With the Gujarat and the Union governments implementing the ambitious Rs 1,200-crore Gandhi Ashram Memorial and Precinct Development project, a family living on the Gandhi Ashram premises near Jamna Kutir in Ahmedabad was allegedly forcefully evicted and their house sealed by officials of the Ahmedabad district collectorate on Wednesday.
The district collectorate officials, however, denied that they had forcefully evicted the family and maintained that no wrong had been committed.
The family of Karan Soni (35), a descendent of a Dalit settled by Mahatma Gandhi at the Ashram in the early 1900s, alleged that they were forcefully evicted, as they demanded more money as compensation for their displacement as per the “changed” rehabilitation policy for the project.
Soni has been living with his family – mother, wife, two daughters and uncle on the maternal side – near Jamna Kutir within the Gandhi Ashram premises for years. He said that his great grandfather on the maternal side, Laxman Vaghela, was settled in Gandhi Ashram by Mahatma Gandhi. “My uncle and my mother are siblings and are great grandchildren of Laxman Vaghela,” he added.
“Ours is a one-storey pucca house. My mother and mama live on the ground floor and I live with my family on the first floor. We have separate kitchens,” Soni said.
He added, “On Wednesday afternoon, a team of the Ahmedabad collectorate and Ahmedabad City Police forcefully evicted us from the house as the family members were having their meal. The team did not allow us to even collect our stuff and sealed the house.”
Soni said that initially, the family was ready to vacate the house after accepting the compensation being offered by the state government. “They were offering Rs 90 lakh for my kind of house (ground + one floor) as per their stated policy. So, we accepted a cheque of Rs 60 lakh from the government after signing an agreement with it. We demanded a copy of the agreement, but did not get one. Soon, I realised that the authorities were adopting favouritism in awarding compensation.”
The rest of the amount was to be paid after the family vacated the house, as per officials of the collectorate.
“I came to know that for my type of houses, where two or three families stay, the government was paying compensation of Rs 60 lakh per family. In that case, we are eligible to get (minimum) Rs 1.2 crore. So, I returned the Rs 60 lakh with interest to the district collectorate. But they refused to accept it,” he said.
According to Soni, the state authorities had been forcing him and his family to vacate the house for long. When they did not do so, they were forcefully evicted, he alleged.
Soni, who has shifted to a house on S G highway in Bodakdev with his family, said he is going to move court against the eviction.
When contacted, Ahmedabad Collector Praveena D K, who is member secretary of the governing council and executive council for the Gandhi Ashram Memorial and Precinct Development project, asked The Indian Express to contact City Deputy Collector Umang Patel, “who is handling the matter”.
Patel refuted Karan’s allegations. “No forceful eviction has taken place. They (Soni and his family) had accepted a cheque of Rs 60 lakh in October 2021 while signing an agreement. As per the conditions (of the agreement), they had to vacate the house in 30 days and the remaining cheque of Rs 30 lakh was to be given to them after that. However, even after one-and-a-half years, they have not vacated the house.”
“As per the agreement, we have given them three notices to vacate the house. Yet they did no do so. So, we sent them one last notice and took possession of the house on Wednesday,” he added.
Denying that there are different policies for awarding compensation, Patel, “They (Soni and his family) have made representations before various authorities and their proposal has been rejected. There is no favouritism in granting compensation and the policy is same for all. People are getting what they are eligible for.”
On not providing a copy of the agreement to Soni’s family, Patel said nobody had asked for the same. “If someone demands the same, we will provide it.”
According to Patel, around 290 families within the Ashram premises are to be rehabilitated for the project. Among the 290, 270 to 275 families have vacated their houses.