Agra: An acrid stench fills Agra’s Kalwari locality, which is dotted with posters and banners carrying the names ‘Dengue Vihar’, ‘Gandagi Puram’, and ‘Pareshaan Nagar’.
This ostensible renaming of their colonies is a form of protest by the residents, in a bid to draw the attention of the Uttar Pradesh government and local authorities towards the lack of roads, severe waterlogging and mounds of garbage strewn in the area.
Struggling and suffering for years, the residents of Kalwari say their ‘poster protest’ was inspired by a movement in the neighbouring Deoretha locality, which is also home to famous cricketer Deepak Chahar.
On 9 October, Deoretha residents protested in a similar way. However, earlier this week, their posters were reportedly torn up by Agra Development Authority (ADA) officials.
Interestingly, Agra ranked sixth in the Swachh Survekshan 2022 (all-India cleanliness survey) in Uttar Pradesh, and 23rd in the country.
Asked about the issue, Agra (Rural) MLA Baby Rani Maurya told ThePrint, “I haven’t been to Agra in the past few days since I was traveling abroad, so, I don’t know anything significant about the event. The protesters have not communicated anything to us about their issues and what they want from the government.”
She further said: “Since they come under my constituency, the responsibility of making roads among other things does come under the Vidhan Sabha MLA (vidhayak). Also, it is done by two-three agencies together including PWD, zila panchayat etc, along with the MLA.”
On the residents’ myriad concerns, Maurya said: “Don’t know who can respond regarding the concerns about uncleanliness, maybe zila panchayat. About the road construction that started in 2009, I can’t comment as I took office this year only. But yes, once I go to Agra, I will see what the issue is. I will address the problems if the residents come to me. I will get the information about it and will talk to SDM and others who oversee the area.”
How it all started
Last week, Deoretha residents started their symbolic fight against the government after they put up posters in the area, ostensibly changing the names of their colonies from Man Sarovar, Awadh Puri, Panchsheel and Sainik Vihar to ‘Nala Sarovar’, ‘Narak Puri’, ‘Durgandsheel’, and ‘Badboo Vihar’ respectively.
However, on Tuesday, these posters were allegedly torn up by ADA officials on the directions of Secretary Garima Singh. Two other colonies that were part of the protest were Murli Vihar and Shanti Nagar, which were rechristened ‘Keechad Vihar’ and ‘Ghinona Nagar’ respectively.
From water bodies entirely covered in algae to pigs feeding on garbage scattered all around, numerous problems plague this Bichpuri Block of Agra Rural constituency, but the core issue remains the road or its lack thereof.
Fifty-year-old Parhlad Chahar, a shop owner in Man Sarovar colony, told ThePrint, “The road is part of the 1972 masterplan. In 2009, the renowned Bhim Nagari festival took place here. An initiative to build roads was then taken by ADA. Only 900-metre roads were constructed, but the remaining 1,300 metres were temporarily put in place. They (ADA) have neither compensated us nor made the roads. The population of these colonies keeps on increasing, the area has started getting dirtier.”
Denouncing the Swachh Survekshan survey, Chahar said that the list would have been made “by someone sitting in an air-conditioned office, similar to those who would have made the masterplan”.
“The people never visit the field to see the ground realities. Sixth rank? I would say it’s not even 600th,” he added.
On 11 October (Tuesday), ADA chief Garima Singh, Chahar claimed, had come with police personnel and her workers had torn off the banners put up by the residents. She had allegedly also warned them to not put them up again.
However, an ADA official, who did not want to be named, denied the claim and said that the residents had removed the posters and banners themselves.
“That area doesn’t come under ADA. It’s not our responsibility to build roads. When we had gone there, the residents seemed to have agreed with us on this aspect. I can’t say who is supposed to build the road there. I don’t have all the information. But even if the ADA had once made a road there in 2009 for the Bhim Nagari festival as residents are alleging, it doesn’t mean it comes entirely under our authority,” the official told ThePrint.
Krishna Sharma, a resident of Man Sarovar colony, said all colonies came together to organise the protest.
“We are all behind this protest. I can’t say who put up the posters. It is a combined effort. There is not one or two faces behind it but all the colonies that came together to do this. There are a lot of problems with the road and the water that floods the area, since it doesn’t allow us to travel easily. I had moved here to Agra ‘city’ to give better education to my children, but they are the ones worst affected as it has made going to school tough for them.”
Another resident of the same colony, Indra Sharma, said that politicians keep talking about ‘Swachh Bharat’ (Clean India) but ground reality is different.
“When my husband had a heart attack last year, two-three men carried him to the hospital because the car got stuck at a nearby market where there are potholes. The area is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other insects. Dengue is more frequent than Covid and affects children the most. When we say something against it, like we did recently, people from the government come to stop us — almost like they were scaring us,” Sharma added.
Last year, Agra district had reported 350 dengue cases, the highest in a decade.
Protest at Kalwari
Thirty-year-old Aamir Baksh, a shop owner from Sikandarpur colony of Kalwari, explained that the poster protest was a collective effort of people residing in Vivek Vihar, Palak Vihar, Surdesh Puram colony, Shanti Nagar, Munni Vihar and Sikandarpur colony. He added that it was because of these posters that the pressing matter came into the spotlight.
“There is only about an 8 ft wide path to commute within this place. The construction of the road that was started in 2009 has still not been finished. Water that gets collected in the area makes temporary ponds that leads to drowning of kids. We have been protesting for months, going to public representatives and other government offices to express our grievances but all in vain. We saw news stories about the poster protest happening in neighbouring colonies on social media and thought if they can do it, why can’t we,” he told ThePrint.
Another dissenting resident of Sikandarpur colony, Rabi Begum, said the Swacch Survekshan ranking meant nothing for them. “Agra is a maleen basti (dirty slum). The government says what they want, so do other politicians and the prime minister, but nothing really happens.”
(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)