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In slums, voters’ ‘lack of trust’ is evident

Newsline visited the larger slum pockets in each of the six Parliamentary constituencies to find whether poll sops have clicked.

By: Express News Service | Mumbai |
April 21, 2014 2:16:19 am

DAYS before the code of conduct for the Lok Sabha polls kicked in, the Congress-NCP government extended the slum cut off date from January 1,1995 to January 1,2000; a move that would grant legal cover and free rehabilitation to an additional 3 lakh-odd slum units in Mumbai. Keen on retaining its stronghold in Mumbai slums, the ruling combine also issued orders recognising transfer of legal slum dwellings.According to party insiders, the fear that the Aam Aadmi Party(AAP) could dent the party’s slum vote bank triggered these moves.

Newsline visited the larger slum pockets in each of Mumbai’s six parliamentary constituencies to understand whether the election sops have clicked with voters. We found that the ruling combine might well have curtailed the AAP advance with these sops, but it turns out that issues such as inflation, price rise, and unrest against the ruling combine weigh heavily on voters’ minds.

In Asia’s largest slum, voters have traditionally favoured the Congress. The slum situated on prime property in the heart of the city is home to more than a million people. It is also home to industries such as pottery and tanneries, leather goods, and tailoring among others. Many of the residents are second and third generation residents having bought hutments from original inhabitants.The move to recognise transfer of legal slums is expected to benefit slum dwellers here the most. But the shanty dwellers say they cannot trust the ruling combine, which has failed to keep its promises.

Prashant Zende, one of them, said, “They (Cong,NCP) make such announcements before every election. The move to recognise slum transfer was first initiated ahead of the 2012 civic polls. They kept it in cold storage for the next two years before announcing its further implementation ahead of LS polls.” Further, there is some disillusionment with the Congress, NCP for delays in implementing the much-touted Dharavi redevelopment plan.

R Mugum,74, said it has been ‘a dream’ to move into planned habitats for nearly three decades now. “It continues to be a dream. Politicians have only been using it as a plank to woo voters,” he said.Mugum lives in a cramped hutment with his wife. He runs a small sewing business from the same hutment.

His neighbour, Vaishali Tambe, 28, said that while the cut-off extension move and transfer protection move would benefit slum dwellers, price rise and inflation concern her more.”My family survives on my retired husband’s pension. My son has been struggling to find employment. God only knows how we make ends meet. No political party and politician has cared to help us with our problems,” said Parvati Sawant, 70.The buzz in the constituency ahead of polls is that it is a fight between the Congress and the Shiv Sena in this region. Though the Aam Aadmi Party has also fielded a candidate, there is not much talk about the party in the slums of Dharavi.

In Geeta Nagar, Colaba, the amendment in the slum regularization cut-off from 1995 to 2000 will help in legalizing almost all the huts, the residents living in the slums have claimed.
Geeta Nagar-considered to be one of the cleanest slums in the city— came into existence during the 1960s, several years after Tata Institute of Fundamental Research was set up nearby. It has a registered voter strength of 4,000 but estimates claim that the actual population exceeds 6,000 people.

“Several sweepers and drivers employed in the institute settled here and the huts slowly increased,” claimed Deepak Singh, a resident of Geeta Nagar.

“Currently, there are 862 huts under the legal bracket which were constructed before 1995. Around 300 to 400 were built between 1995 to 2000. They will all get legalised after the cut-off is raised,” said Singh, whose hut was built in 1977.

The slum-dwellers are anxiously awaiting the implementation of slum-regularisation as that will bring their huts under the legal umbrella.

Another resident who lives in an illegal hut, who did not wish to be named, said, “Right now, we are not getting benefited by any scheme because we don’t have legal rights over the house. Water and electricity are the basic issues. We need a proper ration card in BMC for everything. When there is no option left, we forcefully have to buy water in black.”

Rajendra Kanojia, a washerman said, “Several people have constructed second-storey rooms on their existing houses to give away for rent.

The additional construction is not only illegal but also puts pressure on the scarce availability of water and electricity. There is a need to do something about it”

Geeta Nagar has traditionally been a Congress pocket and the slum regularisation has further strengthened every slum-dweller’s trust in the party. Currently, the Congress party is not only constructing 20 new toilets for the people but is also under the process of repairing around 40 existing ones. Vijay Kanojia, a resident of a nearby area, said, “We have always voted for Congress since it has done work in our area.”

Khere bai, resident in the slums, said, “The party has done a lot of work here. They even constructed a gym recently. If the cut-off is brought till 2000 and if residents residing before March 2013 are granted legitimacy then there is nothing more to ask for.”

