Friday, December 8, 2023

Harijans blink; agree to govt’s relocation plan


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SHILLONG, June 7: After initially rejecting the relocation blueprint, the Harijan Panchayat Committee (HPC) has now agreed, in principle, to the government’s proposal to move out of Them Iew Mawlong.
The fresh development came to light during a hearing on the case by the High Court of Meghalaya on Wednesday, where Advocate-General Amit Kumar reported that the counsel for the HPC has agreed, in principle, to the blueprint prepared by the government but has made some suggestions and demanded modification of the relocation plan.
The court hoped that the concerned parties will now resolve the long-pending issue and give a quietus to these matters. It also listed the case for hearing after three weeks, allowing the state government to examine the suggestions for modification.
The HPC’s decision to agree to the relocation proposal is a significant victory for the NPP-led MDA 2.0 Government, especially considering the fact that the communal flare-up that occurred on the night of May 31, 2018, less than three months after the MDA Government came to power in March, was the first major challenge faced by the NPP-led government.
On June 4, 2018, the state government constituted a high-level committee headed by then Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong to examine all relevant records and documents relating to the relocation of residents of the colony.
However, the HPC challenged the government’s decision in the high court which ordered both the HPC and the HLC to maintain status quo.
On March 31, 2021, the state government executed a tripartite lease agreement with the Syiem of Hima Mylliem and the Shillong Municipal Board for taking over the Harijan Colony land and took possession of the land in October, 2021.
On August 31, 2022, four years after constituting the committee, the state government decided to relocate 342 families from Harijan Colony to the existing quarters of the Shillong Municipal Board office on Bishop Cotton Road. The department was asked to prepare a blueprint to facilitate the relocation.
The residents agreed to relocate provided each family was granted 200 sq. metres (approximately 2,150 sq. ft) of land in the European Ward and Rs 20 lakh as construction cost of each house with all facilities.
They also demanded that shifting of the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar, Shiv Mandir, Durga Puja Mandir, Valmiki Ashram, CNI Church and Guru Nanak School would not be acceptable to the community.
It further said about 60 people who earn their livelihood by running shops in the colony must be allowed to operate at the same place.
Disregarding the HPC’s demands, the Urban Affairs department went ahead with the blueprint according to which about 30-40 flats will be constructed in 12 blocks on a 2.5 acre plot of land on the SMB office premises to be allocated to the people whose names have already been submitted in the high court.
The government would demolish the existing buildings as they are not strong and reconstruct the units for which the necessary instructions have been issued, the department had stated.
However, the HPC rejected the blueprint terming it as “incomplete, unsuitable, unprepared, unfair and undemocratic”.
The HPC alleged that the “entire exercise is an ill-founded relocation theory, which actually compels the resident citizens of Punjabi Lane to forego their rights, title, and interest over whatever small land portion in the colony and to accept the prison cells-like accommodation being offered” in the proposed blueprint.
“Our original demands presented in the eight-point resolution still stand and we will not buckle under political duress merely because it is convenient for the government to do so and simply because due to the passage of time, the land has become a commercial goldmine,” it continued.
In the latest development, the HPC has suggested modifications to the relocation plan but the details of the modifications sought for could not be ascertained at the time of filing this report.

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