Urban India can barely contain itself. The country which has consistently recorded some of the highest rates of urbanization in the world in the past five years has seen even cities previously considered second-tier grow in consumption, population and dimension. As the city municipalities and governance attempt to grapple with and accommodate this sprawling endless growth, they end up spilling into and swallowing up the outskirts and the village communities nearby. Under the umbrella of a distant and mostly disinterested urban administration, life in the erstwhile villages is irrevocably afflicted.
IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent Anand Pagare has been a life long resident of Sayane village in Maharashtra until a year ago. Then his village found itself a part of the new and now bigger than ever, Malegaon City Municipality. Life in his village was never as bad as when it became a city, says Anand.
“In the one year that we have been a city, there has been absolutely no development in the region other than the construction of the toll-gate. The gate marks the beginning of the city boundary and has been one of biggest curses that urbanization has put on life in the village,” he says. “Goods sold at the village market have to transported through the gates where octroi or local tax is collected in these good. Everything from vegetables to a soap box has become more expensive.”
“Forget the soap box, even basic amenities that the government provides us like water and electricity have become ten times as expensive. Power has gone up atleast by an approximate Rs.5/- per unit while water comes through taps at prices of gold. Earlier a family would pay Rs.100/- to 200/- annually, now we have to pay Rs. 1500/- just to get the taps installed and another Rs.1000/- a year for the water to flow through it.”
Other than the price there have been other issues that the city has brought with it like dirty city cops with bribes on their mind. While shooting for today’s video Anand had a brush with a group of them. His camera was seized and his footage of the toll gate deleted. The cops thought that Anand was secretly recording them trying to extort motorists passing through the toll gate. It took over a week for Anand to get his equipment back. He is still waiting for a formal apology. (Read Anand’s open letter at the time of the conflict here)
But corrupt cops are only the first level of corruption. Anand cites a video published on January 27th, 2012 titled MHADA Makes Bhil Tribals Homeless in which the state housing development authority bulldozed a village and forcefully acquired their land and farms for a massive housing project. The people tried to approach the authorities with government documents which verified that the land rightfully belonged to the community. The authorities replied that since the village now came under the jurisdiction of Malegaon city, the papers which were registered at the erstwhile village office were now meaningless. Overnight, 25 families joined the growing population of the urban homeless, one of the most marginalized communities in the country.
Anand says that it has become increasingly difficult to reach the authorities with their issues and concerns. “Earlier if we had a problem, for example- a bad road. We would knock at the village chief’s door and explain the issue to hin. He would fix a date, call a village meeting and sooner-or-later the road would be repaired,” says Anand. “Now we don’t even know who is in charge. Who do we speak to about our issues? We have tried visiting the municipal building with our problems but they seem least bothered. They keep sending us on a goose chase from department to department. No one gives us more than two minutes to talk about the issues we are facing before we are ushered out the door. It is a humiliating ritual.”
Anand says that his people are growing disillusioned. “It is a city only in name. There is no development, no opportunities, no improvements. Things have gone from bad to worse.” However, Anand is sure that the move has been beneficial to a few rich people. They have probably become richer. But he doesn’t know them. He hasn’t even seen them.
All he has witnessed are the poor. He is confident that in the last one year, they have got a whole lot poorer.