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Metro divides Duttabad into unequal halves

In 2011-12, Pratima Jana and Abhishek Dolui hit the protest path when their shanties at 115, Duttabad Road, were earmarked by the urban development department for demolition to construct a Metro viaduct. The dust has settled now, but like some of their neighbours, the lives of Jana or Dolui have not changed for the better.

With a 'missing-the-bus' feeling gripping them, they have pathological hatred towards the swanky building only a few yards away. They even refuse to look that way.

As many as 150 shanties came under demolition threat when Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation (KMRC) had decided to construct the viaduct along the 365-metre trajectory. Facing stiff protest, KMRC had started receding and the fate of the project became uncertain. There was a yawning gap between stations Bengal Chemical and City Centre that had to be bridged. With no option left, KMRC spent a lot on redesigning the viaduct to reduce the number of piers from 14 to 11.

The redesigning saved 70 homes and those who were displaced were rehabilitated in a new building. The euphoria over saving the 70 homes didn't last long as only a section of protesters were accommodated in the new building.

"Now, I regret why we resorted to the movement. Some local politicians backed us then. They can be seen nowhere now," said Arup Bhar, a local. The swanky apartment block is too stark a contrast to their humble huts that still bear the number for demolition.

Pratima is cryptic in her comment. "They have got very good flats. But I doubt how long they can keep them so good. They never lived in such houses. We did our best to save the roof above our head. It was upto the government to decide where we could be rehabilitated. We now try to be happy with what we have," she said. But the despondence in her voice was unmistakable.

Dolui, who was at the forefront of the movement, felt a bit let-down by the leaders. "We fought so that all are rehabilitated well. We felt bad that such a huge project got stalled for us. Eventually, only a section could be rehabilitated."

Did he not feel that construction of 14 piers would have all of them settled in apartments? He had no answer to offer but argued that they were still landlords while those shifted to the apartment were tenants.

But the reality is that 115, Duttabad Road, is a vested land where every settler is treated as an illegal squatter. Here a landlord is only an early settler who let out part of his dwelling to a newcomer, said an urban development department official.

-Krishnendu Bandyopadhyay, The Times of India, Kolkata.