Redevelopment of the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) land is showcased to be the grandest ever pro-people, pro-Mumbai development scheme in the city’s history.  Since June 2014 – when the Ministry of Shipping constituted the Mumbai Port Land Development Committee (MPLDC) to prepare a road map for the development of the Port Trust waterfront and port lands – media houses have constantly reported on all the planned developments – ranging from affordable housing to 7 star hotels. Reports have been lauding statements that make powerful, people centric claims for affordable housing and open spaces that will be accessible to all.

“Since there is currently no policy for slum rehabilitation on central government land, it will be a complex process before we are able to come up with one,” said MbPT chairmen R M Parmar.

The SRA policy counts only those living in slums that have come up prior to 2000 as “eligible” for alternate housing, displacing large numbers of “ineligible” residents.  According to a panel member, the port trust’s rehabilitation policy should be more along the lines of central government’s flagship Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) where the construction of low-cost housing for all slum residents are partly financed through central government grants.” (Indian Express December 4, 2014)

All such claims vanished into thin air today.

Nearly 150 homes at Powder Bunder (Plot Number 7 near godown at Powder Bunder) were demolished today. Located at Mazgaon Reclamation, Powder Bunder is a settlement of more than 1000 hutments, housing more than 5000 people. Residents are involved in informal activities – they include daily wage earners/naka workers, many are involved in ship breaking activities and many are contract workers at the Mazgaon Docks. The demolition was carried out by port officials in the presence of the local police from Sweri Police Station, BEST representatives (to cut out electricity supply), fire brigades and the SRPF. The demolition was video recorded by the police and the port officials.

On the night of 5th January 2015, notices regarding the demolition were pasted on the doors of some houses. Being in English the residents were unable to tell what it was for. The notice from the Mumbai Port Trust (Asst. Traffic Manager Bunders North District) states “the said unauthorized and illegal encroachment on the above premises is causing obstruction and nuisance”. Obstruction to what and nuisance to whom was not specified anywhere.

Of the nearly 150 homes demolished, 45 to 50 households have proof of being pre 1995 and pre 2000 residents.  With no survey of the slums on Port land and no official numbers – how can the Mumbai Port Trust begin demolitions? Moreover, the much hyped MPLDC Vision Report is yet to be released in the public domain. All demands to release the report are falling on deaf ears. 

Residents state that 2 months ago Port officials visited the settlement stating that these homes would be demolished in the near future but alternate housing would be provided – where and when was not specified.

People demand that they are given alternate housing in the vicinity of their work. Women and children are without shelter and nowhere to go. The Constitution of India provides for a framework of Fundamental Rights, the most important of them being the Right to Life encompassing protection of life and personal liberty (Article 21). The state has moral and legal obligations to protect the basic rights of its citizens to safe housing, drinking water, lighting, sanitation and hygienic living conditions, livelihoods, health and nutrition, and safety and security.  These obligations are more magnified when it comes to protecting the rights of the poor and the marginalized.

The Mumbai Port development saga, that until now sang of a new housing policy and creation of livelihoods, suddenly sounds eerily similar to all other ‘developments’ in the city – disposes the poor – and then think ‘development’.

Demolition of slums on MbPT land must stop until i) Port Authorities carry out a fresh survey and ii) plans for alternate accommodation (resettlement) in the vicinity of existing livelihoods are made public.