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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Evacuation low, Mumbai lives under shadow of looming disaster

The evacuation rate of residents living in the landslide-prone areas of Mumbai has been very low. The Indian Express visited a few of these landslide-prone localities to understand why people continue to live under the shadow of a looming disaster.

Written by Laxman Singh | Mumbai |
Updated: August 2, 2021 10:43:37 am
A sit-in at Malad’s Kurar village by residents seeking rehabilitation. Express photo by Amit Chakravarty

The evacuation rate of residents living in the landslide-prone areas of Mumbai has been very low. The Indian Express visited a few of these landslide-prone localities to understand why people continue to live under the shadow of a looming disaster.

Azad Nagar, Ghatkopar, Tilted, cracked wall

A week ago a piece of rock rolled down the roof of Mohammad Asif Shaikh’s neighbour. The sound of the tumbling stone was a stark reminder for Asif (43) about the 2013 landslide that had claimed his mother’s life and left his brother and nephew injured.

An autorickshaw driver, he lives in Azad Nagar, Ghatkopar west, which is among one of the landslide-prone areas in Mumbai, with his wife and three children. Even after the 2013 landslide damaged his house along with two adjacent ones and claimed his mother’s life, the family decided to rebuild the house and stay in the same area.

It was only in 2017, when a retaining wall with open drain to allow rainwater to flow unobstructed was constructed by the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA). Four years later, the wall itself is in a precarious condition, tilting to an unnatural angle as visible cracks snake through its exterior.

Azad Nagar retaining wall has developed cracks and is in a precarious condition. Express photo by Amit Chakravarty

“With this wall weakening, we are again facing a landslide threat. I have written several letters to the BMC and local political leaders about the cracks in the retaining wall and that it is leaning towards our house. But nobody is taking it seriously. Unfortunately, from political leaders to government officials everybody starts visiting the area when there is an accident,” Shaikh said.

Rahul Nagar, Parksite in Vikhroli
Wall partially built

According to a report from Geological Survey of India (GSI) in 2020, Vikhroli is also among six “highly vulnerable” landslide zones in the city. As per the BMC data, Vikhroli and Bhandup have maximum numbers of marked landslide-prone areas.

Harish Suryawanshi (36), who has been residing at Rahul Nagar for over three decades, said on July 26, 2005, about 150 houses were damaged after a landslide hit the area following heavy rainfall. Despite the daily risk to life, Suryawanshi continued to live in the area with wife and two sons. His cousins and extended family members also stay in the same hilly area.

“People know about the risk but housing in Mumbai is not affordable to the poor. Also, if we are relocated from here then it will upend our livelihood as most of us do odd jobs in nearby buildings. One more problem is the long pending redevelopment works. A few years back, a nearby slum was demolished for redevelopment. But the project never took off and those residents became homeless as builders also stopped paying rents to them,” Suryawanshi said.

What worries Rahul Nagar residents, especially those living on the lower side of the hill, is that clearing of trees and flattening of the hill were still going on.

When The Indian Express visited the area, at least two new shanties were under construction on the hill side by flattening the hill. The work on the construction of retaining wall was incomplete at several locations and some houses, too, were seen encroaching the structure. On the upper side of the hill, people are forced to defecate in the open as they have to go down all the way to use the toilets.

Ambedkar Nagar, Malad
Wall absent

Last week, residents of Ambedkar Nagar and Pimparipada had staged protests seeking immediate rehabilitation as they feared that heavy rain could create havoc. On July 12, 2019, hundreds of shanties in the two areas were washed away after a boundary wall collapsed and 32 people killed following a heavy downpour.

Anish Yadav, a resident of Ambedkar Nagar, said they live in constant fear after the incident. “Nobody in our area sleeps at night when there is heavy rainfall. Flow of water on hill slopes increases with intensity of rain. When rain water starts flowing through our houses, we assemble at one place which is on a higher side on a hill slope,” Yadav said. The entire area is at high risk, he said. “We don’t know if we will wake up alive tomorrow morning.”

Rahul Nagar Parksite in Vikhroli is a predominantly landslide-prone area. Express photo by Amit Chakravarty

Another resident said that their houses were made of plastic and bamboo that can easily be washed away if rain intensity increases. “There are small children living in these houses. We fear that they will also be swept away in the downpour,” Sriram Kadam, another resident, said.

While 82 families were shifted from the area after the incident, at least 100 more families need to be rehabilitated. The BMC has not reconstructed the boundary wall that had collapsed.

Jay Malhar Nagar,Ghatkopar west
Wall incomplete

Slum dwellers in Jay Malhar Nagar said they, too, could face incidents like Taliye village in Raigad. About two-and-a-half years back, over hundreds of houses were demolished to make a retaining boundary wall for water supply pipelines. The work is still on but several residents complain the foundation of their houses was damaged during the demolition of other houses on the slope side.

“Kitchen of my house was demolished. Also, the foundation has weakened due to demolition of houses on the slope side of our houses. We could also face incidents like Taliye village as each house is constructed by the support of others on the hill slopes,” Chhaya Sanas, resident of Jay Malhar Nagar, said. “BMC asked us to vacate the area for four months of monsoon. We also know it is life threatening to stay here but there is no option,” she added. Construction of a major portion of the retaining wall, which is spread over one kilometre till Khandoba Tekadi, has been completed.

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