Following the State government’s recent decision to allot land in Andheri’s Ambivli area to BJP MP and actor Hema Malini’s dance academy, demands for land allotments for housing the homeless and slum dwellers are growing louder.

On Wednesday, the Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action sent a letter to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Maharashtra Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse and other officials asking the government to make land available for rehabilitation of the homeless.

“In response to a petition by the Homeless Collective the Mumbai Corporation and the State cited non-availability of land to rehabilitate the homeless. In this backdrop, on December 17, the BMC approved a proposal to build a cow shelter spread over one lakh square feet in the city. On Wednesday it was widely reported that Hema Malini was given land for her academy. We request the government to show the same drive in addressing the issue of the homeless,” the organisation’s letter to Mr. Fadnavis states. Mumbai needs 574 shelters and 57,000 still sleep on the city’s pavements, they said.

Meanwhile, defending the State government’s decision, Mumbai suburban Collector Shekhar Channe said the 2000 square metre land in Ambivli allotted to Ms. Malini was reserved for her institute after a change in the development plan.

“The land was reserved for the institute. It was earlier RG (recreation ground), but in the Development Plan the plot was specifically reserved for the institute,” Mr. Channe told The Hindu .

Authorities pointed out that the move was not out of turn as Section 37 of the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act made provisions for “minor modification” to the development plan.

The Natyavihar Kala Kendra Charity Trust run by Ms Malini was granted the plot 19 years after she first applied for it. However, Opposition parties reacted to the government’s move citing the tardy approach to offering land for housing slum dwellers and mill workers.

Ms. Malini refuted the criticism saying that the alarm raised over the allotment was misplaced and baseless. “This place is not for slum dwellers. It is meant for education and cultural activity. I will be maintaining a public garden and only a small portion of the plot will be for the dance academy. I applied for the land 19 years back and after so many years I got it. I deserve to have this land. It is going to be a unique and beautiful cultural centre and Mumbai is happy about it. If you leave the land just like that it will be taken over by encroachments,” she told The Hindu.

RTI activist Anil Galgali pointed out that the government ought to have issued a public notice ahead of the land allotment. “The government should have announced the move through advertisements. Successive governments have been giving away land parcels to big personalities like filmmaker Subhash Ghai for his film school and former Union Minister Rajeev Shukla, which was later taken away. It is strange to allot land to powerful people. After the Adarsh scam, former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had stopped discretionary allotment of land,” Mr. Galgali said.

Despite the Congress-NCP combine raising questions, housing rights activist Atiq Ansari from the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan said governments of all hues had scuttled the rights of slum dwellers.

“In 2004 when 80,000 slum homes were demolished in Mumbai, the Congress was in power. And since then slum dwellers are only struggling for their rights. Governments only gave assurances about bringing in a government resolution. Before going out of power, the Congress brought in the Rajiv Awaas Yojana, but nothing concrete came of it. With the BJP government, it’s ‘achche din’ only for the ministers,” he said.

Land was reserved for her institute after a change in the development plan, says Collector