February 17, 2005

Immediate Relief for the State-initiated Tsunami Victims - Letter to Sonia Gandhi

Smt. Sonia Gandhi,
The President,
The Indian National Congress,
New Delhi.

Sub : Immediate Relief for the State-initiated Tsunami Victims in Mumbai


It is rather heartening that, as it appears from various media reports, you have taken some time off from your busy schedule and opted to take note, even if somewhat belated, of the terrible human disaster that is at the moment tormenting Mumbai. It provides us a small consolation that the myriad protest struggles being waged by the hapless affected, and the numerous petitions sent to you, have eventually been able to draw your attention to the ongoing human tragedy of massive proportions.

As you are aware, around eighty thousand poor working class families, contributing their mites in a number of meaningful ways in building and running the megapolis, have been stripped of their ramshackle shelters at the peak of the winter season in the name of beautifying the city by literally bulldozing the ìillegalî hutments which allegedly came up after 31st December, 1994. In the process even those who were staying at the same place for well over a decade have lost their meager homes and means for survival.

The drive, as you know, was launched in early December by a government which had just come to power with an impressive show in the city in the assembly election held about six weeks back on the basis of the general promise that the Congress will stand with the common people and the specific commitment that all the hutments built till the end of 1999 will be regularised.

Madam, youíd surely remember, you yourself had actively participated in the election campaign, and road shows in the city, to lend credibility to these promises.

Consequently, this ongoing inhuman drive on the part of the State, to destroy the lives of a large number of its poor and vulnerable citizens instead of actively intervening to protect, spearheaded by a Chief Minister, who not so long ago had been publicly dallying with the Shiv Sena, is just not soiling the image of your party ñ it is a downright assault on your personal credibility as well, with an all-India and long term ramification.

There is a widespread belief that the ëbeautificationí drive is nothing more than a clever ploy to line the pockets of those occupying the high offices and their blood brothers in the building industry at the cost of the common citizenry. This impression gets further strengthened if one looks at the role of this government in gifting away precious mill lands, which had been leased out by the State for carrying out productive activities, to the mill owners again blatantly revising the government stands taken earlier to the detriment of all other stakeholders. The move towards scrapping the Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act (ULCRA) and active lobbying by this selfsame government to bring about relaxation of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification by the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF), even in the teeth of the terrible tsunami experience, are pointers in the same direction.

Under the circumstances, you are once again requested to actively intervene in halting the devilish drive forthwith, ensure proper shelters for those whose homes have been destroyed, formulate a national housing policy and implement it expeditiously to provide affordable housing to urban and rural poor, and, the last but not the least, ensure participation of all sections of stakeholders in the process of town and city planning. Madam, saving the lives of lakhs must be considered far more important than saving the prestige of a Chief Minister of doubtful commitments and intentions.

Thanking you,

Sukla Sen

EKTA (Committee for Communal Amity),