Between bouts of heavy rains, Ambedkar Nagar residents on July 17, 2021 assembled with placards hanging around their necks to demand their relocation from the red-zone area. Adults and small children alike stepped out of their bamboo-and-plastic shacks, sporting messages that in different ways voiced their one single demand – decent housing in a safe region as per Bombay High court orders dating back to May 7, 1997.
People stood outside their makeshift houses with signs that read, “We request Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to rehabilitate us disaster-ridden Ambedkar Nagar residents.”
One child standing outside his shack showed a placard that read, “The people here live in bamboo houses. There are no basic amenities here. Why is this place called a house?”
Another child held a placard questioning why the move was delayed despite directions by the Court.
According to actor Anish Yadav, residents have been living in fear ever since the infamous Malad wall collapse of 2019. Around 29 people including two children had died in the incident, claimed residents.
“Our only demand is for rehabilitation because we fear something like the wall collapse may happen again,” said Yadav.
Similarly, labourer Kiran Asogupta, who found two bodies behind her shack two years ago said that children often cry at night during monsoon, fearing their death.
“Even today, it has been raining for four hours. We are scared our kids will get washed away. They ask us to leave this place but we cannot even leave,” said Asogupta.
In other areas, slum-dwellers have an option of exiting their place until conditions improve. However, the people here are at risk even in the open in the red alert zone. They also cannot go to their workplace because employers claim “they might spread diseases.”
“How many days are we supposed to go without work? Children can’t even attend online classes now because we have no money to pay for internet access,” she said.
Another resident, domestic worker Niranjan Rana said he lost his job during the coronavirus pandemic. However, despite economic troubles, he still wanted the government to prioritise the issue of rehabilitation.
“We have many problems. We lost fathers and children. But we don’t want electricity, water or toilets. Just give us a house. Why? Because even if we get facilities, we still live in garbage,” he said.
As per the Indian Constitution, people of India are entitled to the Right to Life, including the right to live with dignity and with all aspects that make life worth living. While courts interpret this right under Article 21 to encompass clean water and good health, the slum-dwellers here only speak about the need for concrete houses.
Further, Rana criticised the government and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for their delay in complete rehabilitation. Even after Cyclone Tauktae, residents saw municipal officials visit the area for a survey. They assured people of new flats in the city but failed to give an estimate as to when.
Moreover, after the recent cyclone, the High Court directed the BMC to submit a report regarding the status of living conditions. Rana claimed that even 25 days after the visit for the report, the same hasn’t been submitted to the court. He asked, “If we had violated any such High Court order, we would have been penalised but here the BMC has violated their directions and no complaint has been lodged. Why?”
Recently, environmental communications collective Let India Breathe also reached out to the residents. Member Yash Marwah said that volunteers reached out to the BMC, the disaster management department and even the social justice department but did not receive a response.
“The only time the residents come into focus is when there are heavy rains. The important fact is that rain from a single day disrupts their life for at least 4-5 months. The government talks so much about climate justice but they need to realise that social justice is also a part of it,” he said.
How many “natural disasters” until the govt takes notice of Ambedkar Nagar residents?
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