Worli gaothan residents fume over 'slum' status attached to locality by SRA

Updated: Jan 18, 2018, 16:36 IST | Hemal Ashar

East Indian Worli residents fume at their gaothan being classified as a 'slum' by Slum Rehabilitation Authority, oppose redevelopment move

(From left) Kenneth Mendonca, Romeo Kinny, Samir Netto, Stanislaus D'Souza, Rita Galbao and Sheldon Coutinho
(From left) Kenneth Mendonca, Romeo Kinny, Samir Netto, Stanislaus D'Souza, Rita Galbao and Sheldon Coutinho

While it was a characteristically warm December for the rest of Mumbai, a notice that arrived on December 18, 2017, addressed to the East Indian Catholic Owners Association, froze the blood in the veins of the residents of the Worli gaothan. The notice, from the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA), cited that the coveted pocket near Worli Sea Face is being targeted for a slum redevelopment project. Residents are fuming at this recently conferred 'slum' status.

"We are not slum dwellers. We, East Indians of the gaothan along with the Kolis are the original inhabitants of Mumbai. We do not want to be re-housed in SRA buildings. We will be shortchanged of space, our culture will vanish and we are not slum dwellers so why should we be classified as such?" said the miffed residents. Sachin Kinny, the 'Patil' or head of the village asked angrily, "Why are some so adamant on calling this a slum? We are going to fight this. This is a game plan to usurp our land, but we are going to fight hard to see it is not taken."

A notice board in the gaothan in 2015, when a similar threat had arisen, displays the residents' opposition to the slum tag
A notice board in the gaothan in 2015, when a similar threat had arisen, displays the residents' opposition to the slum tag

CM says wait
The villagers are objecting to being shortchanged for space in the project. Here, homes have two storeys and many are sprawling, even by the most generous standards. "Some of us have homes as big as 1,000 or 2,000 sq ft. If this is converted to an SRA tower, each one of us will get around 300 sq ft. Is that fair?" they asked in anguished tones.

"We are fifth generation of families living here," said Samir Netto, of the East Indian Catholic Owners Association and at the forefront of the fight against the SRA development. "When we heard about the SRA project, some of us met Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on January 8 to present our concerns." Rashmi Vichare, another resident said, "The CM's assurance was to wait for a new policy for gaothans, which will be out in February."

Sachin Kinny
Sachin Kinny

Not encroachers
Netto alleged that slums and shanties have come up on the fringes of the gaothan, "and these are the encroachers, not us." Romeo Kinny, a resident, said, "This gaothan has 457 houses and 230 owners. Some owners have two to three homes. We have lived here for more than 100 years. Now because of its proximity to the Sea Link and accessibility, our gaothan is being eyed." A resident Sheldon Coutinho says, "Nobody is against development, but it needs to be planned, fair and organized; we do not want SRA schemes here."

Hearings on
The villagers say hearings are continuing with SRA, a fact confirmed by SRA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Deepak Kapoor, "Recently, some residents had met me to air their reservations about the SRA project. This entire area is known as Worli koliwada. A number of hearings are going on. These are quasi-judicial hearings. I have heard both sides. The next date for the hearing has been fixed shortly." Locals say that an SRA notice cites a date for the next hearing as January 20. Till then, homes are filled with worry for residents. Stanislaus D'Souza (76), who owns property of 2,500 and 3,000 sq ft each in the area is wary and skeptical of new developments, "which often means stalled projects."

Gleason Barretto
Gleason Barretto

Saving gaothans
Mobai Gaothan Panchayat (MGP), an umbrella organization of more than 100 gaothans in Mumbai is trying to save gaothans from obliteration. Gleason Barretto, founder-trustee, MGP said, "The SRA threat looms over Gaothans. In November last year, a three-member delegation (including me) had met CM Fadnavis, where we were told that gaothans will be clearly demarcated in the forthcoming Development Plan. Continual vigilance and protests are the only way to save these East Indian lands."

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