Congress MLA from Dharavi and Minister for Women and Child Development Varsha Gaikwad talks about the obstacles that are holding back the ambitious but much-delayed Dharavi redevelopment project and the road ahead. Gaikwad also talks about the recently finalised state policy for women and the new elements that the state has tried to incorporate in this vital document.
SHUBHANGI KHAPRE: When Rahul Gandhi visited Mumbai,you took up the issue of delay in the Dharavi redevelopment project personally with him. He then discussed the matter with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. Has there been any progress since then?
That we are complaining about anybody for being responsible for the delay in Dharavi redevelopment project is a wrong perception created by the media. The discussion was about Congress losing some seats in the Mumbai municipal elections and whether delay in the project could be behind it. I told him Dharavi had been a traditional Congress bastion and people here have always supported the Congress. And we,therefore,need to start the Dharavi redevelopment project as early as possible. Work has already started in sector five. Proposals to build four buildings have already been approved. An issue has been raised about the height of these buildings by aviation authorities. Development plans of the other four sectors are being finalised. Tenders will soon be floated.
MANASI PHADKE: The draft development plan (DRP) for all the five sectors is still being prepared and has not been approved yet. How has work on one building started without the approval of the development plan? Was it done to show that some work has started before elections?
All approvals and authority to start work in sector five have been given to MHADA. A report incorporating suggestions and objections received on proposed plan for the other four sectors has been sent to the state government. The CM has given an in-principle approval and hence talk on floating tenders has now begun.
SANDEEP ASHAR: You have lost five out of six seats in the municipal elections last year. If the government fails to announce commencement of the DRP before elections,how will you convince voters to vote for you?
Voters are aware that we are constantly fighting for the project to get it started at the earliest. We have an image in the constituency but it is certainly going to be difficult to retain this and there is a need for the government to speed up work on the project now. One building has already been built up to the ninth floor in sector five. So people can see that work has begun. If work begins at the earliest,it will benefit both the party and the people of Dharavi. It is a commitment given to them not just by me,but by the entire government.
MANASI PHADKE: All political parties except yours is opposed to the DRP. Is their opposition justified and how much is it affecting the project?
Opposition parties will lose their meaning if they do not oppose and this is a bad aspect of democracy. We have requested them many times to not let politics come in the way of development where it is much needed,as in the case of Dharavi. Their main demand is that after redevelopment,the carpet area of each house should be 400 square feet as against currently finalised 300 square feet. While across Mumbai,redevelopment tenements are of 269 square feet,Dharavi has been given a special concession. Their demand to include Rajiv Gandhi Nagar and Tata Power Nagar in the project is also meaningless because these two are already a part of it.
MANASI PHADKE: Despite a delay of over 10 years in the execution of the DRP,only 765 suggestions and objections were received,out of which 40 per cent either did not want redevelopment or wanted self-development. Do you think interest of Dharavi residents in the project is declining?
I do not think so. These 765 suggestions are largely by groups and committees,so a large number of people are involved. The demand to have 400 square feet carpet area is the most common suggestion,backed by Shiv Sena,which is opposing the project just for the sake of opposing it. Politicians are misleading people and giving them false information about the project. Since losing their house is the biggest fear,people are being cautious in giving their approval. They most certainly want the project. Some of them live in houses as small as 100 square feet. We have conducted hearings of all those who have sent in their suggestions and objections.
STUTI SHUKLA: Now that work has gained momentum,according to you,is there a deadline set for the completion of the DRP?
I think bhoomi poojan will take place before the next elections. As far as completion of the project is concerned,once the work begins,it will get completed in no time. Global tender conditions for the project were very strict.
MEGHA SOOD: Child labour is rampant here. Your comments?
Child labour has come down owing to good work by NGOs,such as Pratham,along with the government. But the issue of child labour is a larger one that pertains to the entire city and the main reason behind is poverty. Despite wanting to educate their child,parents are not being able to do so. Parents of several children,whom we have enrolled in schools,have come to us requesting us to let their child work. This is especially true for single parents. We have asked all industries to put up a board outside which says that child labour is not allowed here. A recent survey by Pratham has shown that child labour has come down from over to 1,000 to about 200 now.
P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: Coming to the recently finalised womens policy for Maharashtra,there was a controversy over the chapter on transgender,which described it as a medical problem.
We have deleted that entire sub-point on preventive action from the finalised policy. This is a marginalised section of the society and we had many delegations representing them and telling us about their concerns. They were opposed to this sub-point,which referred to how pregnant mothers can avoid hormonal imbalance and how mothers of transgenders can be counselled. We had suggestions and objections from every possible quarter and we have tried to incorporate all of them and present it as a progressive policy.
SANDEEP ASHAR: What are the major new additions to the first draft?
A number of suggestions about health and education of minorities,SC,ST,OBC,especially the VJNT (Vimukta Jaati Nomadic Tribes) were incorporated. We have also incorporated the need for every establishment,that has working women,to form a committee based on the Vishaka judgment,to address cases of sexual harassment at workplace. A number of small changes were also made such as using selective sex abortion instead of female foeticide.
MIHIKA BASU: Lack of political will seems to be the reason behind no appointments to the posts of members and chairperson of the states women and child commissions. What is your take on the issue?
Discussions on the possible names have taken place with the chief minister and he has assured us a decision will be taken at the earliest.
MAYURA JANWALKAR: What is the status on the proposed
de-criminalisation of the act of abandoning children so that human trafficking is prevented? There were talks of setting up government creches,where babies can be left,instead of abandoning them in a dustbin.
We discussed the matter with deputy CM Ajit Pawar and decided that every public health hospital will have a creche.
(Transcribed by Stuti Shukla)