South Mumbai locals and MLA protest water paucity

Updated: Jun 08, 2019, 07:42 IST | Hemal Ashar

South Mumbai locals along with MLA protest water paucity with empty matkas and jerry cans; train guns on Mumbai's water mafia

South Mumbai locals and MLA protest water paucity
Raj Purohit leads the protest on a Friday afternoon at Azad Maidan

A shamiana provided a semblance of protection from the searing heat on Friday as a number of south Mumbai locals gathered at Azad Maidan for a protest against water scarcity. The agitation was led by Colaba MLA Raj Purohit.

Soon though, the gathering went beyond water to become a microcosm of a host of problems in the area. Dilapidated buildings and overdue repairs, landlord bullying and authoritarianism were all part of the agenda. Marine Drive resident Naresh Kapur who is the president of the Confederation of Tenants Association of South Bombay, said, "Our contention is that Bombay Port Trust land tenants should not be evicted. The public premises should only constitute land within the port area and not outside."

Also read: Maharashtra drought: Ramdev urges people not to waste water

Desalination demand
Kapur also said he had a special interest in seeing, "that our demand of a desalination plant to be installed in Colaba is realised. We had raised this with Aaditya Thackeray too in an earlier meeting." Kapur said the plant costs roughly R700 crore. It desalinates saltwater to produce water suitable for human consumption or irrigation 

Kalbadevi residents at the protest. Pics/Ashish Raje
Kalbadevi residents at the protest. Pics/Ashish Raje

Meanwhile, some Colaba residents have claimed that the density of hotels in the area has resulted in water being diverted to those, thus depriving locals. When told that many hotels get tanker water, they said "not all of them do." Kapur added that this corner of Mumbai, "has a lot of floating population coming in for work. They use the infra, including the water, of this tip of the city."

Even as he was talking, Kalbadevi resident Manilal Gada said, "I am here to press for ownership rights of tenants. We do not want to live as pagadi (on rent) forever and under the thumb of callous landlords who make life difficult for us so that we leave and they can redevelop the building. The ownership issue crops up every few years and is conveniently buried."

Also read: Girls forced to miss out on school as water crisis haunts the people of Betul in Madhya Pradesh

Mafia moves
By now, a number of matkas and jerry cans, symbolic of the protest, were lined up below the stage, as Purohit entered. He said, "This is a protest and an awareness meet about all the problems in the southern tip of Mumbai. We can divide the demographic into three parts: those who live in high rises, residents in smaller, old buildings and others in the slums. While the slum dwellers are getting water for a little time, the middle class in older buildings get less water because there is no pressure. If they put booster pumps, then the neighbours do not get water and there are complaints."

Purohit said, "It is obvious there is a water mafia and officials are in cahoots with the some tanker personnel and others who sell water. Why was there continual water supply during the recent elections?" Upon being asked about the accusation that he has awoken after all these years to address these problems because he wants to retain his seat for the upcoming Assembly elections, an angry Purohit said, "I was not asleep as per my detractors' claim. This is the sixth such agitation to shine the spotlight on the water problem. Those who do not know this were themselves sleeping like Kumbhkarana," said Purohit.

Sewage water
Meanwhile, in the crowd, a number of women from Kalbadevi said, "We used to get water for two hours a day. Today, it has been cut down to 50 minutes, and the pressure is pathetic, barely enough to fill buckets." Other residents stated, "For the first 10 minutes, the water is filthy, there is a stench. We have to let it go down the drain. That means we are effectively down to 40 minutes of water."

Another local from a Slum Redevelopment Authority (SRA) building in Nariman Point said, "Sewer water mixes with regular water. We have so many sick people in the building. The authorities will wake up when some people die."

Also read: 67-year-old Mumbai resident makes water from thin air

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