Residents of the Mandala slum in Mankhurd maintain their loyalty for the ruling government, with a majority of the two-and-a-half lakh people leaning towards the Congress party.
Irfan Divathe, a social worker and a resident of Mandala, said, “I am aware of the government’s announcement and to be frank, it sounds more like a drowning man grasping at a straw. However, we still prefer the Congress government.”

Divathe, who is in frequent touch with residents of Mandala and works with them on various issues every day, said that the majority of the population is inclined towards the Congress government.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Medha Patkar has some amount of support in this locality for the work that she has done. However, the AAP’s image has taken a hit because of what we saw happening in Delhi,” he said.

The general sentiment is that voting for a non-Congress candidate would be a mistake, and that the Congress is a safe bet. “Abu Asim Azmi was elected as MLA thrice. What did he do?” asked Omprakash Yadav.

The voting preferences of Mandala residents are also hampered by the presence of Narendra Modi as a prime ministerial candidate for the Shiv Sena-BJP-RPI alliance. A resident who did not wish to be named narrated the plight of a young man from Mandala who, after attending a BJP rally at his friend’s invitation, became influenced and started riding through the narrow lanes of the slum with a saffron flag on his motorcycle. Before sun down, no less that 10 Maulanas had visited the man’s residence, telling his parents that their son was out to insult the qaum or community. The man himself was insulted by scores of people on every corner till he finally took the flag off and swore never to repeat such a mistake again.

“Due to this sentiment, and because there are people from various communities staying next to each other, people hesitate to talk about their voting preferences openly,” said the resident.

Among other parties, only a small block of Dalits who stay in one tenement in Mandala might vote for a non-Congress party. Resident Afsar Sheikh said that parties like the MNS do not even find mention in people’s conversations.

The white open-palm symbol dominates the sentiment of 50,000 residents of Ganpat Patil Nagar slum located on New Link Road, Dahisar. Recognized as one of Mumbai’s largest slum pockets and a major Congress belt, a sizeable number of the 10,000 shanties in Ganpat Patil Nagar, came up post-1997 with many even after 2000.

The Congress-led state government’s move to extend the cut-off date for slum regularisation in Mumbai has directly benefited the voters here as the illegal hutments sit on land which falls under the Coastal Regulatory Zone and No-Development Zone category.

Additionally, the Shiv Sena-BJP led Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s repeated attempts to demolish the illegal hutments has further strengthened the Congress’ hold over this pocket. Significant among these attempts was an episode in January 2013, where the BMC carried out a massive demolition drive in the slum, razing close to 1,500 hutments which were less than 50 meters away from the Dahisar creek mangroves.

Reportedly, during the demolition drive, an 80-year-old suffered a heart attack.

While the Congress vehemently opposed the razing, the Sena claimed it was only supporting the due process of law in allowing the BMC to take action.

“We have not forgotten how the Shiv Sena supported the demolition of our homes last year. We lived in fear of losing a roof over our heads. It may not be certain if the whole of Ganpat Patil Nagar will vote for Congress but Shiv Sena (and by-default BJP) have lost our vote because of last year’s episode,” said Santosh Kumar Gupta, owner of a kirana shop on New Link Road and resident of the slum.

The anti-Sena wave is so strong along the belt that locals claim that the residents of Sahyog Chawl society even refused to allow Shiv Sena corporator Abhishek Ghosalkar to enter the area a few days ago.

Asha Salve, another resident of the area said, “At night, people openly discuss that Congress will remain in power because they have allowed residents to survive here. Congress has promised us that if they come to power for another term, they will give us pakka houses and we will not have to live in fear of the BMC. “ Residents of Ganpat Patil Nagar added that water and electricity to the area was only availed during the Congress term.

“In the 18 years that I have been living here, I have seen that the Shiv Sena and BJP have done nothing for us – they could not even get us water and electricity. Our grandfathers and fathers have always voted for the Congress so why should we change now?” said slum resident Deepak Singh.

However the strong Congress wave does have its detractors. Many of the older residents of the slum, who have lived there since prior to 1995, are uncertain about who to vote for as the performance of all parties has disillusioned them. Some believe a change of face is needed for the constituency.

“We do not have faith in any of the candidates. All the parties only come to us when they want votes, we have given all parties a chance and all promised many things but when they come to power everything was forgotten. We have been voting for the Congress for two terms and we feel it is time to see a different face. Definitely not Shiv Sena, but may be BJP if they can regain our trust,” Chaya Gavaskar said.

