Thirty-seven-year-old Shakir Ansari has been living with his wife, five sons and a daughter in Adarsh Nagar, Deonar, since 2008. Through the past week, he has been worried about the likelihood of losing the only home he has, a hovel adjoining the Deonar dumping ground in suburban Mumbai, where civic authorities have undertaken a demolition drive to remove huts encroaching on the dump site.
On Tuesday, even though residents thwarted the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s efforts to demolish 400 additional illegal hutments, Ansari expects it is only a matter of time before the demolition is conducted. Nearly 1,200 families inhabit the 4.5 acres of land that the BMC is trying to clear. Residents say they have been living there for more than a decade. After eight days of the BMC’s demolition drive, about 470 hutments now stand razed, with the BMC having cleared an area of over 2.5 acres in Indiranagar, Adarsh Nagar and Padma Nagar.
On Tuesday, however, the residents put up stiff resistance against the civic officials and did not allow the bulldozers to proceed further.
“Many of us have been living here for longer than 10 years. How can the BMC not distinguish between us and those who have built a structure a few months ago? We have settled down here and we have nowhere else to go,” said Ansari. Many like Ansari have been living in the area for nearly a decade and are demanding alternative accommodation before agreeing to move. Amid tension regarding losing the roof above her head, Rashida Abdul Siddique, a class XII student, has appeared for two papers and is preparing for her next exam.
A resident of the area since 2006, she said, “We have shifted all our belongings to another room we have rented. It is difficult for me to focus on my studies since my family is worried about losing our house as well as about the rent which we will now have to pay. The BMC wants to kick us out but is not offering us any alternative accommodation,” she said.
Owing to the slowing down of demolition in the last few days, the BMC had planned to level out the 2.5 acres of land which has been cleared so far and erect a fence around it to prevent encroachment but was unable to do so. “The women and children came and lay down in front of the bulldozers and we were not able to continue since the residents were not willing to go anywhere else. The families living in the area there have no residential proof before 2000 and as per the prescribed norms are not entitled to alternate accommodation. The land belongs to the solid waste management department of the BMC and has to be vacated,” said Kiran Dighavkar, assistant municipal commissioner of M East ward.
Calling it a violation of rights, social activist Medha Patkar told The Indian Express, “On one hand the government promises housing for all, on the other hand the cut-off date of 2000 does not include a large number of poor people. In this case, no demolition scheme has been prepared though it is mandated by the Slum Act.” Patkar proposed families with no alternative accommodation be allowed to stay while others can be asked to vacate.