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GBGB opposes all efforts to privatize BEST

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Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan is a movement working for the housing rights of the marginalised sessions in the city for the past decade and a half.  We have observed that the governmental response to the steadily increasing population and the rapidly worsening housing crisis in Mumbai has been to go on slum demolition sprees and dump people in slum “rehabilitation” colonies. These colonies are often far away from the residents’ original homes. They are either forced to find jobs which are closer to their new homes or spend more time and money while travelling to work in the area they had previously resided.

Lallubhai compound, for example, passes through exactly one route – the 377 to Kurla station which stops at Govandi station. If one wishes to go anywhere else, one has to take the share rickshaw (pay Rs. 10) or walk the 1.3 kilometres crossing railway tracks to get to Mankhurd station. This means two things: a large proportion of bus commuters shift to trains and they are forced to trespass railway tracks along their way. The result: there were 37 deaths and 28 injuries on Mankhurd tracks, in 2018 alone.

Similar is the case in Sathe Nagar, a neighbourhood 1 km. away from Lallubhai compound. There is no bus route from Sathe Nagar that takes you to Shatabdi Hospital, the closest municipal general hospital for Govandi. Nor is there any bus route that takes you to any of the colleges in Govandi east. The residents are pushed towards share-rickshaws, which cost a person Rs. 40 per day, to and fro. And here too, as in Lallubhai compound, stories of deaths/accidents occurring due to people “trespassing” on railway tracks are all too common.

The steadily rising ticket fares/the forced reliance of auto-rickshaws has meant that parents have often no choice but to withdraw children from the schools they previously commuted to and enrol them into schools nearby. Not only is the child’s education affected by the abrupt change in environment and the change in the quality of education (more often than not for the worse), the child can simply end up dropping out, as securing admission in a school can be a daunting process, as it has been for Gulab Ansari. Gulab’s 13-year-old daughter used to go to her school in Bhindi Bazaar in a BEST bus her school had hired. A lot of her friends and even her teachers lived in areas nearby her home in Sanjay Nagar, Govandi. Three months ago, the school cancelled the bus service. Gulab’s daughter has not been to class since then. Gulab plans to secure her admission in a nearby school next year, along with his three other children who will be starting their first formal school.

In this way, we at GBGBA have come to understand that not only is public transport the fulcrum that allows different sections of the society to participate in the economy; it is also the pivot which facilitates citizens’ access to education and health. A privately run public transport entity is liable to make conditions worse, in terms of affordability and accessibility. And we have no evidence so far to believe that the 11 new metro lines being constructed are meant for the large struggling working class population of Mumbai.

Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan wishes to appeal to the BEST administration, through the means of this deposition, to give BEST the subsidies it needs to serve the citizens of Mumbai. An affordable, accessible, efficient and safe and publicly owned transport is as much a right of citizens as affordable and dignified housing is.

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