For Ambedkar Nagar slum dwellers, who lost their huts to a wall collapse on July 2, the issue of temporary shelter resurfaced late on Sunday night after the local BMC school allegedly refused to provide a few residents space to sleep, leading to a late-night protest outside a BMC corporator’s house.
Shivam Goswami, half of whose hut was swept away by floods, said the school’s security guards refused them entry, claiming they received orders from higher officials. “My family has been sleeping in the school’s hall since the collapse. Since half the hut was destroyed, a few people sleep in the remaining portion and the rest take refuge here,” he said. “We don’t like living like this, but we have nowhere to go.”
The issue has brought to fore the long pending need for the forest department and state government to rehabilitate residents lining the forest area in Malad (East).
On July 2, a portion of the BMC’s Malad Hill reservoir’s wall collapsed in Kurar village’s Pimpri Pada and Ambedkar Nagar, leading to a death toll of 31 so far and 132 others injured. A day later, temporary arrangements for the victims were made in a BMC school in Ambedkar Nagar. In Pimpri Pada, private school Queen Mary made its classrooms available at night.
Gudiya Kanojia lost her 17-month-old daughter Janhvi and all her belongings in the flood. She wanders the streets with her six-year-old son during the day and spends nights at the BMC school with 30 others. Her son has stopped going to school after losing his books and uniform.
“Our entire family sleeps in this school. Since two days, school authorities have been telling us to find alternate shelter. Yesterday (Sunday), the gates were locked,” she said.
On Sunday night, over 20 locals protested outside NCP corporator Dhanshree Bharadkar’s house, following which the school was reopened. But the fear lingers. “Today, again, the school officials said they cannot continue giving shelter. They can ask us to leave anytime,” Kanojia said. She had left work as a domestic maid because she cannot leave her son on the streets alone during the day.
Corporator Dhanshree’s husband, Vaibhav, said the school principal complained of unclean premises. “There are liquor bottles found on the premises. It has a negative impact on children. The school is supposed to be only a temporary shelter during disasters,” he said.
Residents on Monday said they are willing to leave the school if the government provides rehabilitation. A deadlock remains over Mahul, where the BMC has readied over 110 flats for families who lost their tenements. Bilal Khan, from Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, said the victims have refused to move to Mahul.
“Mahul is unfit for living due to high pollution levels. Until the issue of permanent housing is resolved, there is no other solution. The forest department has said it has no other option except Mahul. We are hoping tenements will be provided in the vicinity for rehabilitation,” said Khan.
According to P-North ward committee chairman Vinod Mishra, a discussion to provide tenements in Appa Pada in Malad East, instead of Mahul, is underway. “The occupational certificate is pending. That can take two to three months,” he said.
BMC officials said at least 76 flats of Slum Redevelopment Authority (SRA) in Malad have also been shortlisted and presented to the municipal commissioner and chief minister for consideration. “We are waiting for the SRA nod to hand over these flats to Malad residents,” an official said.
With no shelter, over 110 families are forced to purchase drinking water and food. Initial support from NGOs and philanthropists has started to fade. “We can’t cook or leave kids anywhere. For how long will we live like this?” said Nagarbai Nanavare, who lost her elder son, three grandchildren and daughter-in-law in the floods.
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