Climate change naysayers and rapid urban development advocates may trash the fears of coastal flooding, but the threat to the city’s shoreline is real and at hand. Large settlements of 2-3-storey slum tenements of Cuffe Parade’s Machhimar Nagar No. 5 — a colony of fisherfolk — are allegedly gobbling up land, leaving the area open to flooding.

The horizontal and vertical growth of allegedly illegal slums in Machhimar Nagar No. 5 has raised Cuffe Parade residents’ hackles. Pics/Datta Kumbhar
The horizontal and vertical growth of allegedly illegal slums in Machhimar Nagar No. 5 has raised Cuffe Parade residents’ hackles. Pics/Datta Kumbhar

Cuffe Parade residents claim that the slums are grabbing land and flouting coastal regulatory zone (CRZ) rules. The slumdwellers, on the other hand, claim that their constructions are aboveboard and that they have the requisite permissions for them.

Laura D’souza, who lives near the slum, claims that the slums are mushrooming rapidly — horizontally and vertically. “There are a number of two- and three-storey slum tenements, whose numbers are only increasing by the month. Cuffe Parade is a CRZ and such constructions are dangerous.” Raising security concerns over easy entry to the city via the sea, she says, “No one knows who lives in these slums.”

She alleges that slumdwellers go out in the night to steal tetrapods from Marine Drive and surreptitiously claim land. “I have seen them do this many times from my home. It has led to flooding in Cuffe Parade on a number of occasions in the last couple of years.” Tetrapods help protect the shore from damage by tidal waves.

‘Why target us?’
But the slumdwellers point out that if their structures were illegal, the authorities would have demolished them. “Our area is like a village. We know everyone who lives here. Since the 26/11 attacks, we have been extra careful about who comes and goes. But instead of being thankful, the Cuffe Parade residents are suspecting us,” complains Padmavati Patil, a Machhimar Nagar resident.

Mahesh Maher of Machhimar Nagar No. 5, who lives in a three-storey tenement in the slum, says, “We have all the permissions. These are not illegal structures. We do not take any tetrapod and claim land. The Cuffe Parade residents do not want the poor to live near them. We live in pitiable conditions, but our homes are legal.”

In cahoots with politicos
A number of Cuffe Parade residents allege that the slums have the blessings of the powers-that-be. M Ahuja, a senior citizen, says, “When the slums expand, politicians’ vote banks grow. They do not care about us or our safety. Many of these slumdwellers are not even from here, but they have Aadhaar, voting and ration cards. The day will soon come when these slums will dwarf Cuffe Parade’s high-rises,” she cautions.

Corporator Makarand Narwekar refutes the claim of politicos-slumdwellers nexus, adding, “I have never been in the slum, but if there are two- and three-storey structures, then it is a problem and they are surely illegal. The illegal encroachments need to be dealt with, but jurisdiction is a grey area. The state government needs to clearly state who will monitor the mushrooming of slums in the city.”