As shanties mushroom in Mumbai, BMC passes the buck

Jul 23, 2012, 07:26 IST | Chetna Yerunkar

Residents facing nuisance of squatters brawling and dirtying area are left in the lurch as civic authorities keep their heads buried in sand

Two areas in the western suburbs are being taken over by shanties that are growing faster than the infrastructure projects in the city, but the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) either keeps its head buried in the sand or, when pressed to take action, resorts to the old trick of passing the buck.

Nuisance: The squatters have made their homes next to the pipeline near the Mahim Causeway. Pic/Pradeep Dhviar

A large number of ragpickers have settled on JP Road under the Metro construction near Four Bungalows in Andheri, while a troop of roadside basket-sellers have made the water pipeline near the Mahim causeway their home.

If in the case of the pipeline encroachment two ward offices of the civic body cannot agree on whose job it is to take action, in Andheri the BMC says the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) should do the needful as the civic body had handed over responsibility of the area to it. Caught in the middle are the residents — the legal kind — as the nuisance created by the illegal settlers keeps growing in the two areas.

Residents say the squatters are a rowdy lot, dirtying the area and brawling. They say loud quarrels and physical fights between the hutment-dwellers disturb the peace on a regular basis, especially at night.

On how such a large stretch of the central divider under the Metro construction in Andheri came to be occupied by the ragpickers, neither the BMC nor the MMRDA is ready to take the blame.

MMRDA even says clearing the encroachments is the job of the Mumbai Metro One Private Limited (MMOPL), the consortium building the Metro.
“It is not our responsibility and I am no one to comment on this issue,” MMRDA Joint Project Director Dilip Kawatkar said. “It is MMOPL’s duty to get it cleared.”

An official of MMOPL, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the squatters were not labourers engaged by it for the project.

“The squatters are not our labourers and those shanties are illegal, but we have tried our best to get them out of here,” the official said. “We have written to all the authorities concerned, including the police and the BMC, but no action has been taken yet.”

The BMC, under the K West ward of which the area falls, says the MMRDA has to cooperate with it for the shanties to be cleared.

“The land is under us, but currently the right of way is with the MMRDA, and it is the responsible body in case of anything happening on that land,” said Ramesh Pawar, Assistant Municipal Commissioner, K West ward.

“We will get those shanties cleared in co-ordination with the MMRDA for the sake of the common man living in that area.”

Pipeline woes
In the Mahim causeway case, the people who sell baskets on SV Road near Bandra Reclamation during the day and seek shelter near the pipeline at night are unlikely to be evicted till the BMC figures out whether the encroachment falls in H West or H East ward.

The other side
Both Assistant Municipal Commissioner, H West ward, Sunil Dhamane and his H East counterpart M D Pimple denied the encroachments fell in their respective jurisdictions.

“This area does not fall under us, it falls under H East ward but we will get all the shanties removed that come under my area,” Dhamane said.
Pimple said he was sure the encroachments were not in his area, but he would check once again and act accordingly.

“This area doesn’t fall under my jurisdiction, but I will still find out from my sources about it and get all the shanties cleared in my area,” Pimple said.

The squatters have become a nuisance around our area. They have huge fights and keep screaming and yelling at one another. It has become difficult for us to step out of our homes at night
— Aditi Sharma, a resident of Indian Oil Colony, Andheri (W)

Last night while coming back from work I saw a fight. A man was hitting his wife on the road and everyone was trying to stop him. This is a regular scene around this area and we are tired of complaining to the authorities
— Nikhil Kargutkar, a resident of Four Bungalows, Andheri

The shanties are dirtying our area. The settlers keep abusing one another the entire night and disturb our sleep. They spread filth in the area that breeds mosquitoes
— Shantha Shetty, a resident of Mahim Causeway

Squatters have been evicted by the BMC several times from here, but they keep coming back and settling here. We need a permanent solution, not a temporary one
— Amit Shetye, a resident of Mahim Causeway 

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