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SPECIAL: Invisible Cities (Part 3) - The ABC of Slum Demolition

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Slum Dwellers Protesting Demolition

Earlier: Part 1 l Part 2

“These people want five star treatment or what?’ is what one of the developer’s lackies had said about us," Says Devansandhan Nair, of Ganesh Krupa Society, of Golibar in Santa Cruz, Mumbai. He is just one of 184 families who have refused to empty their homes for developers under the Slum Rehabilitation Act.

‘There is something fundamentally wrong with how the elite sees slums in Mumbai.’ Continues Devansandan, in perfect english.

On the 9th of November,  2010, over 300 policemen descended into Ganesh Krupa Society, of Golibar in Santa Cruz, Mumbai.

They would break down two homes of a slum that already looks ravaged by an earthquake – every second home has been broken down, debris lies in every corner of a landscape of broken brick and stone .

One home belonged to Dadabhai Pandre, and the other to Ansari Abdul Hasan who lived at the edge of the slum. Ansari Abdul Hasan didn’t want to leave his home. Neither did his wife or his daughter. Yet behind everyone’s back, his son had accepted rent-compensation – Rs.7000 for 22 months – a total of 1,54,000.

‘I had asked for two days to empty my home, and the MHADA fellow said he won’t give me even two hours.’ Said Mr.Hasan. When Mr.Hasan was asked to why his son accepted compensation, he said, ‘My son said there’s no point fighting or resisting when everyone’s house is going to break.’

Out of 370 homes, 184 homes of Ganesh Krupa Society remain. In neighbouring Sambaji Seva Nagar Society, one home remains. In Shivaji Nagar Society, 4 homes remain.

There are around 69 societies in Golibar that have to make way to a ‘project that has the vision to develop mixed use integrated development of Residential Skyscrapers, State of art Commercial buildings, High-end Retail and Hospitality ventures.’ – or ‘Santa City’, according to Unitech’s website, ‘the flagship project of Unitech in Mumbai in partnership with Shivalik Ventures. Spread over 140 acres, this is one of the single largest slum rehabilitation projects in Mumbai.’

Unitech Group’s name has already featured extensively in numerous reports in the 1.7 Lakh Crore 2G scam, and almost every other resident remaining in Golibar, from those who have had their homes broken down, to those who are resisting ‘rehabilitation’ and demolition, think that their ‘slum rehabilitation project’ is a scam as well.  Not only have Unitech/Shivalik started to build on 62 acres of Air force Land without getting an NOC from the Ministry, but almost no one since 2008 has gotten a flat under the SRA scheme yet, even though homes are broken down at a regular rate, often illegally and under duress and intimidation.

When the first buildings were built for the residents of Pragati Society of Golibar, people felt at ease with the developers. But eventually people believed that that was nothing but a ruse, especially as news started to spread that the current developers Shivalik had managed to acquire the project without competitive bidding, or the knowledge of the majority of slum dwellers. A little known clause in the Slum Rehabilitation Act had helped Shivalik/Unitech to become the only developer of Golibar.

This was discovered when the slum-dwellers used the Right To Information Act. And yet that was not the only thing that they discovered.

Aba Tandel, around 65 years old, grew up in Golibar right before the fences of the Airforce land, and when he saw Shivalik/Unitech building on their land, he along with other residents, were quick to file RTIs, and eventually alert the authorities at the Airforce. The Airforce now wants those buildings demolished and the matter is yet to be settled in the Courts.

A Commitment Is A Commitment:

Navnant Murulidhar Shinde has the last home standing in Sambaji Nagar Society. He was fired from his job with Shivalik Ventures when he refused to empty his home. And when he was given a key to a home in the transit camp, the lock was changed.

‘They (the dalaals) offered me Rs.50,000 for my house.’ He says, ‘But I offered them Rs.1,00,000 to keep my home. They said it didn’t work like that.’

Dinker Dhuri lived with his wife and daughter in Ganesh Krupa Society. He was first deemed a legal tenant, but when he was threatened that he would be classified as an illegal tenant, he, along with his brother, took 12 lakhs and left their slum. Before leaving, the officials told them to break down their own homes.

Pravin Balkrishna Gupta was one of the landlords of Ganesh Krupa Society who had four rooms demolished in Ganesh Krupa Society. He had filed a case against Subangi Shinde, the once member of the committee of the society and ‘broker’ of the developers, who had ensured that three of his four rooms were deemed illegal as she ensured there was no survey done there. His ration-card holding, electricity-bill holding brothers were thrown out with nothing but one key to one room in the resettlement colony.

‘All these ‘dalaals’ were told to make 25 out of 100 rooms illegal tenants,’ says Vithal Ganpath Sawant, whose own tenancy was deemed illegal even though he has all the papers to show he has been living as a legal tenant.

Their stories are symbolic to the others in Golibar who don’t want anything to do with the developers – a trust deficit that gets worse by the day. Shivalik developer’s banners around the slums has the slogan, ‘A commitment is a commitment’ which the educated class of Golibar can read with brutal irony.

‘Shivalik have been involved in controversies from the beginning,’ Says Devanandhan Nair of Ganesh Krupa, ‘Under the SRA we have the right to choose our developer, why have we been denied this right?’

More so, those in the resettlement colony don’t want to be there. The colony itself is a dark, dingy four-storied steel frame with cement ply for walls where the water is often bad – a few days ago, there were insects in the water, as claimed by the residents.

