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Mumbai’s urban poor hit streets against government’s failure to rehabilitate them

Saturday June 30, 2018 9:03 AM, ummid.com News Network

Mumbai News

Mumbai: Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, Mumbai organized a rally and dharna of residnents of Mahul and Tansa Pipeline Project Affected People to demand better rehabilitation on Friday 29 June demanding the Relocation of residents of Mahul to a better place, to stop of sending more people to Mahul, comprehensive rehabilitation plan​ and no demolition without rehabilitation.

The rally started ​from​ Carnac Bunder​ ​and culminated at Azad Maidan. The rally was led by renowned social worker and activist Medha Patkar. Thousands of people from Mahul, Bhimchaya basti, students and various social organizations were present in the rally.

After the rally a delegate of 10 people went to meet Chief minister Devendra Fadanavis. The delegations had successful meeting with Education Minister Vinod Tawade who was representing Chief minister in his absence. Municipal commissioner Ajay Mehta was also present in the meeting, according to National Alliance of People’s Movements.

Three main demands were discussed in the meeting. The delegation demanded to stop demolition of basti especially in rainy season and to rehabilitate project affected people of Tansa pipeline area who are currently given houses in Mahul, in the flats which are constructed for rehabilitation of such people in various parts of Mumbai. Minister Vinod Tawade gave assurance that he will discuss this with chief minister and will give reply within next seven days.

​​Given high level of pollution, residents of Mahul are dying and suffering from serious diseases. ​Mahul was declared inhabitable by the NGT in 2015 still the Maharashtra government decided to send poor citizens to Mahul where the atmosphere is toxic and lack all the basic amenities-hospital, schools, transport. Life has become miserable after poor residents are shifted here. Government wants to shift more and more people to Mahul by ignoring all the health and environmental issues. Residents of Mahul and all those who are living near the Tansa Pipeline and now being forced to shift to Mahul,

In 2009 the Bombay High Court ordered the forcible eviction and clearance of all Big rally and dharna of residnents of Mahul and Tansa Pipeline Project Affected Persons to demand better rehabilitation.

By 2017, 20,000 homes had been cleared, and 30,000 Project Affected People were relocated to the Mahul complex in M-East ward, nearly 12 km away from their original settlement. Alongside the Eastern Expressway, 72 seven-storey apartment buildings are located in close proximity to major industrial factories including the Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum refineries, Sea Lord Containers, Aegis Logistics Ltd, Tata Power, Rashtriya Chemical and Fertilizers.

Majority of the population displaced from Tasna pipeline region to Mahul area are from Dalit, religious minorities, tribal groups.

The primary concern of residents of Mahul is the inhospitable environment and air quality that has contributed to serious health problems, including the death of 23 people. A survey conducted by KEM Hospital and cited by the National Green Tribunal (Western Zone) petition filed by residents of Mahul, reports that “67.1% of the population had complaints of breathlessness more than 3 times a month.” Other common ailments include skin and eye irritation, choking, vomiting and hair loss. Sources for the various illnesses include high levels of toluene diisocyanate, nickel and benzopyrene and other volatile organics. The poor drainage systems, solid waste removal, and contaminated water supply all exacerbate the negative health effects of the poor environmental standards.

There is no official policy that clearly defines the levels of ambient air quality acceptable for areas where people are relocated. Furthermore, there is no guidance for the duration and frequency of sampling that must be conducted prior to relocation of persons. The Courts have yet to issue the judgement on the culpability of the nearby industrial polluters, but the lack of accountability by the BMC to provide an adequate standard of living for these forcibly displaced people is obvious.

In fact, the National Green Tribunal had directed the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to define a buffer zone between an industrial and residential area. The direction was given in the year 2015 whereby MPCB was asked to define the buffer zone in a four months’ time. To our shock, no buffer zone has been defined till date and instead the government decided to dump poor residents in an industrial area.

A woman living Ashok Nagar area whose family is one of the affected families of this eviction said, “I have all the legal documents and proof of our house in that area, even then it was declared illegal and demolished. Our house was bigger than the house we got in Mahur area. Now we have to live in this small one-room kitchen without any basic facilities such as water, health and education for our children. When we shift here in Mahur, all the four members of my family fell ill. We saw the situation of people living here and now when we thought of going to the doctor, we are in continuous fear that we should not get affected with the diseases like skin cancer, with which other people in the region are struggling. We are fighting for our rights and court gave us the date for next hearing. We don’t understand for how much time we have to fight for justice. So many people are dying in this region due to this polluted air, will we get justice after our death?

In addition to concerns in healthcare access, families are now affected by barriers to education. The continuity of studies is impaired, as the current commute to school has been greatly extended by the relocation.

Due to the isolated nature of the new relocation site, travel time and travel costs for work have been greatly extended. The nearest railway stations are Chembur station (8 km away) and Kurla station (12 km away). Travel to the train stations requires an expensive rickshaw ride, a treacherous bicycle journey or a public bus that comes extremely infrequently.

The negative impact of relocation often falls most heavily on women. The long journey on (infrequent) public transportation is typically marked by harassment. Many women had to resign from their jobs which were predominantly in service industries, as the longer commute prevented them from caring for their families and they were now removed from their employment networks. People living in Tansa water pipeline area were locally employed or self-employed. This displacement affected their livelihood neagtively.

The current efforts of the Maharashtra government to relocate slum residents ignore critical determinants of citizen’s livelihoods, especially the environmental quality, access to health services, education opportunities, and access to functioning transport networks. Thus far, the lack of policy guiding such relocations has resulted in the subjugation of residents of Mahul to horrid conditions.

In the rehabilitation and resettlement act 2013, there is the provision of social impact assessment under which the public hearing should be conducted at the affected area. Also according to this act government should publish the report of social impact assessment and rehabilitation should be carried out on the basis of that report which should take care of all the basic facilities such as food security, education, livelihood etc. Rehabilitation does not mean only to relocate it should ensure the restoration of livelihood and education opportunities. But the ongoing rehabilitation practices of this government shows that it is only displacing people without taking into consideration any basic amenities.

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