Sanguna Dake, 50, has been on an indefinite hunger strike for eight days now, spending restless nights on a mattress on the cold footpath outside the office of the City Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) in Belapur. Once paddy farmers, the Dakes of Chinchpada village, one of ten villages in Raigad to be relocated to make way for the under-construction Navi Mumbai International Airport (NMIA), are struggling to make sense of city life. Now living in a rented flat in Karanjade node of Navi Mumbai, one of Sanguna’s sons is driving an autorickshaw; the others are daily wagers. “The airport will be built for thousands of crores, and those of us who lost land and homes to the project have been paid Rs 3,000 per month as rent until our new homes can be built. Tell me, where will you get a house on rent for Rs 3,000 anywhere in Navi Mumbai?” Sanguna asks.
Distressed over the slow response to continuing disputes regarding their rehabilitation package, a couple of hundred residents of these villages have been on a sit-in agitation outside the office of CIDCO, the implementing agency for the new airport. Wednesday marked the completion of one month since their dharna began. On January 16, 13 men and women started a fast unto death, hoping to draw authorities’ attention. A couple of them took ill since, and on Wednesday seven were continuing the hunger strike.
Like Sanguna, many gave up their homes in 2018 and have been living in rented accommodation since. “I have four sons, all married and with children of their own. But five families are considered as one unit for rent, for compensation, for relocation — how do you expect five families to live in a one bedroom apartment?” Sanguna asks. Rents in Karanjade, where several dozen airport-affected families are now residing, hover in the range of Rs 6,000 for a one-bedroom apartment and Rs 8,000 for a two-bedroom.
One of Sanguna’s sons built his own home upon getting married, but only the plinth had been constructed when surveys of project-affected people were conducted in 2013-14. He was deemed ineligible for separate rehabilitation, she says. In Chinchpada, where 364 families are to be relocated, about 25 homes are still standing, her son’s home among them.
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Also on hunger strike, Kunda Bopi says her family rented three flats, for which their monthly outgoings are nearly Rs 22,000. “We get Rs 3,000 per month as reimbursement for rent. Can you imagine rich people leaving their homes and paying rent from their own pockets because the government wants their land and homes for an airport?” she asks. “We are dispensable because we are poor farmers.” One of Kunda’s sons bought an autorickshaw with the compensation payout, the other is trying to make a living selling vegetables.
Ankush Bhagat of Kombadbhuje village lives in a ‘joint structure’ with another family named Bhagat, though they are entirely unrelated. “We have been counted as a single unit, all our compensation package elements are given together,” says Ankush, a trained architect.
There are multiple other complaints — temple structures cared for by private residents were declared ineligible for rehabilitation, over 200 homes were similarly found ineligible, and while residents have been agitating for jobs in the new airport, they have instead been offered training in things such as poultry rearing, pickle-making, etc. Also, compensation for reconstruction of homes in the relocated villages is only for built-up space while village homes often include large spaces with trees and vegetable patches within the compound. Ramchandra Mhatre of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) says CIDCO and the Maharashtra government deliberately avoided invoking the 2013 Right to Fair Compensation in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act while affected families who signed consent letters were unaware of their rights under the law. “Annuity policies under the law are to be at least Rs 2,000 per month per family for 20 years in case of loss of livelihood — they’ve avoided paying this entirely,” he says. “Instead, poor villages were offered various sums just around the time they need money, such as before the Ganpati festival, and an extra incentive if they accept and leave their homes. Poor people tend to accept these offers, but should governments indulge in such a practice?”
Joint Managing Director of CIDCO Dr Prashant Narnaware, who held three meetings with the agitators over the last month, said the administration is keen to resolve the protesters’ grievances, but the deadlock continues over some demands. “The rehabilitation package was agreed upon by a committee including representatives of all ten villages — 22.5 per cent of commercial, developed land in lieu of farm land, three times the built-up area of their houses, Rs 1,500 per square foot for construction of new homes, Rs 2,20,000 as a one-time hardship settlement. But if some people constructed houses after this agreement, how can we include them?” said Narnaware. He said a fresh committee under retired IAS officer Subodh Kumar will look afresh into the demands, and that the protests are not representative of the majority of affected people. “Ninety-seven per cent of people have accepted the package and moved,” he said.
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