The Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) on Thursday continued its drive against encroachments on its land along the eastern coastline, targeting slums at Kawla Bunder this time. However, the drive that began in the early morning hours was brought to a halt by afternoon as Member of Parliament Arvind Sawant intervened.
Sawant demanded that demolition should not proceed unless the port trust carries out a survey of all existing slums. Newsline has reported on Wednesday that as part of its plans to revive port land, the MbPT has embarked on a drive to clear slums from its land citing their bye-laws that allows them to evict encroachers irrespective of the length of their stay on the land. As in case of Powder Bunder, where earlier demotions were carried out, residents of Kawla Bunder too were served a notice the previous night before the bulldozers rolled in on Thursday.
Sawant added that the MbPT’s stand was that state government policy that accords protection to slums prior to the year 2000 is not applicable on central government lands. “These very port officials chose to keep their eyes shut when the slums came up in the first place. Moreover, many private companies have constructed entire buildings illegally on plots leased to them. Why isn’t the MbPT going after them ?” asked Sawant, adding that he had also discussed the matter with Union shipping minister Nitin Gadkari.
Vice Admiral (Retd) IC Rao, who is part of APLI Mumbai, a citizens’ initiative for reviving portlands, said, “Legally, the slum residents are encroachers on government land and the port trust has every right to act against them. However, they cannot just evict them without telling them where else can they go or ensuring that their livelihood rights are protected.”
Meanwhile, the port trust trade union has demanded that their 47,000-odd serving and retired employees should be given housing on port land. “Presently the MbPT’s 7,000 tenements used as quarters are spread across 122 acres from Colaba to Wadala. This land must be used for constructing homes for port employees. We are not asking for free housing; we are willing to bear construction costs,” said Maruti Vishwarao, secretary of Mumbai Port Trust, Dock and General Employees Union. The union has also demanded that whatever revenue accrues out of developing the surplus land should go to the port trust and not to private developers.