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‘Officials flouting HC order while evicting slum dwellers’


Activists say administration not adhering to cut-off date set by the court


The Maharashtra Forest department’s mangrove cell has been implementing the High Court’s order of clearing mangrove areas of encroachments. However, housing activists claim that slum dwellers protected by the cut-off date of January 1, 2000, are also facing the brunt.

The Bombay High Court in 2005 had ordered that “regardless of ownership of the land, all construction taking place within 50 metres on all sides of all mangroves shall be forthwith stopped”.

“When the authorities demolish, they do not consider the cut off of January 1, 2000, set by the Maharashtra Government Resolution dated July 2, 2014,” said Bilal Khan of the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan. “Instead of removing encroachments post-2005, the officials demolish the entire slum.”

While officials claim adherence to procedures, there appears to be a mismatch between the settlements reflected in satellite mapping and the situation on the ground. The mangrove cell relies on maps prepared through a satellite study by the Maharashtra Remote Sensing Application Centre, specifying mangrove areas in the year 2005.

According to the organisation, in the case of Malvani in Malad, “The staff had come down to demolish the shanties in the notified regions as specified in the maps, but they demolished the whole slum. An official said one cannot distinguish between the old and the new houses or those lying perfectly on the boundaries of the forest and outside.”

Refuting the claims of slum dwellers, officials said the claims were not supported by any documentary evidence. “They have documents of one location, based on which they stake claim on another location,” Mumbai suburban collector Shekhar Channe told The Hindu . “That cannot happen. We have asked our officials to verify the claims. When an area under mangroves was notified in 2005, it means it had mangroves on it and the slums came later.”

N Vasudevan, chief conservator of Forests Mangrove Cell, Mumbai, told The Hindu , “Most claims are not correct. Some exceptions could be there. Many claim occupancy. These are survival tactics.” He said around 2,500 demolitions were carried out from the end of 2014 and throughout 2015.

The High Court order states that government-owned lands under mangroves should be notified as ‘protected areas’. However, Mr Khan pointed out that the State government declared such lands as ‘reserved forests’, where “a certain amount of interference is allowed”, instead of ‘protected forests’.

“Before declaring any land as ‘reserved forests’, it is the duty of the forest settlement officer to settle the rights of the people. Before this step is complete, the mangrove cell cannot go on a demolition drive. There is a lack of coordination between departments,” Mr Khan said.

Officials say slum dwellers have papers for one location and stake claim to another


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