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Eviction at Chetla squatter settlement in Calcutta

07 / 1993


The Chetla Road shantytown is calcutta at its hellish worst. Mothers sit in dirt-floor huts next to a rail line, shooing flies from their babies. Men defecate near the community well. Crippled, sick dogs hobble along the road. Children swim in a polluted canal as a dead animal, stiff with rigor mortis, floats by

On Chetla Road, most families survive on less than 1000 rupees (45 $ US)a month; some must get by on half that

Like many of the 31 million Indians families who survive without adequate shelter, the Chetla Road squatters show a remarkable, if not painful, resilience. They scrounge for scrap wood and tarp for their homes, and when food rations run out, they skim weeds from the canal to make soup. Small wonder the community a temple to Sitala, the goddess of good health

On January 1993, the 100 or so families were served an eviction notice, a piece of paper that will take most of them out of their huts and plop them down on the sidewalk


The state-run Calcutta Port Authority, which is flat broke, has leased the squatters’land to another government company, which plans to build low-rise apartments and offices buildings

The squatters heard about their imminent eviction only by chance, when a neighbourhood policeman leaked the news to them. Since then, they have noticed security guards from the indian Road Construction Corp., a unit of the central government, wandering around the perimeter of their settlement almost every day

At first, the squatters thought the Communist state governement, which they have voted for as a block in past elections, would assist them, if not by saving their settlement at least by provinding a new site. They say the local party expunged organized crime and police corruption from the settlement, but not to stop the eviction

The squatters have filed a petition in the local courts, using voters lists, bank-loan forms and ration cards to prove their status as permanent residents

By 1994, the port authority wants to clear some 22 hectares of squatter settlements and environmental valuable wetlands for middle-income housing projects

Many have saved money to put in concrete floors to protect their homes from the monsoon and purchased sturdy bamboo at 60 rupees (2.75 $US)a pole for their walls

For most of the residents, the only home they known is the Chetla Road settlement, which follows the canal under a bridge to the fence of a vegetable oil factory


Officials from the port authority and construction company say building will begin after the summer monsoon, although they refuse to discuss eviction procedures

"We’ve had this land for more than a century. We don’t need it. Many other companies do, "said A. Chaktavarty, director of the Indian Ports Association

The Calcutta Municipal Development Authority, Charged with helping the city’s poor, has been left to pay its own bills, and so far has relied on foreign help to stay afloat. Other state units, like the port authority, have begun selling or leasing assets such as land to meet their obligations

Mr. Bhattacharya’s centre who is member of the Habitat International Coalition (HIC), recently helped finance a one-room school, a health clinic, toilets, water pumps and roofing tiles for the Chetla Road squatters. Those modest improvements now seemed destined for the wrecking ball

Not any alternative proposition was given to the squatters before or after the eviction by the Calcutta Municipal Development Authority.

Key words


, India, Calcutta


Articles and files

STACKHOUSE, John in. THE GLOBE AND MAIL, 1993/03 (INDIA), numero 1 a 12

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