Slum dwellers live in constant fear of eviction. If buildings can be regularized, why not slums?

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A slum in Govandi, Mumbai

Ghar Bachao – Ghar Banao Andolan, led by well-known social activist Medha Patkar, has raised certain fundamental issues in the wake of the Maharashtra government’s decision to regularize nearly 2 lakh illegal buildings in the state’s urban areas. Text of the statement:

The Maharashtra government’s decision to regularize 2 lakh illegal buildings in the urban areas of the state without mentioning slums has again shown its apathetic attitude towards its poor citizens. Large number of slum dwellers living in Mumbai without documentary proof that they have been lived there before the year 2000, live under constant threat of eviction. The Maharashtra government has set 1-1-2000 as the cut-off-date for the protection of slum dwellers and made provisions to rehabilitate those who fall within this time-frame. This divides slums into two categories: those that are protected and those that are not. The government authorities can evict any slum dweller who does not have documentary proof to prove her/his dwelling existed pre-2000,  using the argument that he/she is in ‘illegal’ possession of house as well as land and is an ‘encroacher’. Many of the slum dwellers have lost their documents during the demolition process itself which compel them to shift from one place to another within the city, hence they fails to maintain right documents even if they have born in Mumbai.

Slum dwellers are the victims of wrong perspectives developed about them. Nobody lives in a slum willfully. Nobody would like to stand in long queues outside the public toilets in the morning to wait their turn for a chance to use the lavatory. Most of the time, in the absence of public toilets, slum dwellers (women included) are compelled defecate in the open, which puts their health and safety at risk every day. All this continues despite the newly adopted ‘Swachch Bharat Mission’. In the absence of water supply from the Municipal Corporation, a family living in a slum spends at least Rs. 1500-2000 per month on buying water. This cost consumes a very major portion of their monthly income. The network of slum mafia and dalals in nexus with local politicians, police and government authorities is so strong in a slum that it is difficult for a poor person living there to escape the exploitation by this network. Slum dwellers are looted in the name of each service they are getting in their slums, especially water and electricity.

Because of this filthy network, the whole slum community is treated as a colony of mafia and goons. However, one fails to acknowledge the service these slums provide in the form of domestic help, construction workers, municipal sweepers, auto and taxi drivers, fruit and vegetable vendors, milkmen, skilled and unskilled workers, informal laborers, security guards and so on. A middle or upper class person requires the services of several slum dwellers in different forms throughout the day. So, is it not just to give slum dwellers their due space and right in the city? How can the whole slum community be branded criminal because of a few black sheep living there? If this judgment is applied to slums, the same principle should be used to cover the middle and elite classes as well – the rest of the city would then be given the same treatment

After the recent outbreak of fire at the Deonar dumping ground in Mumbai, the communities in surrounding slums immediately bore the brunt of the negative effects. They stay closest to the toxic fumes, breathing in the worst of the polluted air. The homes of 470 slum families were demolished with the argument that the BMC needed to construct a wider road to allow the fire brigade to reach the dumping ground faster in case of similar fires in the future. Later it was discovered that the Municipal Corporation is planning to make a garden in the demolished area! The demolished area is reserved for Housing in the city’s Development Plan, whereas space for a recreational ground is reserved next to it.  So the civic authorities are planning to replace people’s homes with gardens. If there are so many gardens, where will people live? When the BMC, who demolished this slum, was asked about the alternate accommodation for the evicted community, they refused to lift a finger to help them since this settlement is post-2000 – after the protective cut-off-date. Effectively they are saying that if a person cannot afford to buy a house or live in a rented house in as expensive a city as Mumbai, she/he has no right to live here if they do not have documentary proof of being in their home pre-1-1-2000.

This situation violates article 21 of the Constitution of India that guarantees right to life – also interpreted as including the right to shelter.  To make matters worse, Mumbai is also the worst in providing night shelters in the city. At least one night shelter should be there for every one lakh population as per the norms set by NULM. At present only 9 shelters have been built in the city, however, as per the norms set by NULM , 125 night shelters are required in the city. But the authorities do not seem to be ready to grant space for homeless persons. In the present Development Plan of the city, reservation is made for only 48 night shelters and that too for homeless children but not for old persons, women and differently able persons.

Our country’s Prime Minister, Shri Narendra  Modi has launched the “Housing For All by 2022 Mission’’. Before it is realized, the BJP-led Maharashtra government has nothing to offer in terms of housing to post-2000 slums, except to label them ‘encroachments’. This is in contradiction with the party’s claims in the Centre. As is demonstrated here, critical analysis of this Mission tells a different story altogether. The Government of Maharashtra must treat all its citizens at par whether rich or poor.  There should be equal laws for all and efforts must be made to reduce inequality among different section of the society. A large section of serving citizens living in Mumbai’s slums, must be considered by Maharashtra government as well.

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