Locals fear that about 30,000 project-affected persons could lose their voting rights for lack of official documents; activists claim they are being victimised

Mahul residents have been in the news for their battle against air and water pollution. But they now have another fight up their sleeve, as the names of 1,362 citizens from the area have been excluded from the voters’ list.

A few Mahul residents received notices on Wednesday that their names had been excluded, making them ineligible to vote. Many of them moved to the area after being relocated from slums in Mumbai, and said they their new documents were yet to be drawn up. The residents feared that if their exclusion from the voters’ list continued, then about 30,000 project-affected persons shifted to Mahul could lose their voting rights.

The residents had received a letter under RTI, which was written by the local office of the Election Commission to the BMC in March 2018. It said the EC was in the process of excluding the names of 1,362 from the voting list.

Anita Dhole was a resident of Ghatkopar, and her house was demolished in the Tansa pipeline project. She was asked to go to Mahul, but refused. On Wednesday, she received a letter from the election officer of Ghatkopar informing her that her name had been excluded from the list. “This office [Election Commission] has started a process of excluding the names of slum-dwellers who are rehabilitated to Mahul. The ordinary residence Bhimanagar is shut and hence the name cannot be kept in the voters’ list,” the letter said.

“This is injustice. We are fighting against the Mahul accommodations as the conditions are bad. The Election Commission could have retained our name in the old list. Many of us do not have sufficient documents to include our names in the new voters’ list. You cannot take away our voting rights like this,” Anita said.

Ashok Maskar, who used to stay near SNDT College, Ghatkopar, said over 1,065 names had been removed from the old list. “I am staying on rent after I refused to accept the Mahul room. My name, too, was excluded from the list. We already have issues related to the poor conditions at Mahul, and now this new problem has cropped up,” Maskar, who works for a private company, said.

Social activist Medha Patkar is set to lead a protest march to Azad Maidan on December 15, to highlight the various issues Mahul residents face.

Bilal Khan of the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, who has been helping the residents, said, “The government has just excluded the names of all the dissenters from the voting list. In this way, 30,000 project affected will lose their voting rights. Is this a punishment for protesting against human rights abuse and being dumped in Mumbai’s toxic hell, which is what Mahul is?”

Tejas Samel, deputy district collector for the area, said, “As per guidelines from the Election Commission of India, no voters should remain in the list who are shifted from their permanent residences. Their slums were demolished a year ago, and hence their names were excluded. They were asked to give proof of residence if they were staying there on rent. They can even submit the rent agreement to get their names added to the list. At present, my office is in the process of issuing letters to the Electoral Registration Officer of Mahul to add their names in the Mahul list.”

Mahul resident Anita Dhole is among voters whose names are missing

IIT Bombay report cites ‘low liveability’ of Mahul Village

An interim report by IIT Bombay, released on Wednesday, highlights the low liveability of Mahul Village, where several project-affected persons (PAP) have been shifted over the last. The report says the water in drinking tanks in the area was found to be contaminated, “possibly due to pollution”. It also cites extreme air pollutant concentration levels, blaming them on the area being close to a petroleum refinery and industrial units.

The report said the SRA buildings in Mahul were characterised by their closeness to the BPCL refinery, inaccessibility from the nearest railway stations, and poor neighbourhood planning.

“The buildings have been designed on the principle of occupancy maximisation, ignoring liveability parameters like good air quality,” the report said.

The Bombay High Court had tasked the institute with preparing the report, and the urban development department of the government of Maharashtra. Based on surveys of the Mahul project-affected persons’ township near Trombay, the interim report, focussed on public health, hygiene, impact of human habitation on mangroves, disaster preparedness and structural and architectural issues.

The inception report of the institute on the subject was released in October and focussed on environmental hazards. The final report is expected to be out by the end of the month.

Talking about drinking water, the report said, “The drinking water storage tanks revealed a thin oily film on the water, as well as brownish colour, indicating contamination.”

About the BPCL refinery, the report observes that the pollutants emitted from the combustion process in the refinery may contaminate the site. Observing that the area severely lacked hygiene, the report said this made residents prone to contagious and epidemic diseases.

The report said the drainage system was found broken and leaking in various places, leading to fecal matter lying on the streets.

Bilal Khan, of the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, which has taken the matter to the High Court said, “This report only reiterates what the residents have been telling the government for a year now. This should be enough for them to relocate the residents and provide them with better housing.”