Committee appointed for revamp of refugee camps in Chembur, Sion-Koliwada

The committee will work towards solving ownership issues and will also look into the allegations of illegal extensions

The families of migrants from West Pakistan, who had made Sion-Koliwada and Chembur their home after united India was partitioned in 1947, now see a possibility of getting their dilapidated buildings redeveloped. The state government has finally appointed a high-power committee to decide on the complex issue.

The matter related to the two refugee colonies in the city has been pending before successive governments for many years in view of land ownership rights. Unlike the 29 refugee camps in other districts of Maharashtra, which were built on state government land, the Sion-Koliwada and Chembur colonies were built by the union government on its own land.

The Sion colony has 25 buildings and Chembur has 34. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has declared all of these structures dangerous. The BMC has also asked residents to vacate the buildings and has plans to disconnect electricity and water as per the existing rules.

Decision on key issues
“The residents have been asking for the state’s permission for redeveloping their colonies. The state panel will decide on several issues that are important for redevelopment,” Gurumukhdas Jagwani, a legislative council member (BJP) told mid-day yesterday. Jagwani hails from a Sindhi migrant family in North Maharashtra.

Jagwani and Sion-Koliwada MLA Captain Tamil Selvan of the BJP have been invited to the committee’s first meeting to submit their suggestions and objections. The panel has been asked to submit its report by the first week of April this year. A government resolution to this effect was also issued on March 4. Sources in government said that a decision to regularise other refugee camps in the city and rest of Maharashtra was expected during the Budget Session of the state legislature in March-April.

In an ordinance issued in January 2006, the state government had regularised unauthorised constructions in Ulhasnagar, which has a significant presence of Sindhi migrants. Demands for regularising localities, especially those housing refugees from West Pakistan, have been raised time and again.

Legal issues
In Mumbai, refugee camps are spread over a total of 280 acres. The largest among them are the Sindhi camps in Mulund and Sion-Koliwada that are spread over 100 acres each. Other camps in Chembur, which occupy 60 acres and 10 acres each, were allotted to the Thakkar Bappa Colony at CST Road in Chembur and the Wadia Trust Estate Refugee Camp in Kurla.

The camps, barring Sion and Chembur, are stuck in legal issues. The land in Sion-Koliwada and Chembur is owned by the union government, which has surrendered its ownership rights to the state government, said Jagwani. However, the revenue principal secretary-led panel has been asked to find out whether the Sion and Chembur land is owned by the state or the centre.

Changed ownership
The committee will also verify if the residents were given a right to hold their flats as well as the plots on which their buildings were built. It will measure the area under occupation by each building and officially mark boundaries of each plot.

Another contentious issue that the committee will decide on is the changed ownership of flats. “Many original stakeholders have sold their flats or transferred properties to others, including close relatives. The committee needs to decide on the legal owners of such disputed flats,” said Jagwani.

Illegal extensions
The refugee camp residents have been accused of unauthorised construction and building illegal extensions to their flats. The panel will take a decision on ways and means of dealing with illegal structures, too. It will also decide on regulations of the redevelopment control rules under which old structures should be taken up for redevelopment.

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