High drama and hi-jinx at BJP Foundation Day, as simmering SoBo residents press for pagadi to ownership conversion, protest supposed arbitrary evictions
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Foundation Day programme at the party’s Nariman Point headquarters, yesterday morning, saw Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, state party chief Raosaheb Danve Patil, city party president Ashish Shelar together to mark their 36th foundation anniversary. There was a ‘punjabi tadka’ band playing as women dressed in nav-vaari saris and dhoti-clad men welcomed the BJP leaders.
MbPT tenants speak to Raj Purohit (c) as they ask him to highlight their issues to Nitin Gadkari
Just as the band was getting into its groove, SoBo’s elite set gatecrashed. The startled ‘Tadka’ stopped sizzling mid-way, as more than 150 residents stood outside the office, demanding they be heard. Temperatures and tempers rose simultaneously in the sweltering April heat, as a mix of middle-aged persons, who had left their workplace and senior citizens, cutting across Colaba to Wadala arrived in droves. These were tenants of the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) lands, and those living under the pagadi system.
CM Devendra Fadnavis gheraoed by the MbPT tenants as they explain their problems to him. Pics/Ajinkya Sawant
Their multi-pronged demands were to press the BJP honchos, to make good earlier claims to make pagadi tenants home owners. They were also protesting what they claimed is misuse of the Public Properties Trust Act, which, they said was being used by the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) to evict them from their offices and residences.
“The whose who of BJP is here. Raj Purohit, our MLA promised we could meet Raosaheb Danve Patil and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari. Many of us have received eviction notices in the Ballard Estate area,” said Rajat Verma, who owns an office at Ballard Estate.
Margaret da Costa from Colaba stated, “We have a sword hanging over our heads, as we do not know when we will be evicted.”
One could discern uncertainty that was breeding fear, amongst those who had arrived. Colaba’s Pervez Cooper, real estate agent whose office in Nazir building at Ballard Estate was sealed by the port trust in May, when they took over the building last year was livid. He was shouting, "In one hour, we were on the road, our livelihood taken away. The port trust said that since 1986 our lease expired, were they sleeping for almost 30 years? One fine day they ruthlessly just threw us out."
Reay Road resident Preeti Shenoy claims she and others, got an eviction notice in December last year. “We were ready to pay dues to the port trust and even paid Rs 65 lakh to the MbPT, but they did not give us correct receipts,” she said.
Viren Shah, president, Federation of Retail Traders Welfare Association said, “We support the government’s development agenda, but it cannot happen at the expense of the middle class working taxpayers. “
Patil assured them he will take up the matter with Gadkari. Reassurances, were followed by more mayhem as Raj Purohit blamed residents for being disorganised. Purohit stated, “Residents need to put forth their demands clearly in a proposal.” He told them not to confuse issues, claiming that the tenant-ownership issue and MbPT land issues were separate. Yet, for many these were linked. Like Meher Sanjana, a Colaba resident said, “Many of us fighting are both pagadi tenants as well as those affected by MbPT.”
Just then, CM Devendra Fadnavis was emerging from the office, and there was high drama as residents broke the security cordon shouting, “CM saab aap humko beghar kar rahe hai.” Fadnavis looked perplexed but did pacify them saying he will call a meeting. Meanwhile, Atul Shah, BJP spokesperson and MbPT trustee shouted at them, “You all have come here for tamasha. No one can meet the CM like this. There is a protocol.” The target of his ire shouted back, “You have made a tamasha of us. The CM is our representative; we can put our issues before him.” “I hope the message goes to Nitin Gadkari that he cannot build his dreams on our homes,” said Sabrina Advani, of Wodehouse road.
Jean Correia feared renovation work worth lakhs in her home would go waste and is afraid of being thrown on the streets. JD Shetty, a MbPT tenant from Ballard Estate said, “Unauthorised slumdwellers are promised relocation and we are being thrown on the road,” she finished strongly, even as people dispersed vowing to fight on.
What residents want
>> All residents and taxpayers of Maharashtra State to be uniformly brought under the Maharashtra Rent Control Act (MRCA) of 1999 instead of the Public Premises Act (PPA) of 1971, which pre-dates the MRCA.
>> Recognise and regularise actual occupants as tenants and collect Rent/ Arrears/ Compensation etc if the registered MbPT tenant defaults or has previously defaulted on payment of dues.
>> A fair and equitable policy be drafted that ensures rapid development of the city’s infrastructure but not by unjustly displacing the working middle class.