Protest by slum dwellers of Panchsheel Nagar slum in Govandi, outside the East ward office of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on the morning of February 8 resulted in some temporary relief as the demolitions have now been stopped for seven days. A large crowd of at least 500 residents from the area had protested. As per multiple media reports, demolitions in Govandi had taken place on February 6 and 7 on the orders of BMC. The said corporation razed 200 to 250 houses on the plot allegedly without serving any prior notice to the residents, leaving over 1,000 people homeless.
As per a report of the Hindustan Times, pursuant to the temporary halting on the demolitions, the residents returned to the site, where some buildings were found to be standing amongst the debris- saved by the protest.
This action came after oral announcements regarding the impending demolitions had been made by the BMC on February 2, which were accompanied with assurances of rehabilitation albeit scarce details. When the bulldozers arrived at the now partly demolished site along with police protection on the morning of February 6, the residents were left unprepared. As per the report of Hindustan Times, resident Saira Abbas Shaikh alleged that the police were not letting the residents reach their houses.
At the beginning of this week, on February 7 and 8, BMC officers and workers started the demolition of “illegal” structures made of tin and bamboo in a colony in Panchsheel Nagar that had around 300 homes. In the aforementioned two days, BMC demolished around 200 structures, mostly occupied by Dalit, Buddhist, and Muslim families, many of whom claim to have been living there for over 20 years. According to a report of Maktoob media, even the houses marked safe in the project map, and despite promises made by Pujari, Assistant Engineer Maintenance of BMC, were not spared. As per the report, at least 13 such old houses and around 100 such newer houses were also demolished by the authorities, leading to the unjust displacement of families.
As per multiple media reports, the residents claimed that no prior notice was served to them in accordance to law and that the said demolition drive had been carried out in haste giving them no time to collect their belongings.
Multiple narratives provided by the residents found place in the report of the Hindustan Times that covered the said demolitions. As provided by resident Dilshad Ansari, “I had gone to drop my children to school when the demolition started. No one else was home. It was the same in many houses, as people had gone to work. The police asked us to vacate immediately, leaving us little time to take our belongings before crushing our homes with bulldozers.”
Although the BMC has demolished their homes to reclaim government land, the residents have asserted that they have been staying at their houses for more than 20 years. As per the Free Press Journal report, Jairam Lokhande, whose house was demolished on Tuesday stated, “I have lived in this area for 22 years and this is the fourth time BMC has demolished my house. We were at peace since no demolition had taken place in the last five years but this time they came suddenly with full power and destroyed everything.”
On February 7, as per the report of the Free Press Journal, as the demolitions took place, residents of slums in Panchshil Nagar of Govandi had refused to leave the area. Rather, they decided to rebuild their homes at the same site. As per the report, they set up makeshift pandals at the entrance of the colony as a defence against any further demolition.
It was claimed by the residents that the action undertaken by BMC was illegal as it violated the Maharashtra Slum Areas (Improvement, Clearance, and Redevelopment) Act, which mandates due process and rehabilitation for slum dwellers.
The call for protest was raised by the Jan Haq Sangharsh Samiti. Hundreds of residents reached the BMC office and staged a protest against the officers alleging the demolition to be illegal and not having been carried out in pursuance to the conduction of any survey. According to the residents and the activist organisation, most of the bastis in Panchsheel Nagar existed prior to the year 2011, making them eligible for paid rehabilitation. However, as provided by the organisation, the BMC failed to produce Annexure 2 of the list of eligible and ineligible houses before demolition, further exacerbating the disregard for due process.
The incident has shed light on the deep-seated bias towards marginalized communities and the urgent need for accountability in urban development processes, the Jan Haq Sangharsh Samiti said. A press note had also been released by the Samiti on February 8. It has been provided by them that a total of 7 days has been given to the corporation to submit a written reply to complaint submitted by the protestors in reference to the demolitions. These demands raised by the residents and the organisation include stopping the demolitions till the proper procedure is done; restoring water and electricity connections; making a list of eligible and ineligible slum dwellers based on documents submitted; holding hearings in case of objections; and correct the incorrect data based on which demolitions were done.
Vandana Tayde, a resident of Panchshil Nagar and the vice-president of Jan Haq Sangharsh Samiti provided to the Free Press Journal that, “This is not just demolition but a process of evacuation. We have to assert our right on this land we have been living on for decades and therefore we have advised everyone to start making their homes again because if we leave this place for a moment, it will be snatched from us.”
The protestors have asserted that if a proper reply is not given to them by the BMS, they will be back at the office to protest.
The press note can be read here:
The protesting residents as well as the Samiti has also raised a call for social activists and lawyers to join their ongoing struggle against the state repression. Through the call, Jan Haqq Sangarsh Samiti has urged people to join their protest on February 10 between 3 pm to 6 pm. As per the information provided by them, the agenda behind the protest will be to-
- Develop strategies against illegal and arbitrary use of power to evict people and bastis
- To build a support network against coercive actions of police on activists and basti leaders
- Demanding rights on multiple fronts (water, electricity, shelter etc) in cases of evictions across MMR.
- Building a network of such cases across MMR to support each other and create positive changes in the law.