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Mill workers split over free homes

The fight for homes by mill workers continues and though they took to the streets in a morcha to press for their demands, their numbers were not as great as that seen last year. A sort of divide has formed between the mill unions in the city and was evident as a mere 15,000 mill workers participated in yesterday’s morcha, as compared to a 60,000-strong crowd seen last year.

The mill workers’ demands yesterday were that the government provide them with homes and they were willing to pay nominal rates for the housing provided. The reason for the divide is that while one group is willing to pay, the other will settle for nothing less than free housing.

Mill workers
Willing to pay: Mill workers gathered at Azad Maidan yesterday to demand that the government give them homes at a nominal rate. Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi

The morcha even lacked the presence of political figures like last year, and except for BJP leader Vinod Tawde, no other leader was to be seen.

Like last year, the rally started from Ranibaug in Byculla and ended at Azad Maidan, where the leaders of four mill unions had gathered. While there are around nine such mill unions in the city, five decided to give the event a wide berth.

Mill workers union leader Uday Bhatt, said, “Last year, we were one because the demand was that we should be given free homes. This year however, some have changed their demand and they are ready to pay for homes. We do not subscribe to this idea and hence, didn’t support the rally on Wednesday.”

A day before the rally, one of the union leaders who participated in the morcha told this reporter that they were expecting a crowd of no less than a lakh and would carry out their rally without any political support.

Yesterday however, the gathering came nowhere near the expected number and surprisingly, Vinod Tawde was seated in the seat of honour on the stage at Azad Maidan.

Pravin Yerunkar, another union leader, who was present at the rally, said, “We are aware that the government is not going to give us anything for free and hence, for our benefit, we decided that we would pay a nominal amount and acquire homes.”

Once again the demand that MMRDA’s rental homes be given to mill workers overshadowed the rally.

“We need homes in Mumbai and we cannot afford to construct them. So we should be given constructed homes and MMRDA has rental homes that can be handed to us,” said another mill worker.

Meanwhile, Bhatt and other union leaders continue to stick to their demand for free homes. “There are many builders who have acquired mill lands and have done nothing but waited for years. Now they are selling the land at premium of up to 150 per cent. The government should tax these builders and then give us homes for free,” said Bhatt.

Prabhakar Bhoite, a mill worker who was at the rally, said, “We want homes now, as we have waited for too long. We cannot wait anymore and for all these past years I have been sitting at home doing nothing. Don’t I have some rights under which I can demand a home for myself and my family?” ¬†

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