Govt. submits in Court that safe rehabilitation of Mahul residents will be a ‘burden’ on state exchequer.
Mumbai,20 March 2018: Mumbai’s Tansa pipeline displaced people who were forcefully rehabilitated in Mumbai’s toxic area – Mahul, declared unfit for habitation by two top Indian Courts, were taken aback when the Government of Maharashtra in a shocking submission to the Mumbai High Court on 20 March said that it cannot pay rent to the Mahul residents so that they can go live somewhere else because it would burden the state exchequer.
Government is also not willing to allot those thousands of vacant lying houses meant for Project Affected Person in the city of Mumbai. The Mumbai High Court had earlier directed the Government of Maharashtra to find out ways of shifting people living in Mahul so that their lives can be saved. But the stand taken by the government clearly shows that it does not care about the endangered lives. More than 200 people have died in a matter of three years due to pollution related diseases after being forcefully sent to live in Mahul.
Residents are correspondingly fighting with the Government outside the Court. These residents have been staging a dharna since 28 October 2018 on a footpath near the site of their original houses. Through hot summers and thick winters that Mumbai has seen, the protestors have been sitting on the streets and demanding that they should be rehabilitated to better spaces. From infants to the elderly are sitting near their demolished homes in hopes of having a safe and secure house allotted to them. The residents tell us their stories of eviction from the place where they had been living for almost 50 years now, to a place where they fear a cloud of death and doom hanging over their heads.
In November, Mahul protesters held placards outside the Fine Arts Cultural Centre, Chembur before CM Devendra Fadnavis’s visit for an event. In another public gathering, in December 2018 protesters formed a 3 km. long human chain in Vidyavihar to mark International Human Rights Day jointly addressing their grievances regarding the government’s lack of an action plan for the affected people of Mahul. The residents have been able to effectively mobilize themselves and exert pressure on the people in power, especially the state. After continuous agitation by the residents, the Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis was compelled to initiate a dialogue. He asked for a constitution of a Committee that includes top bureaucrats of housing and other related departments only to further strangulate the issue in the redundant bureaucratic procedure and also to shed responsibility off his shoulders.
This became clear after nothing came out of the two delayed sittings of the Committee. Instead of agreeing to allot housing from the stock of available housing meant for project affected persons, the Committee is looking for all possible reasons (sometimes beyond rules) to not provide housing and also to hide the information about the available housing stock. All the housing agencies claimed to have provided all their available housing stock in the Committee but are not agreeing to allot it to the Mahul residents because they think that these housing stocks should be reserved for the project affected persons of future projects. Whereas the information came out through RTI reveals a higher stock of housing as claimed by all the housing agencies.
Thankfully, the Court has recently clarified that Government will have to decide on one of the two options and if they don’t do it before next date, Court will pass a binding order to do so. Next hearing is on 2 April 2019.
Our judiciary seems to be the only functional organ of the government and rest all actors have taken a laid back attitude which has cost lives of people in Mahul. It is important for actions to be taken now than later. The depressing situation of Mahul is yet to see any positive change. There will be a time when it won’t be inappropriate to say that this was an incidence of a state-led massacre of poorer sections of the society. Let us not forget that ‘Justice delayed is Justice denied!’