| Children at the SICW Kalikapur centre: Route of trouble
Putting children on the road to a better life has been its guiding principle. But the Society for Indian Children’s Welfare (SICW) has now been asked to make way for a pucca road of “critical importance” to south Calcutta development.
On Monday, CMDA officials visited the Kalikapur campus, off the Garia connector to the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, where the NGO has recently been shifting from its Beckbagan premises. “They told us they would come back on March 22 with police help and break down our building,” explains NGO secretary Swaran Chaudhry.
While the SICW says it has not received any written notification about the road, South 24-Parganas district magistrate Alapan Bandopadhyay maintains that all the landowners along the stretch have been informed. “They have all been issued notices. Those who have not, probably do not have their papers in order,” says Bandopadhyay. The land is “being acquired” for the construction of a road connecting Prince Anwar Shah Road with the Bypass.
But the NGO’s building plans, electricity connections and waterlines have all been cleared by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), as recently as May 2002, when it received a tubewell permit from the civic body.
The district magistrate says the NGO may have not received the notification papers about the road construction if the owner of the plot and the NGO authorities are not the same. But SICW officials have ruled this out as an option as well. “The property, which we purchased in 1995, is registered in our name. We have received nothing in writing, only verbal threats,” adds Shirin Dastur of the SICW, which runs an orphanage, adoption service and day-care for 200 children from slums around Kalikapur.
Maintaining that official word has been sent, the authorities say “up till now, the Society has not condescended to write to us in response”. But the March 22 deadline set by the CMDA may not pose an immediate threat. “We are looking into the matter carefully,” assures district magistrate Bandopadhyay. “We will give all possible opportunities to every affected person.”
The SICW was set up in 1979, when it took in three abandoned streetchildren. Gradually, they extended their range of services to include adoption, education and training for women. As the Kalikapur centre became functional, facilities are being shifted to the campus, sprawling across almost 20 cottahs.
“We hoped to set up a residential facility for 500 children,” explains SICW secretary Chaudhry. While the 40 kids from the old home have just started moving in, around 200 children, between the ages of two-and-a-half and six years, are dropped off at the day-care by their mothers on way to work as domestic help.
Cardiac operations for the economically deprived are also sponsored (numbering around 1,500 till date) by the SICW, which has as its vice-president Dr Devi Shetty. Over 180 children are seen through school and college. The Society also runs a vocational training unit for women.
The centre, set up with an investment of “between Rs 40 and 45 lakh, apart from the land”, has received funding from a Swedish agency, the British High Commission and the German consulate.