Kandivli blaze: Damu Nagar will not rise again, say officials

The area is under the jurisdiction of the Forest Department, and they will not allow any of the residents to reconstruct their gutted shanties

The Forest Department (FD) has decided not to allow any structures to come up on the spot where the fire took place at Damu Nagar. The area is under its jurisdiction and its officials feel that there are chances that more structures could come up there.

Some of the kids at Damu Nagar resumed going to Raje School yesterday. They attended classes in casual clothes, as their school uniforms were burnt in the fire. Pic/Nimesh Dave
Some of the kids at Damu Nagar resumed going to Raje School yesterday. They attended classes in casual clothes, as their school uniforms were burnt in the fire. Pic/Nimesh Dave

An official from the FD said, “The area where the fire had broken out comes under the jurisdiction of Sanjay Gandhi National Park — Akurli 87 (A), and the people will not be allowed to construct structures there. Those eligible as per the law, will be resettled as per the rehabilitation scheme that has been planned for encroachments at the SGNP.”

A major fire had broken out in Damu Nagar in Kandivli (east) and a portion of the slums comes under the jurisdiction of the SGNP. The fire that had broken out last week claimed the lives of two people and around 2,000 shanties were gutted, leaving more than 5,000 people homeless.

The survey and panchanama were done by the collector’s office and the people who had lost their houses in the fire, got a humanitarian compensation of Rs 3,800 per family. At present, the slum dwellers sleep in the open where their houses were, and some political parties have demanded that a temporary shelter be constructed for them and the compensation amount be increased.

Sources from the FD told this newspaper that they are planning to not allow any kind of new encroachment or construction on the land as it belongs to the forest department. “We don’t know if the slum dwellers will be allowed to construct the shanties at the same location in future, but at present we have been told by higher authorities that we should not allow anyone to construct any structure,” said an official from SGNP.

FD officials fear that in case the authorities allow construction, the number of slum structures can increase, as people who originally did not have a house there could take the opportunity and construct new structures. This might make it a daunting task while doing the resettlement and rehabilitation.

However, residents are upset with the FD’s decision. One of them said, “We have been staying here since more than 25 years and will not leave this place. The survey in which the forest department had shown eligible slum dwellers is wrong, because they decided eligibility on the basis of voter ID card, and not on the basis of ration card. Come what may, we will not leave this place.”

Official speak
mid-day tried to contact the Chief Conservator of Forests and Director, Vikas Gupta but he was unavailable for comment. A BMC official said they have no jurisdiction in the matter.

“Since most of the land where the settlement was belongs to the Forest Department, it is the Collector who will take the decision on their rehabilitation. We have no jurisdiction in the matter. We will only provide temporary shelter as long as it’s required,” said deputy municipal commissioner (zone VII) Ashok Khaire.

Suburban District Collector Shekhar Channe said, “The resettlement and rehabilitation of the eligible slum dwellers who lost their houses in the Damu Nagar fire will be done by the Forest Department as the land belongs to them.”

Minister speak
Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, however, said the slum dwellers don’t want to shift away from the SGNP. He said, “There are 800-850 houses that were constructed at Chandivli for the resettlement and rehabilitation of slum dwellers from Sanjay Gandhi National Park and these houses are lying vacant. If people agree, we can resettle them there at the earliest, but the problem is that the slum dwellers don't want to shift there, as they want their resettlement to be done on a government plot adjacent to the park boundary. Soon, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has plans of holding a meeting to address this issue.”


Alka Magar, a resident
Do the forest officials know what they are saying? Where will we go if we cannot construct our houses here? I have been staying here for over 40 years now and I will not leave this place. We have lost everything in the fire. We had paid the deposit to the forest department few years back for our resettlement and rehabilitation, but till date nothing has been done.

Ambadas Vhavale, a resident
The resettlement and rehabilitation that the forest department authorities are going to do is based on the data with them, but it is not proper because only those who could pay Rs 7,000 as deposit with the proofs, were promised houses at Chandivli. There are many people who were unable to pay the deposit, despite staying here for more than 30 years. Does this mean that we are not eligible?

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