Why Aarey workers have hit the roof

Employees of the Aarey Dairy, who live in the quarters adjacent to the dairy at Worli Seaface, live amid crippling fear due to the dilapidated condition of their homes. Ceilings, which threaten to cave in any moment, and large cracks in walls, are just some of the dangers one can spot at first glance in these residential quarters.

SMD visited the residential quarters and found huge cracks on the main pillars of a few buildings’ ceilings. Ceilings in many homes have collapsed and rusted iron rods were visible inside rooms. In some wings, staircases were broken and window panes and rain protection sheds were missing and drainage pipelines were broken.

The residents at Worli point to the cracks in the ceilings and claim that no repairs have been carried out in years. Pic/Bipin Kokate

In August 2012, Shasikant Kamble, who lives in the Worli quarters, was asleep on the top floor, when a portion of the ceiling fell on him and his family of four. His 30 year-old wife, Deepali, said, “My children are yet to come out of the shock. We have been given temporary accommodation in another building. The debris continues to lay in my house.”

The dairy workers claim that they pay a sizeable sum from their salary as House Rent Allowance (HRA). The present market value of the property per square meter as per government ready reckoner (RR) rates is Rs3,69,600 per square metre for commercial property. The structures were constructed between 1963 and 1965.

“Politicians have been eyeing the Worli Dairy, which is spread across 17 acres of prime land and these residential quarters. They want the dairy workers and their families to die a natural death, so they can grab the land. They do not want to be seen forcing eviction,” said a dairy worker on condition of anonymity.

The worst thing, according to the Sanghatana members, is that the government has already collected over Rs 100 crore from them in the last few decades by deducting HRA in the range of Rs 4,000 to Rs 8,000 from employees, which is 30 per cent of their basic salaries.

According to Vijay Sonawane, president of Sanghatana, “Earlier (prior to 1996), the PWD ensured that the residential quarters were maintained well.

However, since 1996, the PWD has stopped carrying out major repairs, though the state government continued to make required book entries by deducting HRA from salaries.”

The condition of the quarters in Kurla is just as bad. One of the residential quarters has been issued an eviction notice but workers continue to stay
in the building.

According to Prafull Bhadalekar, general secretary of DKS, “Soon after the incident in August, Deputy CM Ajit Pawar had announced a sanction of
Rs 5 crore for repairs. However the expenditure priority committee at Mantralaya, which consists of officials from the Animal Husbandry, Dairy Development and Fisheries and Finance Department are yet to approve it.”

Madhukar Chavan, Minister for Animal Husbandry, Dairy Development and Fisheries, said, “Funds worth Rs 5 crore were sanctioned but were not released due to some reason.”

However D D Kulkarni, General Manager Greater Mumbai Milk Supply Scheme and Controller of Milk Transport, said, “The government has sanctioned the said fund of Rs 5 crore during the Winter Sessions (which got over on December 21) and that the PWD decided to carry out urgent repairs. It will all take few weeks more.” Inspite of repeated attempts, Chaggan Bhujbal, PWD and Tourism Minister, who was said to be in his constituency in Nashik, could not be contacted. ¬†

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