Mumbai: Why the BMC Election means little for residents, but a lot for these slum dwellers

Feb 21, 2017, 07:48 IST | Hemal Ashar

Elections mean little for Daru Khana residents who have been served an eviction notice by MbPT, while Reay Road slums have been promised rehabilitation

Slum's the word, hutments abound in the area. Pics/Datta Kumbhar
Slum's the word, hutments abound in the area. Pics/Datta Kumbhar

The BMC elections will be held across the city today, but residents of the only four residential buildings in Reay Road's Daru Khana area have little to cheer or expect as they have been served eviction notices from the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT). While slumdwellers, living in hutments dotting the area, have been promised alternative accommodation, the building residents have received no such promises.

"This," says local Preeti Shenoy, pointing to the swathe of slums stretching out from the station, "is how we have lived for so many years." When mid-day visited the area recently, locals from the four residential buildings, pointed out to a machine, cleaning the filth on the roads in preparation for Union Road Transport and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari's visit, to deliver his pre-poll speech.

Not at the cost of locals
Even though they clamoured for answers, Gadkari did not answer residents' queries about MbPT's eviction notices. "We received the notices from MbPt nearly six months ago, though there was no deadline for the eviction. MbPT is going to take over this land to make world-class hospitals, schools, entertainment zone, in some reports; we have read that a Burj Khalifa-like structure is being planned. Make a Burj Khalifa, we will cheer you on, but not at the cost of the locals," said a resident. What hurts the residents the most is that the hutment dwellers have been promised alternative accommodation, "but there are no assurances for us," says Preeti who lives in a building called Makani Chambers.

"It does not pay to be a legal, tax paying resident of the city; if you are a slum dweller, you are part of the vote bank and you will be looked after," says Sunil Sukumaran, who has had a tyre shop in the Naznin residential building for over 50 years. His brother Anil says they have been paying all their dues, "but we find ourselves facing possible eviction."

In many buildings, landlords have been collecting rents and then one fine day, these landlords disappear or become inaccessible. They do not bother to collect rent for several years, or get in touch with tenants. One resident explained, "We had paid rent to the landlady of Makani Chambers. Now, she has become inaccessible for over two years. MbPT, that claims they have not received rent, needs to zero in on the landlords, because we pay them the rent. Why should we bear the brunt?" Local Vimal Upadhyay, a digital marketing professional, asks, "Even if we want to sell our homes, nobody will buy them because of the Port Trust's mess."

Still a vote bank
For Makani Court's V Suvarna, it is straightforward, "Given our numbers, we are just a handful, we may not be a vote bank. But we vote, too." Residents say they will be unable to pay rent at current market rates, if the BPT insists on that. Pointing to the garbage and general decrepitude all around, Preeti asks, "If we had crores, why would we live here? Won't we live in Worli or Napean Sea Road?"

The residents insist they should continue paying rent according to the Rent Act and then have the mandatory 4 per cent increase every year. "That is a fair way to go about things," they claimed. Calls to landlords R Makanis telephone numbers elicited a taped message saying incoming service to this number has been temporarily closed.

Fearing the Nazir
The tenants fear a "Nazir building-like situation." In a sudden move, MbPT had sealed the Nazir building in Ballard Estate in May 2015, locking down commercial offices in the building and throwing occupants out. In a report which appeared in this paper one year later, the building's landlords stated that they had surrendered the lease of the building, after MbPT terminated the lease under the provisions of the Public Premises Eviction of Unauthorized Occupation Act of 1971.

Residents say
Vimal Upadhaya
Vimal Upadhaya
'Ever since we received an eviction notice, we are living in fear. People here cannot afford another home in the city, or just get up and leave'

Sunil and Anil Sukumaran
Sunil and Anil Sukumaran

'Slum dwellers have told us that they are going to be rehabilitated. If our livelihood is gone, what will we do?'

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