| HERE WE STAY: Shanty-dwellers block the entry points to the Lake area that the state government sought to clear on Wednesday morning. Picture by Pabitra Das
The eviction drama by the Dhakuria Lakes peaked and then petered out almost before the city could wake up to a warm March morning.
The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government was forced to abandon the eviction drive around Rabindra Sarobar on Wednesday morning after shanty-dwellers, backed by Trinamul Congress leaders, put up a resolute roadblock.
The government backed down, expressing the fear that any attempt at forceful eviction of around 25,000 dwellers, to meet the high court deadline, would lead to 'massive violence' that could spread to nearby areas and snowball into a crisis.
Later in the day, the chief minister blamed the railways for the fiasco and stated that his government could not possibly act in an inhuman manner even if the railway was shirking its responsibility.
'These people have been living there since 1948, but instead of doing something for them, they (the railways) are making us shoulder the responsibility,' said Bhattacharjee, adding that 'even Union minister Pranab Mukherjee' had been asked to take up the matter with the railway minister.
Around 6 am, over 500 personnel from Calcutta Police, West Bengal Police and the Rapid Action Force (RAF) descended on Dhakuria bridge.
They were greeted by a mob of over 500 slogan-shouting women. Spearheading the blockade was local Trinamul MLA Sougata Roy and other party leaders.
'We refuse to accept the court order. Please don't aggravate matters. Blood will flow if you proceed further,' Roy told police officers, after the high court order was read out to him.
Around 1,200 personnel from the city force and 500 from the state force were posted around the area, with 33 pickets including personnel from railway police and RAF.
An hour later, deputy inspector-general (railways), S.C. Mondol, joint commissioner (armed police) Zulfikar Hasan and deputy commissioner (south) Anuj Sharma approached Roy, who maintained that a forced eviction drive would lead to violence.
Forty-five minutes after the top cop trio left, the drive was called off.
As word of the pushback spread through the shanties, hundreds of dwellers broke into dance, sprinkling the morning air with abir.
A jubilant Mamata Banerjee, who was camping by the rail tracks since midnight, said: 'There is no question of vacating the shanties unless they are rehabilitated. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) and I will together contribute Rs 1.5 crore. They (the CPM-led government) should come forward and allot land for them.'
This is the second time the government has surrendered before the squatters. A similar drive, undertaken by the railways and the CMC in 2002, had also been called off.
According to police reports, the squatters were armed and ready for violent resistance. Police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee confirmed that the operation had been called off to avoid bloodshed.
'Each entry point in the Lake area was barricaded by Trinamul leaders and over 1,000 people. The operation would've led to large-scale violence, that could even have spread to the southern and central parts of the city by noon,' he claimed, adding that his department would submit a report on the aborted eviction attempt to the high court.
'We will file an affidavit on our arrangements as well as the circumstances under which we were forced to call off the eviction,' Mukherjee said.