GHAR BACHAO GHAR BANAO ANDOLAN
Forest Department Misled the Court
‘Housing For All’ promise becoming hollow
Mumbai | October 6th, 2015: Informal settlement in Malvani no.8, Malad was demolished on 4th and 6th June this year in the name of protecting mangroves. In this forcible eviction more than 600 houses were demolished. The demolition was carried out by the Mangroves Cell of the Maharashtra Forest Department. Evicted slum dwellers had moved to the Bombay High Court in the hope of ‘justice’ but the Forest Department’s misleading submissions before the Court compelled the slum dwellers to withdraw case and now trying luck with all the documents in their possession with the concerned collector. On 1st October, the slum dwellers finally withdrawn their case.
The Bombay High Court order of 2005, which Forest Department had used, to demolish these houses, states that any land having mangroves and land within 50 meters from the mangroves land will be declared as ‘protected forest’ or ‘forest’ and no construction will be allowed on such land from the date of passing this order i.e. 6 Oct. 2005. The order nowhere directs to demolish structures before 6.10.2005.
The Forest Dept. after the Court’s order, in 2008 i.e. after three years started demarcating the forest land with the help of satellite images, Maharashtra Remote Sensing Application Center (MRSAC) and Google maps. So far in order to remove ‘encroachments’ on the forest land, the Mangroves cell in Mumbai is serving notices to slums near mangroves while ignoring several other big buildings adjacent to mangroves in the same area which have been built after the year 2005. And this is what exactly happened with the shack dwellers of the Malwani no. 8 in total biased manner.
Late demarcation of forest area also raises question of how the Mangroves Cell is concerned about conserving mangroves.
Shack dwellers of Malavni no.8 have been living in that area pre 1995, 1997 and so on. Adjacent to their settlement, there lies a park whose boundaries appear to have been extended 2015 from what was there in 2005. Pictures attached for illustration.
Park in 2005
The distance between the pole erected by forest department and the boundary of the park is certainly less than 50 metres and still the construction allowed to take place.
Just adjacent to the park is another area which belongs to MHADA as per the description on the board erected on the land by the authority. The pillar that was erected by the forest department is broken. The area is lying vacant as of now and a part of it is being used as a dumping ground.
The year 2005 Google earth map below will show that no structure was there in that year on the land of MHADA and part of it was covered by Mangroves.
While in the year 2015 on that very land of MHADA there seen tall buildings and the part where mangroves used to be there in the year 2005, seen cleared and filled with debris.
The Mangroves Protection Cell, however, ignored all the above cases and have their bulldozers clear houses of the poor just adjacent to these structures. The area where the houses were demolished could be seen in the map below in the yellow circle and the park and the MHADA building lying just adjacent to this area.
This settlement is pre-2005 and when the slum dwellers had gone to the Mangrove Cell office to show their address proof of this area before year 2005 these officials either were not available to see these documents or if there, they refused to see and take on record the appropriate documents. Declaring this slum illegal on 28th April, 2015, the forest department served notices on 15th May 2015 asking these shack dwellers to vacate land within 7 days failing which their huts would be demolished by the department. But shack dwellers stayed put on that land and did not remove their huts saying that they all had been living there before 2005 and the their settlement came into being before the year 2000, so the question of illegal structures doesn’t arise.
When the these shack dwellers moved to Court for getting housing right on that land, the forest department in their affidavit claimed that they had demolished only 147 houses in compliance with 2005 Bombay HC order while the BMC on its website in the press statement claimed that they had demolished 450 houses in that very slum on the same days in order to construct sewage water treatment plant there. This statement of BMC is enough to prove that they violated the same order which the Forest department is claiming to comply with. Further, the forest dept in the affidavit deposed that they had not received any proposal from BMC for construction of the sewage water treatment plant.
This irresponsible, biased and arbitrary work of the Forest dept and BMC have rendered thousands homeless affecting and denying them their human right to housing, right to life and livelihood, right to education of all those children whose education got affected due to this eviction. This demolition took place just before the onset of monsoon, thus some of them had to spent nights in the rains. The Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan along with the evicted families have been protesting this forcible eviction since demolition i.e. three months. All of them are sitting on dharna in a pandal erected by them near place where their houses were demolished.
The Collector, Mumbai Suburban District who chair the District Coastal Zone Monitoring Committee was submitted a report which highlight big structures that came after the year 2005 on the mangroves land, by the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan on 6th July in the monthly meeting of the Committee during a protest led by Medha Patkar against the forcible eviction of the Mandala slum on 30thJune, 2015 and Malavni no. 8 slum on 4th and 6th June, 2015 but three months have passed, neither any action taken by the Collector not any response received to this report till date.
The similar story-Malavni no. 8, will be repeated with other slum dwellers in near future if the forest department doesn’t stop misinterpreting and implementing the Bombay HC 2005 Order in a biased manner.
Question is that where else will these shack dwellers go and live? Given their poverty, they cannot afford to buy a house in city like Mumbai. If rent a house, it will consume all their earnings. Doesn’t the government have the responsibility to think about this section of the society which comprises more than 50% population of the city, whose hard work make the city functioning, before spending Rs. 432 crores on a park or Rs. 12,000 crores on coastal road? No doubt, the improvement in the living standard of these urban poor will surely build reputation to the city and setting an example of pro-poor work by the government. The Forest Dept. already has a bad reputation and unsuccessful work in the tribal areas.
Prime Minister Modi luring voters in Bihar in the name of his party -BJP’s ‘Housing For All by 2022’ mission and appealing to vote for BJP in state assembly election while in the BJP ruled Maharashtra state, the government is hell bent on evicting and planning to evict the urban poor. Who people should trust?
All those who are against this inequality (violation of article 14 of the Indian Constitution) and support the right to shelter of urban poor, must respond to this and write to CM Maharashtra, the Collector Mumbai Suburban District)
Pankaj Gupta Noor Jahan Ashraf Sheikh Aravind Unni Medha Patkar