8,000 citizens stuck in Sion transit homes for three decades

Feb 02, 2014, 07:28 IST | Varun Singh

35 years after they were asked to move into tiny transit homes in Sion's Prateeksha Nagar, over 8,000 men, women and children continue to remain there, with MHADA failing to relocate them

Aaba Keluskar is 65. The Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) forced his family to shift to a transit home in Prateeksha Nagar back in 1979. He was 30 then and was told that in a few years, he and his family would be back in Mazgaon where their original house was being repaired. Chitralekha Bagkar was 17 when she came to the same transit camp in 1976. Sindhu More and Laxman Shinde moved here in 1979. Today over three decades later, 8000-odd residents of these transit homes in Sion’s Prateeksha Nagar are still waiting for their promised land.

Laxman Shinde came to the transit home at Prateeksha Nagar with his brother and wife in 1979. He lived at Kalabadevi but moved here after his building collapsed. Shinde says he has forgotten what his home looked like. Pics/Sameer Markande

According to a local leader and former member of MHADA’s Mumbai board, Allwyn Dias, who also resides in Prateeksha Nagar, the situation is terrible here as many residents are suffering from depression, having almost given up hope of getting their homes back again.

What is a transit camp?
There are more than 17,000 buildings in Mumbai’s island city, which are cessed. This means, a certain amount of tax is paid by the residents of these buildings to MHADA for the upkeep of the building. These are old and dilapidated structures and so, whenever any of these buildings are declared dangerous, the residents are moved out and given transit accommodation. The transit accommodations are officially short-term accommodation so that residents of these buildings have a decent roof over their head till their old buildings are repaired or rebuilt. However, in several cases in the past two decades, the buildings haven’t been reconstructed. In some cases, the land has been sold to third parties. In effect, the evicted residents become permanently in transit.

Aaba Keluskar and his family were forced by the MHADA to move to the transit camp in 1979 after their Mazgaon building was declared dilapidated

Living in hope
Take the case of Chitralekha Bagkar. The 54-year-old resides on the first floor of building T-19 in Prateeksha Nagar. Before she moved to the transit camp in 1976, her residence was at Gunpowder Road in Dockyard. She stayed there with her grandmother and moved to the transit camp after her building at Dockyard was declared dilapidated. It is in this transit camp that she got married and now lives with her three kids. Her eldest daughter is in her 30s now. “I am not sure if we will ever return to my original home. My grandmother, my parents all died here and now even I am getting old,” said Bagkar.

Chitralekha Bagkar (left) was 17 years old when she moved to the transit camp from Dockyard Road. Today, her eldest daughter is in her 30s, and she does not think she will ever return home

Aaba Keluskar, 65 moved to T-1 in 1979, from his home in Mazgaon after his building was declared dilapidated. He now resides here with his wife and children. “If we knew MHADA wouldn’t be able to give us our home back, we would not have come to the transit camp. Now we are stuck here,” said Keluskar. His son, Dattaram has never seen the family home.

Sindhu More, 54, moved to T-38 in 1978, from her home in Khetwadi, when she was a teenager. “MHADA has put me in a fix. I am turning old and I don’t know whether I will be able to see my home in my lifetime. I fear my kids will fight over my property. I don’t want that to happen,”said More.

Others like Laxman Shinde have similar stories to tell. Shinde came here along with his brother and wife in 1979. He use to reside at Kalbadevi earlier but moved to the transit camp after his building collapsed while it was being repaired. He says he has forgotten what his home looked like. “I think I will get my home one day. I have kids who are married and even they have kids. But I have hope,” said Shinde.

‘Give us ownership’
The residents now hope at least these transit camp homes are transferred to their names, so that they can leave it for their children. “If the government redevelops the transit buildings and gives us larger homes than the present one, we would rather stay on. We have spent all our lives here and our kids have grown up here, too, ” said one of the residents.

According to MHADA estimates, there are over 21,000 transit camps in Mumbai and close to 7700 are illegally occupied. Clearly the housing authority is sleeping on the job. It took Canadian Jean Beliveau 11 years to walk all the way across the world. Beliveau would have traversed the earth three times in 35 years. And MHADA would still be figuring out a way to transfer these 8000 men and women back to their original homes. In Hindi, Prateeksha means ‘wait’. The irony of the term is not lost on the residents.

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