On Sunday, the world came crashing down for Bhimrao Shakhare. The New Bharat Nagar resident lost three relatives as mud and slush came crashing down on the slum shanties in Chembur’s Vashi Naka area amid heavy rain and flooding. On Monday, as he walked past the rummages of damaged houses, the 34 year old refused to leave the hillock.
“The civic authorities or the state government should strengthen the hill portion and construct retaining walls to prevent further landslides in the area. If they can put nets on hills along highways to prevent disaster, then why not here?” Shakhare said. “People will lose everything if they are moved out from here,” he added.
Nineteen people lost their lives at New Bharat Nagar in Chembur’s Vashi Naka area in a landslide triggered by intense rainfall on Sunday. The search and rescue operations were called off by NDRF late Sunday evening after all missing persons were located.
A day later, several local residents, like Shakhare, continued to show their reluctance to move to a safer place. “We will die here rather than face a complete upside down after relocation. If authorities are planning to shift us in buildings at Mahul or Chembur’s Vishnu Nagar, we will not go,” Shakhare, who makes his ends meet doing odd jobs, said.
The houses of most of the people who died in the landslide abut a retaining wall that is meant to minimise the damage caused by landslides. BMC-appointed labourers Monday continued to remove mud and rocks from the disaster site. The work was hampered as continuous rain kept bringing in more slush to the site.
Around 12.30 am Sunday a landslide had caused the retaining wall to collapse on four to five houses in the slum. Officials said there is still a risk of landslides as the topsoil had become loose after the wall collapsed.
On Sunday, after visiting the landslide site at New Bharat Nagar, state environment minister Aaditya Thackeray and municipal commissioner I S Chahal both had hinted that to prevent any further disaster local residents can be rehabilitated permanently. However, as of now, there has been no decision on the location of rehabilitation. Chahal had told mediapersons that BMC has vacant buildings, meant for project-affected persons, in Mahul and other areas.
BMC officials said after the incident they have identified 250-odd people to be moved temporarily as the area had become more prone to landslides. However, only about 100 persons chose to move into the buildings at SG Chemical Complex in Chembur.
Geeta Bansode, another resident of the area, said they were concerned about losing their livelihoods if rehabilitated. “Due to Covid-19 many of us had already lost our jobs. Most of us are now managing by doing some day-to-day work. In case of rehabilitation, we may have to again lose our jobs again as we are working in nearby areas,” she said.
Locals also fear that they might not be allowed to return to their houses once they moved to BMC shelter houses. “We don’t know if we will be allowed back here. Also, all of our household things are here and there is a risk of theft,” Deepali Bhosale, a resident, said.
On Sunday evening, when the BMC staff arrived at the site to make an announcement urging residents to move in civic buildings temporarily as a safety measure, they had received little response. Later in the night, about 100 people were moved into 38 flats in SJ Chemical Complex in Chembur.
“We have made arrangements for food with the help of NGOs. But this is a temporary arrangement. Once the rainfall subsides, they can go to their homes,” Bharat Marathe, Deputy Municipal Commissioner (Zone-5), said. Chahal, meanwhile, said the civic body was exploring the option of permanent allotment of houses to these people.