The colony is humid in summer, during the rains it leaks from the top, and it is crowded with people who have no other place to go. All of them waiting for a flat, that they don’t know when they shall receive. The flats too might never be theirs, as they are being built on disputed property that the Airforce claims, belongs to them.

An embryonic resistance movement has now grown into a formidable movement ever since the residents across societies began to share information about how their homes were being broken down. On the 13th of November, hundreds of people of Golibar, Ganesh Krupa Society, supported by other societies hit the streets, carrying placards accusing the government of being hand-in-gloves with the builders.

The Bombay High Court had given the remaining 181 families of Ganesh Krupa society, the 30th of October to vacate their homes – either accept compensation, or go to the resettlement colonies. The residents then wrote a letter to the builder saying they will leave their homes, if the court order is followed by exact word – as the Court mentions that the resettlement colony needs to be within 300 metres of the slum, which it is not.

The residents are still there now. Withholding. Aware that they can’t be held for contempt of court as the builder has not built the resettlement colony within 300 metres.

Administration’s Response

The slum dwellers of Golibar have been supported by Medha Patkar and the National Alliance For People’s Movement’s, which, along with Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan have spoken up for the rights of the poor on housing issues for a couple of years now. And how have the authorities reacted to the insecurities of the slum dwellers in the rest of Mumbai?

On the 25th of March, 2009, the slum dwellers of Mumbai had marched to the Slum Rehabilitation and MHADA office to talk to the officials about the irregularities, the numerous frauds in the SRA project and that a majority of the people are still languishing in Transit camps, or resettlement colonies.

Simpreet Singh of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan was a part of the meeting.

‘We spoke politely to the officials, and the officials heard everything about what we said. But when we came out of the meeting, the police had lathi-charged all of us,’ Said Simpreet Singh, ‘Around two hundred people were taken to jail and released the next day. A warrant for that incident just came out on the 19th of November now.’

To the residents of Golibar, all they have gotten so far is apathy from the administration. To nobody’s surprise.

The ABC of land acquisition

‘They are breaking people apart, not just our homes.’

Sawant S, from Hanuman Society in the resettlement colony is afraid that he might never get a flat. The ‘dalaals’ or brokers had come to him and told him to go and convince the people of Ganesh Krupa Society to empty their homes.

‘You have links there, they said, you know them, why don’t you convince them to leave their homes? Why don’t you go break their resistance?’ He says, ‘They’re always coming, and I know that as long as I am here, I have fewer options. And please don’t write my name in your report, I might get into trouble.’

The manner of acquisition of land had been a methodically slow and tedious process even though both the developers had a lot of help from the Bombay High Court. The 181 families of Hanuman Society for instance had gone to the High Court and lost. An order was then passed on a Friday, to empty their homes in two days. The timing itself was precise. It ensured that the order wouldn’t be challenged on the weekend when the Court is closed, and on Monday, the society was demolished. Around 30 residents who had hope in the courts were given nothing but keys to a home in the transit camp. The rest took what they could get and left.

The initial committees of every society were the first to go. In every plan for acquisition, the developers first target the committee of the slum – and once the slum-dwellers realize their appointed representatives have been working in close affinity to the builders, there are often confrontations. The committee once exposed, leaves with everything they were bribed with. In Ganesh Krupa Society, every member of the original committee managed to wean out a flat or two for themselves along with money. What did the builder want from the committees? Get people surveyed, get them to leave, convince them to take money rather than a flat, and scuttle every effort of the people to build up resistance.

The ‘dalaals’ or brokers in Golibar are still actively trying to convince people that there is no reason to resist – first by breaking individuals with influence in the slum, by ensuring promises of a flat under special circumstances, then by finding weaker links in each family. If the father says no, they’d go and give the cheque to the son, then break the house down. In this manner, ‘development’ is breaking up communities, and neighbours, and families.

This too, in a society that was a once-loyal Shiv Sena voting base where Muslims and Hindus live in close affinity to each other. In Golibar, in 1992, according to a report by the Lokshahi Hakk Sanghatana and Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, there were 12 incidents of stabbing. Today, Dutta Mane, a once loyal Shiv Sena party worker, has even lost faith in his own party.

‘In 1995, Mathoshri (Bal Thackeray) had sold us a dream about our right to our home. He’s old now, he may have forgotten. But maybe he has to remind his children about this.’

No member of any party is yet to offer solidarity to the people of Golibar. Mangesh Ghai of Golibar had close links with the corporator of Shiv Sena in Golibar until the troubles started. ‘After I spoke to him, he backed off completely. They’re all working with the builders.’

He, himself is too scared to work with the people of Ganesh Krupa society who’re resisting slum demolition for fear that his ‘legal’ settlement would be deemed into an ‘illegal settlement.’ Some people are too scared, they’ll take whatever they can get and leave, such as those from Shivaji Nagar Society who took a paltry Rs.50,000 and left, even when other’s were fighting.

Cynicism is the currency to break resistance.

Everyone who doesn’t believe that anything can change, has taken whatever they’ve gotten and left.  Mumbai, a hopeless city built over their thousand scams and corrupt deals. ‘Nothing ever changes, how does it matter?’ – is literally stamped into the city like phosphorescent streetlamps.  Yet nothing is hopeless to the desperate who stand before bulldozers.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this writing are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of League of India, its Editorial Board or the business and socio-political interests that they might represent.

The article originally appeared in the New Indian Express on October 24, 2010 here

The article can also be found at the author's blog here


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