“Do Our Lives Matter?” Asks Project Affected People Rehabilitated In Mahul, Maharashtra
In 2003, the global consulting firm McKinsey & Company came out with a project “Vision Mumbai: Transforming Mumbai into a World-Class City.” The ‘Vision Mumbai’ plan came with the idea of redevelopment of the slum, in which at least 60% of the area of the slum should be made free for commercial purpose. These plans led to the demolition of 90,000 slum houses in 2004-05. Those families who proved themselves eligible under 1995 cut-of-dates were rehoused and other were left homeless.
After that, this practice of demolition continued over the years making lakhs of people homeless and unaided. In 2009 the Bombay High Court ordered the forcible eviction and clearance of all hutments within 10 meters of the Tansa pipeline citing this slums as illegal and as a threat to the security of the area. Also, Out of 16,717 house that is to demolish from this area residents of only 7,674 are considered eligible for 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 which migrates from a rural area to urban and find shelter in slums are from Dalit, religious minorities, tribal groups. Caste violence, untouchability, lack of choice and economic activities, along with landlessness could have been the main reasons for outmigration of Dalits from villages.
Denotified tribes such as Banjara and Lamans are the one who migrates as their cultural and economic practice. Vartak, K. (2016) Keshri and Bhagat (2012) note that socioeconomically deprived groups such as Adivasis and lower castes have a greater propensity to migrate seasonally. Mumbai is the place which attracts a large number of migrants all over the country. These migrants belonging to poor working classes unable to rent or own the houses in the city. They are forced to live in the public spaces such as pavements by roadsides or shelters in slums which do not qualify to be a home (Jha, M. K., & KUMAR, P. Homeless Migrants in Mumbai.) Even if these groups migrated to cities from their villages because of the reasons like caste violence the same structural violence follow them here also. Their houses are frequently demolished and they get dumped in the areas like Mahul, where living conditions are worst.
Situation in Mahul
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.
Should a resident of Mahul need medical attention especially for secondary and tertiary health care, they must travel over 5.5 to 7 km to receive affordable care in municipal hospitals. This journey can take over an hour by bus, or alternatively a rickshaw which costs Rs140 RS. Residents are not only forced to live in squalid conditions, but they are then prevented access to affordable treatment options.
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. The nearest school is now more than 5 km away. In addition, there are no free municipal schools in the area, only private schools, which cost Rs 1000 for entry and another Rs 900 per month. For parents with young children, work days are impacted, as the trip to ferry children to school is much longer. For some women, travelling back and forth is too costly, so women must spend the day at the school waiting for the school day to be completed so that they may accompany their children home. This further detracts from the available employment hours for these women. For those attending college, the commute is now about Rs 200 per day, a fee that is unplayable for some. Shifting families from one place to another during an academic year has forced some families to stop sending their children to school due to increase in travelling cost which is unaffordable as all these residents belong to the economically weaker section. Right to Education Act, 2009 provides for free and compulsory education up till 8th standard. Affect on children’s education in Mahul is a clear case of violation of RTE where parents are forced to pay money or stop their children from sending to school.
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. According to 31-year-old Shilpa Sawant, this commute for some now included four different changes and could be up to ninety minutes one way, a major increase in time and money.
The Government of Maharashtra has identified public transportation infrastructure as a major goal of the administration– investing RS 21,000 crore in a new underground Metro system. This massive expenditure of public funds stands to benefit Mumbai’s upper classes, while simultaneously preventing access to basic public transportation services for those in greatest need. Efforts to relocate slum residents must be guided by policy that accounts for access to transportation so as not to disrupt the economic opportunities of those displaced.
People living in Tansa water pipeline area were locally employed or self-employed. They were working as vegetable vendors or street vendors after this sudden shift from this area to Mahul affected their livelihood. Most of the women who are displaced were the domestic worker, as Mahul is located far from the other residential areas it is difficult for these women to get jobs. Even if these people want to continue the old jobs they have to pay for travelling which results in increased daily expenses. Majority of people living in this area are from economically weaker section having the monthly income of 10 to 15 thousand. Increase in health and travelling expenses make their survival difficult in the city like Mumbai.
The woman living in the Mahul region when asked about their livelihood status said, ” After shifting from our original place to here we lost our livelihood options, now I have to follow our court case and our movement. We have to spend lots of money on healthcare expenses. I cannot join another job as we have to spend time struggling for getting better shelter and fighting for this with the government. Our life has become miserable now”
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.
Also, the privileged section of the society has many stereotypes regarding the people living in the slum. They have to live with the stigma of criminality. Being born in particular caste, religion and slum, with the stigma of criminality in their life become stigma itself. The disparities on caste and religion remain silenced. Their situation remained same for years. These stigmas are the greatest challenge for housing rights movements to garner support from the mainstream society which carry stereotypical perception about slum dwellers.
Strong policy guidelines should be created, implemented and enforced to ensure the continued, and improved, livelihoods of people that are displaced from their homes especially to protect the rights of poorest of the poor citizen of the city all residing in slums. There is a need to understand the meaning of ‘rehabilitation; deeper and wider. The central housing policy-Prime Minister Awas Yojana (Housing for All) or Slum Rehabilitation Authority in Maharashtra lacks this understanding and focuses only on the creation of tenements which are later reduced just into an asset.
Published with permission from Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan