Shillong, Dec 16: The Harijan Panchayat Committee has sought the intervention of Chairperson, National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, M.Venkatesan against the plan of the state government to evict Harijan Colony residents.
In a memorandum submitted to Venkatesan on Thursday during his visit to the city, the Harijan Committee said that earlier in 2019 when the then member of the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis Jagadish Hiremani visited Shillong, he had categorically told the government to safeguard the interests of the Harijan Colony.
At that time, in his communiqué to the Chief Minister, Hiremani had asked the government not to evict/shift the manual scavengers/Safai Karamcharis from their present place of living in Shillong.
“Unfortunately, the government, as the latest developments show, has disregarded the suggestion not to shift the poor residents of the Harijan Colony in the Bara Bazar area -in the heart of Shillong to any other area”, the memorandum said.
According to the Harijan panel, the Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong had gone on record saying “Commissions are many and they can recommend whatever, but here we will ultimately make the decisions.”
During his visit in 2019, the NCSK member had allotted Rs 1 crore to the Meghalaya government for the welfare of the Safai Karamcharis of the state.
“His offer to the state government to provide funds from the Commission and through other government housing schemes for constructing proper houses for Safai Karamcharis where they are living had put hope in our hearts,” they said.
If the project is taken up, the poor Safai Karamcharis and organisations of the Sikh community, especially SGPC, DSGMC and other NGOs will also pitch in to build proper housing and other facilities for future generations in the area, the memorandum said.
“This will also ensure that the beautification of the area about which the government is so obsessed about will also be done. We face problems on the social, religious and political fronts, for the last many decades and particularly since the last year, we have been running from pillar to post to protect our home and hearth. We have high hopes from the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis and we urge you to take effective steps at the highest level to protect us and our habitat. We urge you to call a full meeting of the Commission to discuss this issue at length and save our humble habitat’, the memorandum said.
According to the memorandum, Bara Bazar is the abode of Mazhabi Sikhs for the last nearly 200 years.
“The primary work of Mazhabi Sikhs was that of Safai Karamcharis and as long as manual scavenging was carried out, we were used for the tasks. At that time we had as many as 700 members of our community working with the Shillong Municipal Board, it said.
According to the Harijans, when manual scavenging was declared illegal, the profession was taken away from the community.
Govt prefers contractual employees
The present count of employees doing work as Safai Karamcharis is down to around 128. Of these, only 16 are permanent employees and the rest have been categorised as contractual employees so that the government is not liable to them for any facility, concessions and dues of a permanent employee. These “contractual employees” have been in service for 10-30 years. Despite this, they are not being made permanent employees, the letter said.
There are around 80 employees with the government of Meghalaya, around 55 with the Central government and quasi-government bodies and around 90 are in private jobs -all of whom are Safai Karamcharis.
“It is our belief that this is part of the mala-fide design to dwindle the strength of our community as employees. On the one hand, we are being forcibly removed from jobs and on the other, conspiratorial attempts are being made to deprive us of our home and hearth by taking away land which was given by the ruler of this place to our forefathers, nearly 200 years ago. We have written evidence that prior to 1854, the King had allocated this space to our community, plus there are many court orders confirming this, still, the government has decided to take away our homes, places of worship and our educational institution”, the memorandum said.
The Harijan panel said they have been contesting for their rights for the last two decades, they continue to live in fear and failed to convince the authorities of their rightful and legitimate claims.
“We have knocked on the doors of the state and central government and all its institutions on multiple occasions, but the government of Meghalaya is unrelenting even in the face of court orders to the contrary”, the memorandum said, adding that there was a clear order of status quo by the High Court of Meghalaya on April 9 2021.
Similarly, in the order on February 15, 2019, Justice Sen of the Meghalaya High Court had clarified that the title deed of the Punjabi Colony has to be settled by filing a title suit and not through any unilateral decision of the Meghalaya government.
There are around 300 families living in the place working in various state and central government offices, quasi-government offices as well as some in private jobs.
“We are living here for generations, yet we are being labeled as illegal settlers. All government documentations in voters’ lists, Aadhar cards, electricity meters, etc are available for each and every resident. The Gurdwara Sahib here is nearly 150 years old”, the memorandum said.
According to the Harijan Committee, it appears that the government is now in full readiness to forcibly evict them from their homes.
“We are living for 200 years and therefore we have full rights over this land. To rub salt on our wounds, the government calls all of us illegal settlers as well as brings up the bogey of it being a slum and takes the high ground of “taking care of their health, it is necessary to shift them.” How pernicious is their game plan can be understood from the fact that only those 16 employees who are permanent employees, will get alternative accommodation, whereas the rest are all illegal and will be evicted from this place. We have no hesitation in saying that this is a conspiracy against us as the market price of this place has become phenomenally high due to the passage of time and it now being a central part of the city, the state government of Meghalaya is using all means and excuses to evict us. We request that this issue of non-relocation may kindly be taken up on a priority basis by the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis so that the poorest of poor people residing in this colony for more than 200 years are not forcibly evicted by the Meghalaya government,” the committee said.