After taking away their roof, Mumbai cops burn their belongings

Updated: Jun 23, 2019, 07:25 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

Residents of the footpath under Amar Mahal junction in Chembur forcibly evicted

After taking away their roof, Mumbai cops burn their belongings
The demolition drive in progress

We do not have any morsel of food left, nor my children have any spare clothes to wear. They (the police) came and burnt them all, saying we cannot stay here. My wife is six months pregnant and my two daughters are unwell. Where will we go?" asks Balu Machindra Chauhan, 30, a day after they were forcibly evicted from Amar Mahal junction, Chembur, by the police. While the state agencies are clear they won't allow encroachments, the incident has once again raised serious concerns about shelter homes for the homeless in the city.

"If this is not our home, then where is our home?" asks Ashwini Pawar, 25. "I have been staying here for the last two decades, and have also got a ration card, which shows our address: below Amar Mahal footpath. We also get monthly ration from the fair price shop." Chauhan adds, "My daughter Anjali (5) is physically challenged. She and Chakula (2) were both scared when the police threw our belongings out. The police kept shouting, 'Chale jao yahaan se, dobara nahi aana. Yahaan godown banega,' as we sat on the roadside helplessly."

The belongings of the homeless people were set on fire
The belongings of the homeless people were set on fire

Most men on the footpath clean gutters and sewage lines, earning '300 daily. Activists fighting for the rights of homeless have condemned the police action, as their plea to keep the drive on hold until August 3, when the matter comes up for hearing before the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), fell on deaf ears.

Mahesh Kamble, a state-level committee member in charge of monitoring the functioning of shelters, says, "The SHRC had issued show cause notice to the police, post a similar eviction on April 8, 2019, at 8 am, when Tilak Nagar police carried out a similar drive, in which Jaya Kale lost her two-month-old son. Jaya had placed Anil on her lap when the police barged in. Scared, she tried to escape and accidentally dropped her child. She did not get any help from the police in taking him to the hospital, who was declared dead on arrival at Rajawadi Hospital."

Ashwini Pawar with her ration card, which states her address as below Amar Mahal footpath
Ashwini Pawar with her ration card, which states her address as below Amar Mahal footpath

While quoting the National Report on the Status of Shelters for Urban Homeless, August 2014, Kamble adds, "Living in the open, with no privacy or protection, is a gross denial of the fundamental right of a citizen to live their life with dignity, the apex court has opined. It is to defend and uphold their right to food and shelter that sufficient numbers of permanent shelters are required in all cities, in all seasons. Under the SC guidelines, all state and local governments are now legally bound to build dignified permanent shelters. Unfortunately, there is no clear data to ascertain the exact number of homeless in the state or country. The Supreme Court, however, has given a formula.

For every population of one lakh, there must be one shelter for the homeless. So, if Mumbai's population is 1.5cr, there should be minimum 150 shelters, and each shelter must have the capacity to accommodate 100 people. Unfortunately, the BMC has failed to set up even a single shelter for the homeless in the city."

Charred utensils. Pics courtesy/Pallavi Thakare, NGO Koshish, TISS
Charred utensils. Pics courtesy/Pallavi Thakare, NGO Koshish, TISS

Mohammed Tarique, director of the NGO, Koshish, and member of the same committee, says, "Most of these people have come from Osmanabad, Latur, Satara, etc. The question is why. Collapsing livelihood opportunities and rising prices for agriculture are making it impossible for smaller farmers and landless labourers to survive. All authorities I spoke to about this incident washed their hands off, saying what is happening to people is not their concern and that they are just following orders. Can we get a more insensitive and brutal state, where a senior officer says that cleanliness and bridge maintenance are more important than the lives of innocent children?"

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Speaking to mid-day, SS Gangurde, executive engineer (Roads), MMRDA, said, "We (MMRDA) have taken charge of the entire Eastern Express Highway and Western Express Highway from Public Works Department (PWD) since April 2019. The Amar Mahal bridge and the roads under it are now under MMRDA, and we are very clear that we won't allow any encroachments."

Balu Chauhan with his family

When asked if he was aware of the goings-on on Friday, Gangurde said, "I have been told that encroachment had been a regular scene beneath the said flyover. We are also more concerned about the safety of the flyover, which was recently repaired by PWD, who have used nuts and bolts in large quantities for giving steel support. We have found that rainwater outlet screens have gone missing, and similarly, the nuts and bolts may also get stolen for their scrap value."

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When asked about the fire, he said, "I am not aware of any belongings being set on fire. We are clear that we do not want our space to be encroached. We have submitted a proposal to our superiors for constructing a wall on either side, which will not only restrict encroachers, but also allow us to use the space as godown to store paver blocks, bitumen, crushed stones, etc. These will be required for filling potholes during the monsoon. The construction work will start from July."

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Tilak Nagar police have rubbished the allegation. They state that the eviction drive was carried out by PWD, who had sought police protection. A police officer, on condition of anonymity, said, "The PWD staff was clearing all unwanted material from beneath the flyover, and they set it on fire. The police had no role. Even last time they (encroachers) had made allegations against the police. We provide bandobast when asked for, that's all."

No. of shelter homes Mumbai needs for the homeless

Shelter homes Mumbai has for the homeless

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