'An earthquake has destroyed our lives'

Jun 10, 2016, 08:26 IST | Maleeva Rebello

Homes in Fernandes Chawl in Old Khar bulldozed; residents claim no notice received; developer cites High Court order 

There was debris all around as police vans and JCBs stood watching locals from Khar gaothan, who were sitting discussing what to do next. Anita Pinto from the 150-year-old Fernandes chawl in Old Khar said, “Looks like an earthquake has destroyed our lives. Look at the rubble all around, it looks that way too. We have all being living here for more than 80 years, and now because of the demolition we have been thrown on the road. Last night, we slept in the park nearby, our children have been sent to our relatives’ houses.”

Anita Pinto (left), Magdalene Lobo (centre) and Sakira Patel (third from right) with other residents.
Anita Pinto (left), Magdalene Lobo (centre) and Sakira Patel (third from right) with other residents. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

Steven Pinto from the area says that it is a bid to scare people and get them to sign the redevelopment of the area proposal. Spread over 922 sq metres, the plot is also known as St Anthony Co-operative Housing Society. Residents claim it is worth Rs 300 crores.

The broken cross has been reinstated after an outcry
The broken cross has been reinstated after an outcry 

Sakira Patel, whose school going children have lost their books and uniforms in the demolition said, “School is starting next week, when our house was demolished we were restrained by 300 police, my children’s books and uniforms are all buried here,” she said pointing to the rubble. “My daughter was out in the sun while our homes were being demolished; today she is suffering from high fever. Many other children from the area are in a similar state.”

Only debris remains now of the 150 year-old chawl
Only debris remains now of the 150 year-old chawl

Magdalene Lobo who has lived in the gaothan for 37 years since marriage said, “We had Rosary every day near the cross which they demolished. After Ashish Shelar, MLA arrived yesterday, they reinstated it. On May 31, there was a nice fellowship dinner that we all shared. We are united; we will not let them get away with this. This is our home, our village and we live here as a family. Playing housie, chatting outside our homes, cooking and sharing meals that was our every day life, now this has destroyed all that.”

“Many of us are keeping Roza for Ramadan. It has been tough amidst the heat and this demolition drama. Our air conditions, cupboards and furniture were broken and many have lost valuables in this demolition. A neighbour delivered a few days ago, she and her small child have been left on the roads by this cruel act,” said Salma Shaikh, another resident.

Resident Gilbert Fernandes who works night shifts at a hotel near the international airport said, “I have been unable to sleep as my house was demolished when I came from work. I am forced to take an off from work. There is no place to have a bath; we are using the public toilet nearby to relieve ourselves. We have been forced to buy water and food from outside. This is a pathetic way to treat the original inhabitants of Mumbai, us East Indians.”

Residents claim seven houses were demolished on April 21 and April 26. They managed to save the rest. On Wednesday though, they were detained by the police, so were unable to do anything.

“In a probe initiated by the Khar police on the request of Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) officials in 2011 revealed there was forgery done by Derisa Developers to obtain Letter of Intent (LOI) and Intimation of Approval (IOA). Our matter is in the Bombay High Court and this demolition came out of the blue. Out of 47, only 20 residents were with the developers, who fraudulently showed our gaothan as a slum to get additional Floor Space Index (FSI) and undertake a redevelopment project under the SRA scheme. This is a heritage site,” added Anita Pinto.

Aftab Siddique, chairman of 33rd Road, Khar Advance Locality Management (ALM) who has been helping the Khar gaothan residents said, “The High Court had in January 2016 ordered them to abide by the terms and conditions of the LOI. As per that the developer has no permission to redevelop after the SRA direction to revalidate the plans of the structure. We will have a protest and take the matter up in court against this demolition.”

E D’mello from Derisa Developers said, “As per the January 22, 2016 High Court orders the residents were given till February 29 to vacate but they did not do that. In addition to this deadline, the deputy collector also issued a number of 24 hours and 48 hours eviction notices but they did not adhere to these.”

Residents are also being supported by a number of organizations like Watchdog Foundation, Save Our Land (SOUL) and Association of Concerned Catholics (AOCC). Dolphy D’souza from SOUL said, “This is a blatant human rights violation. Poor residents have their houses demolished and are on the roads.”

The supporting associations have organised a protest at St Michael’s Hall in Mahim at 7:30 pm, today to express anger over the demolition of the cross at Khar, it was re-installed yesterday, though.

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