EVEN as candidates step up their poll campaigns in the final week before Mumbai goes to polls, people in the tribal hamlets in Goregaon’s Aarey Milk Colony allege have been ‘completely ignored’. Residents settled in the more than 100-year-old tribal settlements have said not a single candidate has bothered to visit them this campaign, choosing instead to tour through nearby slum colonies.
Nearly 10,000 tribals live in 32 padas or hamlets spread over 28 km in Aarey Milk Colony, but uninterrupted electric and water supply is yet to reach several of them. A proposed resettlement project is yet to take off.
Chandu Jadhav (63), a fifth generation resident of Vanicha pada, said that the stables surrounding their homes were much better off. “The stables receive 24 hour electricity and water. There are proper roads connecting them and the animals have doctors tending to them. We have none of these facilities.”
Jadhav said there was virtually no presence of the BMC and the state government inside the forest. Until NGO Naata Foundation built a paver-blocked approach road in 2011, there was no proper road leading to the pada.
All major candidates, such as Congress incumbent Gurudas Kamat, Shiv Sena’s Gajanan Kirtikar, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s Mahesh Manjrekar and the Aam Aadmi Party’s Mayank Gandhi have held rallies and jansabhas in the locality. “The candidates have time to go to slums. But they do not want to negotiate bad roads to see how we are living,” said farmer Barkhya Varathe (50).
He said in 2013, sitting MP Kamat had ensured that a water pipeline was built and passed through all the padas, but the resulting water supply was erratic. “Most days, there is no water and when it does come, it is green. We do not want to drink it, but have little choice,” said Varathe.
Jadhav added, “Mayor Sunil Prabhu had inaugurated a borewell here a few months ago. But it is now non-functional.” While Varathe’s Kelti pada has been electrified, Vanicha pada only saw electricity after Naata Foundation installed solar lamps in each house last year. “Now our children can study under these lights after dark,” said Jadhav.
He added that nearest medical facility, Aarey Hospital, did not even have a gynaecology department. “When women here have to deliver babies, they have to go to hospitals in Goregaon (West). So they prefer to have their children at home, but the fallout is that the newborns do not get a birth certificate,” said Jadhav.
Naata Foundation chairperson Anuja Saha said tribal children had begun going to school after a pre-primary and primary centre was established in a makeshift structure in 2012.
Unemployment is common in the settlements, said Jadhav. He said they came close to boycotting the elections. “But at a later meeting, we felt that we should exercise our rights.”