Yesterday, more than 300 tenants of the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) gathered at Cama Hall, opposite Lions Gate, near Kala Khoda to fight for their protection from the Public Premises Act, under which they have been receiving eviction notices.

It is ire and fire as tenants meet at the Cama Hall yesterday evening. Pic/Sameer Markande
It is ire and fire as tenants meet at the Cama Hall yesterday evening. Pic/Sameer Markande

Traipsing in by 5.30 pm, one could sense the mood was fiery and charged. Most of these were residents from Colaba, Ballard Estate, Cuffe Parade and even Wadala, who have been receiving eviction notices to vacate within a specific time as they have been occupying MbPT land.

“We have given up on the BJP and [MLA from Kalbadevi] Raj Purohit. [MP] Milind Deora has agreed to help us by doing whatever he can. We are here as we are desperate,” said Hanif Ansari, a tenant from Allana Road at Colaba.

Milind Deora presided over the meeting and it was evident that the Port Trust issue, as it is called, has acquired a political hue. The Cama Hall was packed and people were standing amidst all the clamour, as there were no more chairs to accommodate them.

Subodh Sapre, a Mahim resident, said, “The Public Premises Act was made for government servants who did not vacate their houses. It is not meant for the common man. My building is under LIC tenancy but with the way MbPT is issuing notices no public body tenant is safe from eviction.”

Soon, applause and cheers rang out as Deora, advocate Viren Ashar, former Colaba corporator Vinod Shekhar, MLA A Patil made their way to the stage. Decibel levels rose as Colaba firebrand Pervez Cooper took the mike to talk about how he, along with others, were evicted from commercial premises at Nazir building in Ballard Estate in 48 hours last May.

“Our eviction has awakened all of you. Smart cities cannot be made on the graves of the common man,” said Cooper, as the tenants agreed with loud ‘yeses’. MbPT needs to be clear and give us a date plan.”

Viren Ashar added, “Everyone is an unfortunate sufferer here, their fate hangs by a slender thread.”

Finally, we saw solid action. Those gathered decided to get the more than 2 lakh people affected by the MbPT eviction notices under one umbrella. “This decision to form an umbrella organisation to represent our cause is a great idea. We will get ownership and not be considered encroachers. Earlier, we were all over the place with no proper representation. This will make us more effective,” said Cotton Green tenant Mehul Gupta.

For tenants who received eviction notices recently, this move came as a blessing. Ahura Mehta, a Wadala tenant, said, “Our building got an eviction notice a month ago. I did not know what to do. Now the formation of an umbrella organisation for MbPT affected and public bodies tenants will help us better put forward our case better.”

As the evening wore on, the meeting wound up by 7 pm, tenants traipsing out with new hope, that a united front will help them combat arbitrary evictions. Deora signed off, urging tenants to agitate consistently and show strength in numbers.