters. “We have to demolish the quarters to stop illegal activities,” said Airports Authority of India (AAI) director J. Kongari. “Although these quarters are outside the airport activity zone, these things should not be allowed,” he added.
According to Kongari, a few such staff quarters are being occupied by the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel and police. “As the police and the CISF guard the airport, some of them stay there.” The police, meanwhile, blamed the AAI for not responding to their repeated warnings. “We have written to the AAI authorities a number of times about these encroachers. We have requested them to depute their people to identify the legal occupants so that we can throw out the illegal ones,” said additional superintendent of police, Salt Lake, Ajay Nand. “A few months ago, we threw out several encroachers, but they have returned there,” Nand added.
“When driven out, these families take shelter in the remote areas of North 24-Parganas. But they are back, as it is close to their place of work. Many of them are Bangladeshis,” said local Trinamul Congress leader Manju Dutta, adding that the officials have taken no action despite repeated reminders.
The officials are yet to sort out the ownership details of these quarters. “We have handed over these quarters to the CISF some time ago,” said N.K. Puri, regional executive director, AAI National Division. “We have 92 single-room quarters, of which 12 are being occupied by our people,” countered CISF commandant Sanjay Prakash.
Rezina Bibi, however, remains unfazed. “You don’t have to take permission from anyone to stay here. Only request the families occupying several rooms to vacate one,” she summed up.