Illegal shanties have flourished on Versova's mangroves once again. While civic authorities keep flattening the structures, unhindered encroachers keep returning to the spot, only to reconstruct their homes once again.
A resident of Shastri Nagar has recorded this process in three videos, showing the encroachers returning to the same illegal shanties they vacated a day ago.
The videos were shot by Faraz Ali on December 13, 14 and 28. In the December 13 video, it is seen that the encroachers are being informed of a demolition that has been planned. As per the instructions, they start shifting their belongings a day in advance. The video shows how the encroachers, who live in the illegal shanties, start bringing their belongings out on the road.
The next day, on December 14, an earthmover can be seen demolishing the encroachers' huts. This time, the demolition was carried out with the help of the local ward office. In the December 28 video, it is seen that the illegal shanties that were demolished just days ago are flourishing again.
The resident alleges that the encroachers are informed about the demolition a day in advance. After this, they temporarily move out of the place, and the very next day they return, once again. This process can be observed through the three videos, with fully constructed shanties being visible in the December 28 video.
Faraz Ali, a resident said, "It really feels pathetic because the authorities seem to be least interested in saving the mangrove cover in Versova. It seems as if the action being taken against the slum dwellers is just being taken for the sake of it."
Shamsher Ali, another resident alleged, "In the year 2000, when we came to the area, the mangroves patch was completely healthy and there was not a single hut. But in the last fifteen years, many huts have come up in the area. The authorities are least concerned, because despite making several complaints there has been no permanent solution. This itself proves that the authorities are hand in glove with those responsible for destroying the mangroves to construct huts."
Faraz Ali adds, "I do not undermine the potential of Mumbai slums for the multitude of workforce that it provides to the city. However, accepting and making them an integral part of the city at the cost of public health, hygiene, safety, lack of civic amenities is paving the path for newer challenges for the city. Better and effective urban planning coupled with slum rehabilitation programmes is the need of the hour to cater to the population explosion that the city faces."
The locals have also hinted at the involvement of certain people from political parties.
Speaking to mid-day, BMC K-West Ward Officer Parag Masurkar said, "The area where the encroachment has taken place does not come under our jurisdiction. It is a collector's land. Whenever the collector's office tells us they want to do the demolition, we provide them with manpower and machinery. Even in the future, whenever they require manpower and machinery, we would provide it to them."
Mumbai Suburban District Collector Shekhar Channe said, "I cannot comment on anything on the same as I will have to get information before I do so. But, if at all there is any encroachments, I will ask the concerned officer to take action."
Not the first time
In November 2014, SUNDAY mid-day’s front page report (For sale! Rs 50,000 for 10x10 feet shanty on mangrove belt in Versova) exposed how three 300 sq ft houses that have come up on the mangrove belt near Shastri Nagar and Yari Road in Andheri, are available at throwaway prices. Locals had also alleged the involvement of the land mafia.