NEARLY a month since the state government announced a Rs 300-crore cycle track — ‘Green Wheels Along Blue Lines’ — the work on a 1.5-km test stretch began last week in Mulund, which the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) plans to open to cycling enthusiasts before Diwali later this month. However, removal of encroachments along the Tansa main pipeline, which is the alignment of the cycle track, remains a challenge in at least three administrative wards. In a handful of other localities, slum dwellers who were earlier evicted from near the pipeline have since rebuilt shanties at the site.
With the aim of providing a lasting solution to the problem of encroachments, civic officials said that the BMC came up with the Rs 300-crore project to provide a cycle track and a pedestrian pathway connecting areas such as King’s Circle, Vaishali Nagar in Mulund, Sakinaka Junction and Tilak Nagar, among others. It is expected to be completed by November 2019.
Back in 2009, the Bombay High Court had ordered the BMC to remove all the encroachments located near the Tansa pipeline. Of the nine administrative wards that the Tansa pipeline runs through, BMC is yet to begin demolishing hutments in F North (including areas like King’s Circle, Matunga) and H East (including areas such as Bandra East) wards while majority of the hutments in L Ward (Kurla) and a small stretch in S ward (Bhandup, Vikhroli) fall in the ‘pending’ list. Eight years after the HC order, of the total 16,609 hutments located in nine administrative wards, only 7,135 have been demolished, including many who are not eligible for rehabilitation, according to data provided by the Hydraulic Engineering Department.
After the High Court directed the BMC to remove all the encroachments and protect the Tansa pipeline, a ward-wise survey of these hutments was conducted and the demolition was planned in four stages. The first phase included S and G North (including Mahim) ward, while T (including Mulund), N (including Ghatkopar) and M West (including Chembur) wards were in the second phase followed by K East (Andheri east) and F North in the third phase and L and H East in the last phase.
The demolition started with the first phase in 2011. The second phase was conducted in 2015. While small sections of the second phase are pending, the third phase is currently in progress and the fourth phase is yet to begin. The civic officials, however, feel confident that they will be able to remove the remaining encroachments by the end of this year and that the best way to prevent the encroachments from cropping up is to allow the general public to use the area on a daily basis.
Officials of several wards confirmed that despite conducting multiple demolition drives, the residents who were earlier evicted have returned to the area and have set up hutments again. For instance, S ward had 1,581 illegal hutments of which 1,553 were demolished. Only residents of 670 of them, who were eligible for rehabilitation, were sent to the transit camp in Mahul. Santoshkumar Dhonde, Assistant Municipal Commissioner, said, “We have conducted two demolition drives, one as recent as last year. But about 50 per cent of them have returned to the area and it is possible that most of them are people who were not eligible for accommodation,” he said.
The scenario is similar in L ward which has the highest number of encroachments. Its Assistant Municipal Commissioner Ajit Kumar Ambi too confirmed that many of the slum dwellers have returned to the area. As per the survey, there are 5,560 illegal hutments of which only 2,382 are eligible for rehabilitation. Only 315 have been demolished and the residents have been sent to Mahul transit camp.
Admitting the futility of the situation, senior civic officials said that according to the state government’s norms, majority of the people do not qualify for rehabilitation as they began to live in these areas after 2000. “Demolishing the encroachments is useless since the people return and build their homes overnight. These people have nowhere to go and they certainly won’t leave the city. Unless the state government figures out a way to allot some space to them, they cannot be prevented from encroaching on public areas,” said an official. Across the nine wards, residents of only 8,007 hutments are eligible for rehabilitation and since the first phase of the demolition drive, residents of 4,543 hutments have been allotted accommodation at the Mahul transit camp.
Civic officials of many of these wards have now decided carry out a demolition drive after the contractor for the cycle track project has been appointed so that the work can begin immediately after that. “After the encroachments are demolished, the HE department should barricade the area by constructing a compound wall which they haven’t done. But since the cycle track project has been approved, we will wait for the contractor to be appointed and will then demolish the structures so that the contractor can start constructing the wall,” said the official.
Activists who work with rehabilitation of slum residents say that it is impossible to prevent people from returning to the same area especially if no alternate space is given to them. Marina Joseph, a member of Yuva, a non-profit organisation, questioned the need for another cycle track project since the one in Bandra Kurla Complex is barely used by anyone and pointed out that as a lasting solution, people need to be rehabilitated in the same ward so that they are close to their place of work. “People who set up their homes on pipelines live in hazardous conditions and do so to live close to their place of work. If no rehabilitation is offered, they obviously will return to the same place or end up living in the periphery of that area. Besides, the condition of the transit camp in Mahul is so bad that even those who have been offered accommodation move out. Besides it is also very far away from where they work,” she said.
While the project is likely to be divided into three tenders expected to be floated soon, the BMC has also sought the opinion of Mumbai Police on issues of security on the cycle track. “We will have a meeting with Police Commissioner Dattatray Padsalgikar for advice on the timings the cycle track can be kept open to public and whether we need to place guards or CCTV cameras as security measures,” said Sanjay Mukherjee, Additional Municipal Commissioner, who added that the alignment of the cycle track will be close to Metro and railway stations which will significantly improve connectivity of suburban Mumbai.