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State Human Rights Commission starts hearing Garib Nagar illegal demolition case

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Mumbai, April: The Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission is finally now hearing the case of the Garib Nagar slum demolition carried out by Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai in October 2017. The ‘surprise’ demolition drive had itself caused a major fire at the site (either intentionally or accidentally), gutting homes that were not even an official part of the demolition drive.

The Municipal Corporation had carried out the demolitions even before the end of the mandatory 48 hours mentioned in their own notice of eviction. A sudden demolition drive was basically carried out so that slum dwellers would have no chance of either approaching the Court to appeal. They didn’t even have the chance to remove their belongings, which were all destroyed along with their homes. Overnight, these taxpaying and already poverty-affected citizens, including senior citizens and women with young children, were forcefully made homeless and robbed of even their meagre belongings, leaving them desperate and miserable.

The hasty demolition drive ignored all aspects concerning ownership of the land in question and legal eligibility of these for rehabilitation. This demolition drive was carried out using a Bombay High Court order directing that all slum settlements within 10 meters of Tansa water pipeline should be demolished and the eligible residents properly rehabilitated.

But at no point had the Court ordered any authority to demolish houses in an illegal fashion, without following due process of law. Since the affected population already belongs to the weaker section of society, normally more care should have been taken, but here the case was quite the opposite.

Post-demolition, the Garib Nagar slum residents have been living in desperate conditions in scattered makeshift tents after their houses were demolished. They now see a ray of hope for justice after the Commission has started hearing their case. On the first day of the hearing, the Commission directed the Municipal Corporation to file a report with details of the procedure followed before the demolition drive.

The order of the Bombay High Court, which led to the demolition of various slums in the summer of 2017 including Garib Nagar, was an outcome of a PIL, filed by ‘Janhit Manch’-an NGO, a case before the HC claiming that slum settlements near the Tansa pipeline were a ‘threat’ to the pipeline. The resulting order deeply impacted the lives of not less than 50,000 people here, but interestingly not a single person even knew about this order. None of them were even given a chance to be heard or informed about the existence of a case that was deciding their fate. Likewise, nobody was consulted when the rehabilitation plan was being worked out for the slum dwellers living near the Tansa pipeline. This is all the more significant, given the events that followed –  over 200 people have died of pollution-related deaths so far at the new ‘rehabilitation site’ in Mahul, one of the most toxic neighbourhoods of the country, that has been declared unfit for human living. These 200 people were first forcibly thrown out of their homes, and then been poisoned to death by the government to whom they pay taxes – just for being poor and vulnerable?

The case of Garib Nagar, as well as other slums demolished following this HC order, raises various questions on state’s preparedness to even handle massive rehabilitation projects that benefit the builder lobby and the negative impact of dubious legal interventions through of PILs on so many lives, and housing rights in Mumbai in the context of land grabs that benefit builders and politicians while victimizing the poor. GBGBA intend to raise all these issues in coming days.

The Garib Nagar case has been jointly taken to Human Rights Commission by GBGBA and Habitat and Livelihood Welfare Association.

Garib Nagar slum.

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