Bheemchhaya, a slum settlement near the seacoast in Mumbai, is all set to be demolished. A note by the Ghar Bachao Ghar Bachao Andolan on why are poor residents so helpless and terrified ahead of the impending monsoon:
Following the Bombay High Court’s order dated 6th October, 2005 in the matter of Bombay Environment Action Group in the Writ Petition (lodging) No. 3246 of 2004 regarding protection of mangrove, a large number of mangrove areas in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai were notified as ‘Protected Forest’ by Maharashtra Forest Department. Since certain activities can be allowed in ‘Protected Forest’ like collection of forest produce etc., the Maharashtra government decided to notify all those areas as ‘Reserved Forest’ which were earlier declared as ‘Protected Forest’ as per the High Court’s order.
Bheemchhaya is slum having 800 households where majority of the residence are Dalits. This slum is situated in Kannamwar Nagar-2 in (Vikroli East) in Mumbai. Bheemchhaya is in close proximity to mangroves area which is notified as reserved forest.
The Court in the order said that no construction will be allowed to take place in the mangrove areas after the passing of this order. However, Bheemchhaya is in existence prior to order of the High Court was passed and it is also a protected slum as per the Maharashtra Slum Areas (Improvement Clearance & Redevelopment) 1971. A slum is treated as protected if it is in existence prior to the year 2000 and the slum dwellers possess certain documents specified by the government to prove their residence since the year 2000. Slum dwellers in Bheemchhaya have all the valid documents proving their residence prior to the year 2000.
The Mangrove Cell of the Forest Department served notices to the residence of the Bheemchhaya in the year 2015 to prove their claims on the land where their homes are located. All the residence submitted their residential proofs specified under the Maharashtra Government Resolution dated 16th May, 2015. This Government Resolution (GR) has specified procedure for the rehabilitation and protection of slum dwellers on government land if they possess specified documents prior to the year 2000. However, the Assistant Conservator of Mangrove Cell, rejected these claims and passed an order of demolition of their homes in Bheemchhaya.
The Assistant Conservator passed these orders under section 53 and 54 of the Maharashtra Land Revenue Code 1966 (MLRC). Section 246 of MLRC provides for appeal if someone is aggrieved by the order passed under section 53 and 54. Whereas in case of Bheemchhaya, the Assistant Conservator has not specified the appellate authority and it is only after an RTI was filed, the Assistant Conservator gave a vague response saying that the appellate authority ‘may be High Court or Divisional Commissioner, Konkan Division’.
Residents of Bheemchhaya have contacted the Divisional Commissioner for appeal. The office of the Divisional Commissioner has refused to accept the appeal since his office only deals with matter pertaining to land belonging got revenue department and not forest department. While on the other hand, the residents of Bheemchhaya have also approached the High Court, but since the Court is on vacation and the vacation bench is sitting on selected days, it is very rare that the matter will be heard on time. The demolition is scheduled for 22nd May, 2018.
The Forest Minister is out of the country and his secretaries are also on leave so there are no chance so there is no one available in the Ministry to hear the grievances of the slum dwellers. When everyone is on leave, why cannot slum be spared from demolition?
It is a case where there are so many procedural flaws due to which a huge community like Bheemchhaya will be demolished and a large population of dalit and poor people will become homeless. To get these flaws fixed and get protection to slum dwellers there is a very small window of justice available. In this situation, the slum dwellers are left helpless and terrified.
Poorest of the poor citizen must get state’s priority but today opposite of this is happening. These poor citizens have equal contribution in the functioning of the city but their hard work and labour are not duly recognized. They are always treated as secondary citizen due to their poverty and stigmas attached to slum dwellers.