Squatters settlement on the bank of Chatara Canal, Sunsari in this recent picture. Photo: Amar Khadka/Republica
ITAHARI, June 26: Five years ago, Balutun Khatun’s cottage on the bank of the Chatara Canal in Ramdhuni-2 was demolished as it was built by encroaching the canal’s land. The canal is part of the Sunsari-Morang Irrigation Project. After being evicted, the family lived in a rented apartment for two years. However, the family has now built even stronger cottage at the same place and moved into it.
Khatun, 28, is fully aware that their cottage is built encroaching government’s property. She says that she knows that her cottage could be demolished at any time but still they decided to live there as long as possible. “We know that it’s not safe here. Our home could be demolished anytime. Even last time, our cottage was forcefully pulled down,” she said. “But we don’t have any other options,” she added.
She claims that her family returned after they were not able to afford rent of the apartment they were living in since they were evicted from the land earlier. According to Khatun, it is not possible for the people like her to ever have savings and built a house on their own land.
“We are laborers who work all day to earn square meals for the family. Everything is very expensive and as such it’s not possible for us to make savings to purchase land and build our own house,” she said further adding, “it is our compulsion to live here like this. Where can we go? We could not pay the rent,” she stated.
The husband and wife, who have a child, work at various construction sites as daily-wage laborers. “We are ready for whatever happens ahead. There was land on which we could build a hut to live in so built and started living in it,” says Khatun.
The couple said that the cottage is good enough for their family. ‘If government allows, they don’t want to move from there.’
Five years ago, along with Khatun’s cottage, government agencies had demolished many other huts that encroached the canal’s land. All illegal settlements around the canal were cleared with an aim to reclaim the canal’s encroach land. For some time, nobody again sneaked in the area. However, gradually, the encroachers have been erecting huts on the land and living in them. Some of the illegal settlers have even built concrete houses.
As part of the project plan, 60 meters stretch of land has been left on both sides of the canal. In the lack of monitoring and due action against land encroachment, new settlements continue to cover this land.
“My family does not own even an inch of land. If I live on anyone’s personal property, the owner of the property will definitely shoo us away. Where should my family live?”asked Ramkumari Chaudhari of Ramdhuni – 2, living in a cottage built by encroaching the canal’s land. “The government has no plans for poor people like us,” she lamented.
“After they destroyed my cottage, I lived on a privately-owned land for four years. Now, they want their land back. How can I forcefully continue to live on it, when the owner does not want me to,” Chaudhari questioned again. She added that she also built cottage on the canal’s land after seeing others.
Chaudari’s husband is an asthma patient and after he started to show worrying signs over the time all the financial burden of the family has fell upon her, she shared.
“My husband cannot work anymore. I am the only one in the family who has to earn and feed the family. While we were struggling to meet our ends meet, the landowner told us to evict the land,” said Ramkumari, mother of three.
She opined that the government should give some solution to people like her instead of just demolishing their cottages on the canal’s land. “The government should identify landless people and provide them with land to build house. If the government does so, why would we encroach the canal’s land?” she said while heading to market to sell biscuit packets. Ramkumari works in farms, and when she does not get menial farm work, she sells biscuits in the market.
Squatters in the settlements lamented that their children are not safe there. They acknowledge that due to nearness to the canal, their children are at risk of drowning.
Meanwhile, Hariram Shrestha, chief of the irrigation project, stated that squatters’ settlement on the canal’s land would be demolished. “We have been warning them not to built cottages there, but they are not heeding to it. We have started issuing formal notices to them,” he said.