Ghunghuti Para, Sambalpur, Odisha ‘Save the Slum’ movement will resist State Sponsored Bulldozer Oppression and Injustice from the Streets to the Courts.
As per the directive of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Samalei Plan was announced for the development of the famous Samaleshwari temple and its adjacent areas in Sambalpur. The slum dwellers of Ghunghuti Para (in the neighboring area of Samaleshwari temple) were delighted about this until they learned that it involves their eviction. There was no proper announcement for resettlement, rehabilitation, and compensation for them alongside the Samalei Plan.
The affected people had expressed their grievance with the Sambalpur District Magistrate but to no avail. So, they decided to knock on the doors of the Odisha High Court for justice. On dated 27th June 2022 the Honourable High Court of Odisha, in an interim order, directed the government and other stakeholders not to take any harsh measures against the petitioners. But again in another interim order dated 12th July 2022 a 2-judge bench constituted by Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice R. K. Patnaik revoked the stay order for the demolition of the Ghughuti Para slum and directed the government to go ahead with the implementation of Samalei Plan.
On 12th July 2022, 18 likeminded Dalit, Adivasi, and Bahujan organizations of Sambalpur district, Odisha formed a collective banner called “Bahujan Milita Manch” to Save the ‘Ghunghuti Para slum under the leadership of many Dalit, Adivasi, and Bahujans in which thousands of slum dwellers undertook a massive 8km Padayatra starting from Ambedkar Square till the Sambalpur Collectorate office, which was followed by a huge protest against the unconstitutional demolition of Ghunghuti Para slum under the garb of Samalei Plan by the State and the Central government.
History is evidence of the fact that Ghunghuti Para has been home to these slum-dwellers for 450 years or more; how far is it justified to evict them from a place that has historically been their homeland and thus Dalits being rendered homeless via bulldozer without any rehabilitation and resettlement measures in place?
AILAJ Social Activist Balkishor Chattar says, “There has been a consistent demand with the government and the administration for land deeds for a long time; however, the government has ignored this demand and demonstrated a nexus with land mafia and builders. The government hasn’t yet put in place any detailed plan for the Salamei Plan. If slum dwellers of Ghunghuti Para are evicted, then it will negatively affect their lives and livelihood, education of the children, and also, it is a blow to the dignity and very existence of residents there. On one hand, the residents of Ghunghuti Para who have made it their home for more than 450 years are being evicted under the Samalei Plan for the supposed purpose of beautification and development by exploiting religious sentiments, on the other hand, it is understood that the government plans to sell their rightful lands to the corporates at a cost next to nothing.”
“A massive protest was registered that not only be Ghunghuti Para residents not be evicted, definitely not so in a coercive way by means of a bulldozer but also placed demands for the provision of safe drinking water, regular cleaning and maintenance of drainage in the area and that emphasis be laid on primary education, healthcare and safety and security in the region. Slum dwellers of Ghunghuti Para gheraoed the Sambalpur Collectorate to demand the withdrawal of Samalei Plan that the government has declared for the development of Samaleshwari temple and its adjacent areas,” AILAJ Odisha Advocate and leader Sitaram Meher say.
Youth leader Madhusudan says, “While the government ought to provide the 60,402 acres of land in 24 districts in Odisha which is taken in possession by the dominant castes in the name of Lord Jagannath, to the landless and the underprivileged; here at Ghunghuti Para, the residents who have made it their home since more than 450 years are being deprived of their livelihood, income, education, safety in the name of religion and spirituality. This is our struggle for hope and existence; exploiting religious sentiments to counterpoise it is thoroughly oppressive. Our struggle for a life of dignity and for equal citizenship will intensify if the residents of Ghunghuti Para are not provided with land deeds, pucca houses,s and other basic amenities for their health and well-being. We will resist this oppression and injustice from the streets to the courts.”