Mumbai/ 5 Jan: What’s the punishment for protesting against the current government? Getting your citizenship erased, especially if you’re poor. The latest and most underreported election news in India is that the people who were forcibly displaced from the Tansa Pipeline slums in Eastern Mumbai and dumped in toxic Mahul to die to pollution deaths have now had their names deleted from the voter’s list because they chose to protest against it and went to court. Close to 1600 people from this community were not able to vote this time in the General election. The Bombay High Court last passed an order in their favour, ordering the government to either provide them conditions fit for human living or pay their rent till they do so. This apparently hasn’t gone down too well with the government, who have taken away their citizenship as a response.
The government had demolished their homes overnight and forcefully ‘rehabilitated’ them in Mahul, a severely polluted area surrounded by hazardous industries, where air and water toxicity and pollution-related diseases like Asthma, TB, paralysis attack, heart attack, cancer etc have resulted in more than 200 deaths in the last three years. These residents of Tansa Pipeline, and currently Mahul, have been protesting against this, and demanding humane accommodation, approaching the legal system and exercising their democratic right with non-violent protests and presenting their story to the media, before the court which ruled in their favour. The government is yet to follow the directions of the court in this matter but has already responded by reducing India’s democracy by 1600 citizens, possibly to set an example to other protestors.
These protesting citizens from Mahul have repeatedly received hollow assurances in the meanwhile, under public and media pressure but did nothing to save a single life, as more and more people kept dying slow and tragic pollution deaths in Mahul.
Thankfully, India still has a judiciary, and it is only because of this that the 5,500 families living in Mahul will now be getting some respite; the Bombay High Court last month ruled that the government should pay a monthly rent of Rs. 15,000 to each household in Mahul, so that they can live elsewhere till the time government provides non-toxic accommodation. The order will certainly cost the exchequer a lot of money, and it was passed only after it was proved the level of pollution in Mahul posed a serious and fatal threat to their lives and hence no one could legally be made to live there in the manner that the government has been doing.
The Mahul residents, meanwhile, have repeatedly tried to get the issue resolved outside the Court by engaging with the government. However, the response from the government ranged from indifferent to dishonest, and even downright shocking.
Finally, the politicians in power ended the negotiations by deleting the most active protestors’ names from the voter’s list, so that they could not vote against them in the 2019 elections. As if this weren’t enough, BJP candidate Manoj Kotak contesting from Mumbai North East called the protestors ‘politicians’ and even refused their demands of proper rehabilitation when the protestors brought up this topic before him during one of his pre-election rallies. Does this mean that he intends to violate the orders of the Bombay High Court if elected? Time will tell.
The current government in Maharashtra has set the worst example of unaccountability, targeting the poorest citizens of the city, and history will perhaps remember them as everything that politicians must never become.