The morning of May 20, 2014 came as a blow to the 600 residents of Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar Nagar slums. As the rest of Mumbai came to life that day – lunches got packed, vendors got ready to sell their morning chai and children grudgingly put on their school uniforms, bulldozers and hammering was what these slum residents woke up to.
At the end of the slum demolition drive that morning, 136 houses were broken and almost all residents were forced onto the streets. Most didn’t even get time to pack up their most essential belongings.
“All our children’s toys, their cycles… we’ve incurred massive losses. We had stayed here hoping that our houses wouldn’t get demolished. They came unexpectedly that morning,” says Bindu Jayswal, a resident.
The Chief Minister of Maharashtra unveiled plans for a slum-free Mumbai in the next five years sometime ago. There are several projects by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, essential to the process, which plan to relocate lakhs of families living in slum communities to high-rise buildings. There is little in the history or policy of slum redevelopment in the city (or in India) that inspires an iota of confidence in this vision.
India Unheard Community Correspondent Zulekha Sayyed has been documenting the travesty of slum redevelopment for the past two years. A resident of the Vikhroli Park Site slums in Mumbai, her powerful videos give an eyewitness account of the human rights violations occurring everyday in the slums of Mumbai. When she heard about the most recent demolitions in Mulund, she went over immediately to document the scene.
The demolitions here are shocking for a number of reasons. Most of the residents have been living here for at least two decades, making them eligible for a house in exchange for the one that gets demolished.
“By declaring the houses as illegal, the builder forcefully evicted us and brought us on the street. We’ve been living here for the past 20-22 years”, says Sunil Prajapati, a resident.
A report by the National Alliance of People’s Movement explains the violations in detail:
In January 2013, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had set up an enquiry commission to curb corrupt practices plaguing 6 SRA (Slum Rehabilitation Authority) projects and re-development plans in slum areas of Mumbai after local residents exposed the irregularities during a 3000 people-strong protest rally. The commission was led by Mr. Debashish Chakrabarty, Principal Secretary (Housing) and submitted its report after one and a half years of investigation. How can slums be demolished when no action has been taken on the recommendations of the report?
The report concluded that slum dwellers should approach the Additional Collector for getting the eligibility issue resolved, and for other issues they were asked to submit their application to SRA who would give them a hearing and settle the issues. All this is yet to happen.
Secondly, Out of the 136 demolished homes, 16 hadn’t been surveyed and hence didn’t qualify for demolition. Out of the demolished houses, 111 didn’t qualify under the 1/1/95 cut-off for slum dwellings, but were in the process of getting eligibility since the government had decided to increase the 1995 cut-off to the year 2000.
The Deputy Collector was well informed about this process, but went ahead with the demolitions. Further, 10 houses, which were legal structures, but had been denied rehabilitation in transit camps were also evicted. Their inability to move into the transit camp was again an administrative blunder as the camp was situated on disputed land (public playground).
Since the demolitions, the residents have been protesting. Many have been on a hunger strike demanding justice; but till at least 15 days after the demolitions not one official had come to take into account people’s grievances. For now, 600 lives hang in the balance. One woman sums it all up:
“How can we go away until we get a house? We have all the necessary proof; how can they deny us a house? The builders say it doesn’t matter if 5 of our people die while on this hunger strike. Are our people not human beings?”