If Day I of the Beleghata circular canal eviction drive found four young men in focus, with their torch-the-shanty-to-spite-the-authorities ploy, Day II found the women coming to the fore.
An army of women, some accompanied by their children, turned up in large numbers and lay down in the path of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) pay-loaders on the last leg of the demolition drive.
To prevent the clean-up squad from razing their shanties, the settlers, in a final show of defiance, pelted the police with stones and braved the batons. The Rapid Action Force (RAF) had to move in finally to clear the path for the pay-loaders.
Wednesday’s operation started around 9 am from Gajnabi Setu, in front of Maniktala police station. Two giant pay-loaders, under the supervision of the CMC, irrigation department and the CESC, were pressed into service. The first one-and-half-an-hours passed without incident.
Trouble broke out around 10.45 am when nearly 200 women and children blocked the pay-loaders near Aurobindo Setu, on the western bank of the canal. “You will have to crush me and my children before smashing my house. Where will I stay from tomorrow'” cried Manwara Bibi, a widow rendered homeless with her three children on Wednesday.
As more and more women and children gathered on the spot, the RAF swung into action, along with baton-wielding policemen. When these protesters were chased away — and six of them, including two women, were arrested — a section of the settlers set two empty structures on fire in front of Dalpatti, on Canal West Road. Two fire-tenders were called in and the blaze was brought under control within half-an-hour. The debris in front of Rajabazar police outpost and also near Gajnabi Setu was then set ablaze. But the firemen quickly managed to control the fire. A repeat of Tuesday’s fire chase was averted.
The eviction drive ended around 1.25 pm. Around 25,000 evicted people on both sides of the canal watched silently as Ravi and Prafulla, drivers of the two pay-loaders, saluted each other by extending the giant mechanical arms towards one another, signifying a job well done over two days.
Pijush Pandey, deputy commissioner of police (special), detective department, and one of the overseers of the operation, said: “The job, undoubtedly, was tough and we have completed the operation successfully. We demolished 1,000 structures on Wednesday on the 1.3-km stretch from Maniktala thana to the R.G. Kar Hospital bridge. Now, the 4.8-km stretch on both sides of the canal is clean.”
Apex court order
Even as the last of the shanties was being razed on Wednesday, the Supreme Court directed the Janabasti Uchchhed Protirodh Committee to move Calcutta High Court against the eviction of an estimated 5,000 families from Beleghata’s West and East Canal Roads.
A bench presided over by Chief Justice G.B. Pattanaik gave “liberty” to the petitioner’s counsel, Bijan Ghosh, to move the high court as the first forum of remedy for those to be evicted.
The petitioner had sought an “ex parte injunction” restraining the state government and its agents from “proceeding… with the eviction”.