The government's grand plan to open up the city’s eastern waterfront, currently under the control of Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT), seems to have hit a rough patch.
Union leaders want low-cost housing for nearly 11,000 union members and 37,000 pensioners, who have given their ‘blood and sweat’ to the port. Pic for Representation/Getty Images
The leading workers’ unions at the MbPT have opposed the plans to open up port property unless they are given a share of the land that is likely to open up if and when the government approves the full-fledged development of the 28-kilometre eastern coastline.
The two leading unions at the port the Dock and General Employees’ Union and Transport Dock Workers Union led by S R Kulkarni and Sudhakar Apraj respectively have demanded about 70 acres of land for construction of low-cost housing for 11,000 union members and around 37,000 pensioners under the proposed plans to open up MbPT land.
If the demand is not met, the union has threatened to protest against the government plan to open up port land. In their letter to the committee, the unions have unequivocally stated that housing for the workforce must be provided at any of the port locations, preferably the land at Cotton Green where port land is home to defunct and unused godowns.
The union leaders, some of whom are also on the board of trustees at MbPT, claimed in the last meeting of the port trust that the Centre-appointed committee is ignoring the inclusion of their demands on the list of its terms and references.
“The workers have given their sweat and blood for the port and for building its infrastructure. But, now that the time has come to open up land, they will not be ignored in getting their rights and benefits. The least our poor workers deserve is housing with amenities on the port land. We will not sit quietly if our demands are ignored in the development of port land,” said port trustee, and member of Transport Dock Workers Union, Kersi Parekh.
The union has also demanded additional land for providing amenities and open space for use of workers and their families. “If these godowns (at Cotton Green) are removed and the land is opened up, big townships for the employees must come up on this land. We have forwarded our demand, but it is now up to the committee to take them into consideration and do justice to employees,” said a senior union leader.
Many port workers are, however, concerned that a weak union may not be able to push the ambitious housing agenda with the committee after the death of ‘dynamic’ union leader Shanti Patel earlier this year. “The new union leadership is not strong and may not resort to strong means or protests to get justice for the workers,” said an employee.
The committee appointed by Union Minister For Road Transport, Highways And Shipping, Nitin Gadkari, has been given a mandate to explore the possibility of opening up 1,800 acres of MbPT land for various development purposes, such as waterways, jetties, cruise terminal and a Ferris wheel on the lines of London Eye.
The Centre-appointed committee, under the leadership of former port chairman Rani Jadhav, has been asked to look at opening up 30 per cent of its total land bank of roughly 550 acres for the purpose.
A member of the land development committee said it’s too early to say if such a huge a chunk of land could be provided for the housing of workers.