Even as the Land Development Committee, appointed by Union Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari, has recommended that the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) should frame an independent policy for rehabilitation of an estimated 30,000 shanties along city’s eastern coastline, port trust authorities have already started demolition of slums on their land.
Recently, 150-odd slums at Dariya Galli in Powder Bunder, several of them over two-decades-old, were razed by MbPT. The slum residents were served eviction notices citing the MbPT general bye-law number 9 that allows port authorities to act within 12 hours to clear “obstructions and …to sell the material so removed at the cost of the trespassers”.
Similar notices have also been served to the slum settlements in the nearby Dargah Galli while residents in Kawla Bunder and Lakri Bunder say they have been told they would be next in line.
Most of the residents living in informal settlements along the bunders are workers at the ship-breaking yards, scrap yards and the many warehouses on port land while others eke out a living as conservancy workers on contract or as daily wage workers.
The MbPT’s move comes despite the fact that the land development panel, in its recently submitted report, has said that the port trust should steer clear of the state government’s Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) model which adheres to evictions based on cut-off dates. The report looks at ways to revive the under-utilized port land for public transport, tourism, open spaces and job generation while reconstructing the run-down workers quarters and shanties.
“Our report states that the MbPT should frame a proper policy of its own for rehabilitation of slum-dwellers living on their land in terms of homes and employment,” said Narinder Nayar, a member of the panel and chairman of Bombay First, a city-based think-tank. At least two other panel members, who did not want to be named, said that while Gadkari had ordered the MbPT to not allow any fresh encroachment, neither he nor the report ordered demolition of the existing slums. “The newer encroachments occur along the periphery of the roads which has to be prevented. The slums in the bunder areas have been in existence for a long time,” said a panel member.
MbPT chairman R M Parmar said the Union Shipping Ministry was yet to officially release the report and take a decision on its policy for slums. “It is up to the government to decide. Until then, the MbPT can, under its existing laws, demolish any unauthorized constructions on its land,” he said.
The report, which will soon be made public by the shipping ministry, recommends that the MbPT carry out a fresh survey of all slum residents currently living on the land. It has to simultaneously frame a first-of-its-kind policy for slums on the central land. Unlike the private developer-led SRA, the redevelopment has to be carried out by government funding and through provision of soft loans or subsidies to the residents.
At last count in 2002, the number of shanties on MbPT land totalled to 14,369. Mayuresh Bhadsavle, a Researcher with Hamara Shahar Vikas Niyojan Abhiyan Mumbai, said that the numbers have multiplied manifold since then.
“The existing bye-laws are problematic. Those who have been living on the land for several decades can be dislodged overnight. Even the SRA policy or the Airport Authority of India’s policy gives protection to slum structures that have existed prior to the year 2000. In this case, the expert panel report says that all existing residents should be rehabilitated after a survey,” he said.