October 27, 2017 2:29:14 am
As the shanties in Garib Nagar, a slum settlement near Behrampada in Bandra East, went up in flames yet again on Thursday afternoon, the BMC officials, who were at the location to carry out a demolition drive, have been suspicious. This is the third time in a decade that the shanties were engulfed in a fire.
The “illegal” multi-storey shanties are part of Bandra dotting the prime land to the east side entrance of the railway station for decades. Located along the Tansa pipeline, the entire slum area has encroached upon 3.47 hectares of railway land, officials said. Of this, Behrampada accounts for 0.47 hectares of encroachments and Garib Nagar is spread across 1.40 hectares. The remaining 1.60 hectares have been encroached by slum settlements of Kherwadi.
A fire was reported in June 2009 in Behrampada, followed by another huge fire in March 2011, which gutted as many as 700 hutments in Garib Nagar. However, after every fire, the shanties at both Behrampada and Garib Nagar grew taller. With the passage of time, locals have managed to raise taller slums, from two, four and, in some cases, up to five storeys. Most of these structures abutt the Bandra East skywalk and even the railway foot over bridge (FOB).
Amid chaos and rescue operations on Thursday, officials alleged that the fire may have been a ploy to stop the demolition drive. “Why does a fire break out every time the BMC goes there to clear the encroachment. It is an important point to think about. On Thursday, we had gone there with a target to clear at least 300 to 358 illegal hutments. However, due to the fire incident, we managed to clear only 70 hutments. These people run a racket where they make fake residential proofs and photo IDs. When BMC takes action, they resort to such things,” said Alka Sasane, assistant commissioner of H-East ward.
A fire official, who was on duty, said they have experienced such a situation before. “These locals talk about 48-hour notice. They have been asked to vacate the land since 2015. An investigation in the matter will be conducted. However, fire breaking out each time a demolition drive is carried out cannot be a coincidence,” the fire brigade official said.
Former assistant commissioner Prashant Gaikwad carried out a demolition drive in 2016. It hit a roadblock due to stiff resistance. Gaikwad is now the assistant commissioner of K west ward. Shiv Sena MLA of Bandra east constituency Trupti Sawant was unavailable for comment.
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