FIVE members of the Kokna tribal community have moved the Bombay High Court to oppose their rehabilitation from the Prajapur Pada in Aarey colony to SRA buildings. In the petition, the members have claimed that they are original inhabitants of the land and, hence, cannot be evicted for the Mumbai Metro III corridor.
The petitioners from the Kokna tribal community have been cultivating for generations at the Prajapur Adivasi Pada. The petition, filed through lawyer Bhavana Mhatre, states that the families of the petitioners have been earning their livelihood by cultivating rice crops and vegetables on the adivasi land for decades even prior to 1952.
The petitioners are seeking to challenge the eviction of tribals from their land for the execution of the Mumbai Metro III, Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ, in tribal areas of Prajapur Pada, Aarey Colony. The petition states that the tribals are facing “constant threat of forceful eviction from their indigenous lands to give way to commercial projects, slum rehabilitation projects, hotels and resorts and film academies in Aarey colony”.
The petition further states that the Constitution of India provides them special provision to safeguard the welfare of tribals and tribal communities in India by protecting education, cultural, social, economic, political and employment rights. The petitioners are not only cultivating on that land but they also graze the land, tribals use water bodies, collect and dispose timber and non-timber minor forest produce in the forest of Aarey for generations.
According to the petition, despite orders from the Bombay High Court that ‘no action of eviction’ shall be taken against the tribals, three petitioners have been illegally evicted. They say the tribals want to be rehabilitated according to the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) policy which gives a special status to ‘indigenous people’ by providing them alternate land. But the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) conducted a survey and identified them as slum dwellers. “The tribals inhabiting Prajapur Pada are traditional forest dwellers who have lived in the padas for ages and cannot be treated as slum dwellers,” the petition says.
The lawyer appearing for MMRC told court last week that “notice was issued to the petitioners in May 2017, thereafter, the tenements were demolished and alternate accommodation is also provided to them.” The matter will be heard next after the court vacation.