Housing Minister denies 30,000 lives’ freedom from #MumbaisToxicHell

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Mumbai | 2nd Nov: “I don’t have a solution for the rehabilitation of Mahul residents; the ‘Government’ will take care of it,” said Prakash Mehta, Maharashtra State cabinet Minister for Housing,” addressing the Mahul residents on a phone call yesterday, on the fifth day of the ‘Jeevan Bachao Andolan.’ Thousands of citizens who were ‘rehabilitated’ in #MumbaisToxicHell Mahul (a highly polluted area declared unfit for human habitation by two courts) after the Govt. demolished their homes  at the Tansa Pipeline stretch last year, initiated the ‘Jeevan Bachao Andolan,’ as Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan on 28th October, 2018. Today is the sixth day of their protest and they are yet to get any response from the government, nor is any minister even ready to meet and listen to their grievances.

On the fifth day of their protest at Ambedkar Nagar, Vidyavihar (East), residents of Mahul waited till 5 pm in the evening to get an appointment from Housing Minister Prakash Mehta as per his promise on the previous evening. The BJP Minister was intimated a day before about their plan to occupy the compound in front of his office, in case he failed to listen. Finally, they were left with no other option than occupying his office. Hundreds of affected women and children desperately waited to meet their minister, but even Mehta’s BJP workers who were present in the office at the time escaped from the back door of the occupied office. However, distressed citizens sitting outside the office for at least 5 hours caught them and gheraoed them until they agreed to call the Minister. He then spoke to the residents through the phone of one of these local BJP workers who was trying to run away. Nothing came out of the 10 mins conversation between him and Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan’s representative. All the Housing Minister had to say to these poor people was that he couldn’t do anything to save 30,000 lives from a sure death. The gathering decided to continue the protest.

Meanwhile, a pollution-affected 6-year-old girl sitting at the protest had a mild attack of paralysis yesterday. Many children from the Mahul are suffering similarly. Even in this emergency situation, Mahul residents have no other option than taking their sick children to the protest site and demanding justice from the insensitive government. Mahul, located in Trombay, is one of the most polluted areas in Mumbai and has been rightly called the ‘Toxic hell of Mumbai’ has seen more than 100 deaths due to the pollution in last one and half year. A large number of people are suffering from diseases like cancer and tuberculosis. Skin allergy is common in every household. People who are daily struggling to save their lives from the high level of pollution, also remain under the constant threat of explosion in the chemical factories.

Around 30,000 citizens had been moved from Tansa to Mahul when a pipeline was to be constructed in the region in 2017 and since the very beginning, these citizens had been continuously opposing their site of rehabilitation. They had been appealing to the government for a better place without the toxic level of pollution of Mahul. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had already declared Mahul to be an ‘uninhabitable’ place in 2015 and even after that Maharashtra Govt decided to put lives of more than 30,000 citizens in danger. It is for this reason that these affected citizens of Mahul have been calling this rehabilitation a ‘planned genocide of the urban poor.’

Reports from various NGO as well as from the KEM hospital has proved that Mahul is critically polluted and its pollution has led to the death of over 100 residents in the last two years. Also, a large number of residents are suffering from various health issues.

In August this year, the Bombay High Court ordered the Government of Maharashtra to either relocate the Tansa Pipeline Affected citizens to a better place or compensate them enough so as to enable them to rent a house in Mumbai. However, the Govt has shown lack of will to act on the order.  According to the directions of Bombay High Court, the government was supposed to decide on one of the two options suggested before 1st of October. But the affected citizens of Mahul have not received any decision or intimation from the government till date. Even after requesting the government several times to address their issues residents of Mahul got no single word from government’s side. And hence these citizens decided to start the ‘Jeevan Bachao Andolan’  at Ambedkar Nagar, Vidyavihar, saying that they are forced to stay in footpath as the government do not have the better place to rehabilitate them.  The high court has given stay order on the demolition of the houses within the 10m area of Tansa pipeline.

The government says that they do not have the place to rehabilitate Mahul residents, but from the information got through the RTI  it has been disclosed that there are 70,000 empty flats available in the city, those which are specially built for rehabilitation.

The government itself claims to be splintered into two fractions regarding Mahul. While the BJP in maintaining an adamant stance, their coalition partner Shiv Sena says it wants to help. On the third day of protest, Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) promised a proposal after Mahul residents had talks with Aditya Thackeray, Yuva Sena President (Shiv Sena Youth Wing). Uday Samant, Shiv Sena MLA and President of MHADA promised tenements to 300 out of the 5,500 affected families; this has been seen as largely apathetic and unresponsive, given the scale of the problem.

Mahul residents have decided to intensify the struggle since the state government is continuously declaring its unwillingness to find any solution for the issue and to save these 30,000 lives from Mumbai’s toxic hell.