Mumbai: Social activist Medha Patkar has been on an indefinite fast since April 4 to protest against the demolition of houses in a suburban slum pocket of Khar despite the Maharashtra government’s assurance and a letter from Ajay Maken, Union Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation that it would be stopped.
On April 2 and 3, 43 houses of the Ganeshkrupa Housing Society were demolished despite an ongoing investigation by Principal Secretary, Housing, Government of Maharashtra, into the Golibar government-run Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) project being developed by Shivalik Ventures.
“In her fight for justice for the poor, Medhatai is showing signs of weakness and deteriorating health condition though she is in high spirit and constantly encouraging and talking to people who are coming and meeting her,” Madhuresh Kumar of the National Alliance for People’s Movement (NAPM) told Gulf News.
Madhuri Shivkar, an activist from Mumbai’s oldest settlement of Koli in Sion-Koliwada, also joined the fast on April 4.
The big issue here is, Patkar says, the “corruption and nexus between the government and builders under the cover of SRA in Mumbai that has led to thousands of slum dwellers struggling for the basic right to a house. The most recent example is the collapse of an eight-storey building in Mumbra constructed within a span of two to three months leading to death of more than 70 people.”
The SRA is wrong, say NAPM activists, because it authorises private builders to redevelop slum land. The slum dwellers are moved into vertical establishments and the land that is thus freed up becomes available as a free-sale component in the property market. Privatisation also means that the government is not responsible for maintaining transparency and quality.
Since the money to be made from new land sales in Mumbai is extremely high, there is vicious competition amongst the builders to woo the slum residents.
In the case of Golibar, or as is the case in most slum rehabilitation, 140 acres of land home to 46 societies and over 26,000 families has been literally gifted to a single private company. Shivalik Ventures through a special clause. And a small society of 323 houses in Golibar Ganesh Krupa has become the flashpoint for the struggle between the SRA/builder nexus and slum people.
The people have told the government that the Letter of Intent of the developer should be withdrawn wherever developers have submitted forged/false documents or wrong information as in the case of Shivalik Builders.
They also want the implementation of Rajeev Awas Yojana, a government-run scheme, in Mumbai’s slums as promised by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan instead of SRA since demolitions continue unabated.