The ‘high-rises’ of Behrampada kissing the Bandra skywalk in the east are set to crumble. The BMC has ordered the demolition of 350 five-storey shanties and nearly 500 ground-plus-two/three slum tenements in the area post-monsoon.
Close on the heels of mid-day’s report on June 7 on the vertical growth of slums in Behrampada, the BMC ordered the ward officer to prepare a report on such illegal constructions. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Close on the heels of mid-day’s report on June 7 on the unchecked vertical growth of slums in the area, the civic body ordered the local ward officer to prepare a report on such illegal towers. Accordingly, a survey was conducted.
The slums in Bandra East, packed close to each other, bear down on the skywalk. A number of them have been rented out for commercial use. File pic
During their inspections, BMC authorities spotted over 350 five-storey shanties and nearly 500 ground-plus-two/three structures, a senior civic official said.
On the method adopted for the survey, the official said the shanties were only physically inspected from the outside. “It was not feasible to get inside each and every illegal structure. Also, the slumdwellers would have not allowed our staff in.”
In its report, mid-day had put the spotlight on the dangers posed by the shanties, each sandwiched between the other. We had found that some of the huts had been raised to six stories, which could easily be 80 ft high, and almost touched the skywalk. The population of Behrampada’s slums exceeds 1 lakh.
Worried that such closely built structures could collapse during a spell of heavy rain or could impede rescue operations, during, say, a fire, the local ward officer issued notices on evictions to many of these slumdwellers.
“We have served notices, which mention that these structure are dangerous. We want those living or conducting their business in these shanties to understand that their lives are in danger because of such unauthorised construction,” Prashant Gaikwad, assistant municipal commissioner of H/East ward, said.
He said the demolition drive began soon after the survey, but was halted in view of Ramzan. “It was put on hold as many in the BMC and the police were of the opinion that such a drive during Ramzan could create law and order problems in the area. The demolition drive will commence once the monsoon has passed.”
Whose land is it?
Many in the civic body are, however, sceptical of the successful implementation of the drive due to questions over the ownership of the land. A section of civic officials feels that the agency that owns the land should initiate action, rather blaming the civic corporation, for the menace of unrestrained slum growth.
The land in question is said to be the property of the collector, the MMRDA and even the Western Railway. “Ideally, it is the responsibility of the agency that owns the land to remove unauthorised structures. The WR and the collector have their own machinery for demolition. These agencies can go ahead with removal of slum tenements, rather than waiting for the BMC to take action,” said an official attached to the anti-encroachment cell of the BMC.
BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta refused to delve questions over jurisdiction. “Avoiding mishap is our priority. I will coordinate with the collector, the MMRDA and even railway authorities to ensure the removal of encroachments,” he said.
Last December, the BMC had tabled a proposal — dubbed by its critics as an appeasement policy — made by corporators across party lines to allow the height of post-1995 shanties to be increased from 14 ft to 18 ft, allowing them to build ground-plus-one structures.
Ticking time bomb
The area isn’t a stranger to disasters. In 2011, a major fire had gutted Garib Nagar, a slum settlement adjoining Behrampada outside the Bandra station. Around 11 persons were injured and nearly 2,000 shanties were reduced to ashes.
In June 2009, a fire in the slums had raged on for over 40 hours, claiming five lives and displacing 4,000 people. The biggest challenge that the fire brigade then faced while dousing the blaze was getting through the tightly squeezed bylanes of the settlements.