Wasim Qureshi (29), a resident of Bandra’s Garib Nagar slum, that houses a little over 1,000 registered voters, said, “There should be a limit to such decisions of the government because people will keep flocking in, resulting in mushrooming of slums. The government keeps extending the cut-off dates, without actually putting in practice what is on paper.”
Qureshi, who runs a catering business and heads the Garib Nagar Welfare Society, feels it is high time that the state government rehabilitates the current lot of slum dwellers in the city.

“Look at these boys in the 10-14 age group here. They do not attend school although their parents work. You will see them drinking beer and smoking next to the railway tracks during the day because their parents cannot afford their schooling,” says Qureshi, while pointing at a few youngsters seen loitering next to the track at Bandra station.

Farida (30), who has been living in the slum for the past 18 years, says sitting Congress MP Priya Dutt did get toilets built for them, but now they are in a deplorable state.

“Toilets top the list of demands here. It is only because of the elections that even the ration shops are selling rice and wheat Rs 2 a kg. Once elections are over they will increase the price,” she explains.

First-time voter from the adjacent Behrampada, Ansari Sufiyan (19), wants better housing for his family. “After finishing my graduation, I have planned to do a course in interior designing so that I do not have to depend on the government for rehabilitation. I will do it by myself,” asserts the final year BCom student.

Sufiyan, however, gives credit to Dutt for providing monetary relief and getting the rehabilitation done after a major fire broke out a few years ago.

Textile merchant, Bahar Khan (43), agrees with Sufiyan. He says, “They (Congress leaders) even got the houses painted apart from getting us the water and electricity connection. It is a Congress stronghold and it will not be any different this time around.”

“If the state government has issued notifications for regularising and legitimising the slums and its occupants, we would like these decisions to not just remain on paper, but executed,” says Khan, who has been living in the slum for two decades and has a ground-plus-one shanty in Behrampada.

Asif Ansari, 26, whose extended family of 30 is among the estimated 28,000 registered voters of Behrampada, says the average voter is no more “part of the herd”. “We do not care if the party or candidate is secular or non secular. The residents have become informed, and, are particular about developmental work. Our votes only go to those who are tried and tested, irrespective of the party or the ideology it projects,” he says.

Inside Juhu’s sprawling Nehru Nagar slum colony, residents have little else apart from redevelopment on their minds in the run up to the polls. A long-time Congress stronghold, residents are, nonetheless, upset with the party for being unable to give a final push to their hopes for a solid home. Residents have still reserved their most enthusiastic reception for sitting MP Gurudas Kamat.

The large slum colony borders the Juhu Aerodrome from SV Road down to Juhu Scheme, near Jamnabai Narsee School. While the state government’s last minute push to regularise pre-2000 slums has left residents happy, they still aspire for more.

“If the Rajiv Awas Yojana were to be implemented, pre-2009 slum-dwellers would also be rehabilitated. All we want is for all of us to get homes. The state government’s date extension is a good move, but it would still leave out a lot of our neighbours from getting proper homes,” said 36-year-old shopkeeper Selvam Pandaram.

Standing in the way of the residential towers coming up on the prime plot are restrictions imposed on height of new structures as the colony is located in the ‘funnel zone’ of Juhu Aerodrome.

“The Congress has been in power for ten years but they have done nothing to obtain an NOC from the agencies involved. Neither MLA Ashok Jadhav nor Kamat have helped,” said Pandaram’s sister Rajeshwari Mudaliar, 52, a local social worker.

The disgruntlement may not affect voting patterns on April 24, says ration store owner Bhavanbhai Patel, 38. “All the MP candidates have come into the slums, but the maximum turnout has been for Kamat. Both him and Jadhav have brought water and electricity and paved proper approach roads. So people are happy,” he said.

New entrants Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are also expected to have a limited impact on the locality’s largely pro-incumbent polling. “After the way they managed the state government in Delhi, people here do not want to vote for AAP. All the momentum that they had gained has now gone,” said a woman who did not want to be named.

Slum residents, most of whom have spent their entire lives here, are cautious in greeting the state government’s announcement. “We have only heard that a decision has been made, and that each family will have to pay Rs. 40,000 to qualify. No formal announcement has been made. But this is a traditional congress voter base and the new cut-off date will not give them a big advantage,” said Arvind Gupta, 36, a vegetable seller.

Pandaram is however optimistic that future generations will not be born in the squalor of a slum. “I don’t like living in a slum. My father settled here as a young man and I was born here. I want to live in a proper society and apartment. But no one (in power) is doing anything about it,” he said.

(Inputs by Sandeep Ashar, Tabassum Barnagarwala, Gautam S Mengle, Alison Saldanha, Aamir Khan & Srinath Rao)

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