By Bilal Khan*
This is a slum rehabilitation site in Mahul, Mumbai. As one moves around, one can see that streets connecting main road are waterlogged due to chocking of sewage line and poops floating on the water. People living here are compelled to walk on these types of streets. The Mumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) doesn’t come for cleaning this area. Lifts usually don’t work, elderly citizens remain stuck on higher floors for weeks.
The nearest hospital from this rehabilitation site is 12 km away, at Rajawadi. The nearest school from here is 9 km away. You will also see in the photos the glittering buildings. These are actually chimneys of major gas, oil and fertilizers companies releasing harmful gas in the atmosphere. These factories are located within a radius of 1 km. Residents of this area are forced to inhale these harmful gases throughout the day. You cannot breathe normally if you stay here for a few moments.
Residents of Vidyvihar slum, which was situated near the Tansa pipeline, were recently ‘rehabilitated’ here – in the month of May. About 1,000 families were shifted here; out these around 400 persons have become patient of TB, asthama and other skin and respiratory problems within few months. When the aggrieved residents reached the High Court, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board reported that this area is indeed comparatively more polluted but is livable!
Each family has at least one member suffering from one major disease after shifting to this place. Sometimes the main earning member of the family is caught by a major disease, making him/her unable to earn anymore; it must spend most of the income in treating the disease.
Since schools are at far away, the expenses of transportation have increased for the parents.
These people who have been shifted from Vidyavihar to Mahul were locally employed in their original place, but the new site offers them no local employment or new employment. Their livelihood severely has been severely affected. These families do not earn more than Rs. 15,000 a month.
Residents feel that they were better off in slums. They feel that they have been dumped here and not rehabilitated. Any attempt to register their protest is highly suppressed, using police force, because it is felt that this would affect the business of major companies operating in the nearby area.
A large number of people who have been given houses here have not taken possession of it, given the hazardous conditions, and are living on rented places in other slums.
My one hour visit to Mahul occurred was a trauma for me. I wonder how thousands of people who are forced to spend their entire life in this hell will live.
These are those people who serve us throughout the day in Mumbai as domestic help, rickshaw, taxi, Ola or Uber driver, carpenter, electrician, construction worker, plumber, newspaper hawker, vegetable and fruit seller, gardener, sweeper, delivery boy, courier men, cheap labour for small-scale factories, outlets and in countless ways. These are also those people whom we branded illegal migrants, criminals, goondas, drug addicts encroachers and what not. We call their settlements and dens of crime.
We never come for the rescue or help whenever their settlements are burnt or demolished. No doubt every slum settlement got goondas or other anti-social elements, but how are our localities different from theirs? We have equally dangerous people living in big towers of Mumbai, consuming most of the resources, accumulating their wealth, damaging environment with excessive energy consumption, cutting down forests for mega projects, corrupt politicians, scamsters, and dons.
Why does a slum resident choose to live in a slum and does not move to a rehabilitation site? Or why does one build multi-storeyed buildings in slum areas even when it is illegal to do so? Or what makes someone possess a piece of land and make shanties? Who promote slumlords?
There are answers to this, and the main reasons are politics, economics and history behind each of these questions. We need to do a little inquiry to find an answer before ridiculing our fellow citizens who help us throughout the day, have important contribution to the economy of this country, are hardworking.
If the weakest and the poorest citizen of this country doesn’t find equal claim over this city then we are simply turning the country into private properties and spaces.
*With Ghar Bachao, Ghar Banao Andolan, Mumbai. Source: Bilal Khan’s FB timeline