On 8 February some 50 residents of the Ganesh Krupa Society in the Golibar slums, led by social activist Medha Patkar, stormed the controversial Adarsh building in south Mumbai. The slum-dwellers, whose homes had earlier been ruthlessly broken down in a demolition drive, demanded the same methods be employed with this posh building, which has flagrantly violated environmental and city planning norms. Denouncing the nexus between politicians, slum rehabilitation authorities and rogue developers, Patkar claimed that Adarsh is a symbol of the prevailing paradigm of development.
The ongoing battle between these Golibar residents, who have refused to move out of the ruins of their homes, and the builder - Shivalik Ventures - epitomises the struggle of the urban poor to be recognised, with dignity, as a vital cog in the city's economy. It is a demand for Mumbai's elite to acknowledge the poor's need for spaces in a city where, according to the Human Development Report compiled by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and the UNDP, one in every two residents of the city lives in a slum.
Sitting amidst the rubble of partially demolished homes where tarpaulin, curtains and bits of cloth are stretched to cover the torn-out portions is Devasanandan Nair, a resident of Ganesh Krupa Society. Nair, who is a storyboard artist in the movie and advertisement industry, reflects the aspirations of people whose services keep this vibrant megapolis moving. He outlines the residents' stand and epic fight. "At the very onset one must clarify that this is not a fight against development. It is a fight against corrupt builders and their connivance with those who use development as a ploy to treat us like dirt."
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• The great garbage rush Nair says that despite attempts to demonise them, the residents have from the very beginning made an effort to be responsible citizens. The society was formed in 1994, declared a slum in 1996 and after an assessment was made the residents began paying property tax. In 2003, Madhu Constructions was given the go-ahead for redevelopment under the Slum Rehabilitation Authority by 322 residents. But not a single brick was laid, nor any kind of activity carried out between 2003 and 2008. In 2010 the residents were shocked to receive an eviction notice under section 33/38 by a new builder - Shivalik Ventures.
Fraud and connivance
They wondered how the builder had procured the necessary approval of 70 per cent of the residents. Through a Right to Information (RTI) petition they learnt that Shivalik Ventures had connived with a former resident Shubhangi Parshuram Shinde to manufacture the necessary consent through a forged document of a general body meeting in February 2009 that had never taken place.
"It was quite clearly forged and we could prove it because of several anamolies like the signature of a woman, Sulochana Pawar, who had actually died way back in 2005. The document also bears my signature although I was in Kerala at that time," says Nair.
A complaint was submitted to the CEO of the SRA, who refused to respond. Thereupon efforts were made with the Nirmal Nagar police station to file an FIR, but the police refused, saying it was a civil matter. Subsequently 180 members, who had decided not to bow down to the builder, went to court and on 15 September 2010 the court directed the police to file an FIR.
However the residents' bid to stop the eviction notices in another civil suit was not successful, and the court passed an order confirming the evacuation of the premises on 3 September 2010. Demolitions were subsequently begun. A total of 48 homes were demolished in early February this year despite spirited protests by those resisting the evacuation move. "Our contention is that if the very foundation of the builders' credentials are in doubt, if they are involved in a fraudulent case for which they are liable to be arrested, and if the letter of intent can then be cancelled by the SRA, then why should we be evicted?" says Nair.
Amidst partially demolished homes in Guru Krupa Society, the residents are determined to stay on. (Picture by Dilnaz Boga)
Shoddy resettlement, and shady deals
The protesting residents have two other major concerns. Balaram Kishanji Nalawade points out that while it is incumbent on the developer to accommodate the residents in a transit camp within 300 meters of the site, the present camp does not fulfil this criterion. "Moreover it is filthy, has hardly any water supply and the lifts don't work." A visit to one of the transit camps revealed that this "vertical slum" was indeed in shabby condition, with a huge open drain running through the compound and rust corroding the exteriors.
Another fear expressed by the residents is that the building meant to rehabilitate them lies in disputed property, with the ministry of defence claiming rights on the land and having filed a case in the high court.
Nalawade also points out that Shivalik Ventures, which has been given the rights to cluster development of the entire Golibar slum lands, has demolished 10,000 houses but has thus far only resettled 550 of them. "Why this unholy haste to break our homes?" asks Nalawade. Like the others he questions why the police has to date not acted or made any arrests in the forgery case against Shivalik Ventures despite the court's orders.
Significantly Unitech, the real estate firm that is currently under the scanner for the 2G spectrum scam, holds some shares in Shivalik Ventures.
The fight by the slumdwellers has led to a new revelation - that Maharashtra has been using Section 3(k) of the Slum Rehabilitation Act to grant development rights to private builders, whereby they get to develop huge tracts of land without competitive bidding. Media reports allege that by using this clause the state has virtually gifted large acres of land to private builders.
It is the compounding of all these factors that has led activists of the Ghar Bachao, Ghar Banao Andolan to allege that the implementation of rehabilitation projects is in effect overriding the basic Constitutional rights of the citizens, and that there is a state-builder-mafia nexus to enable this. It has set up a People's Commission to initiate an inquiry into all these issues and to examine what is happening in the name of SRA.
Says Nair, "It is strange that we are portrayed as the goondas when we have done nothing illegal. And the builders are the white collared people against whom the police refuses to act despite court orders." Through social networking sites and blogs the Golibar residents have asked Mumbaikars to visit their slum, interact with them and uncover the real truth. The fight continues even as many residents have lost their jobs while staying at home to protect themselves against demolitions. Children have fallen ill with malaria because the gaping holes in the walls are an open invitation to mosquitos.
Nalawade and others point out that the vast tract of land in Golibar stretching between Santacruz and Khar stations are of great strategic value today in terms of real estate. "We came here when it was marshy land and when there were no amenities. We developed it. Today when the land value has appreciated they want to evict us."