Promises by authorities to rebuild dilapidated structures remain unfulfilled

Since his childhood, Shabir Ansari had heard his parents saying the decrepit building in Vikhroli where they lived was a temporary home. They told him they would move into their own home in south Mumbai as soon as it was rebuilt. It’s been 40 years. His father is no more and his current house has weakened further. For Ansari, life has been permanently in transit.

Ansari’s family is just one of the 20,000-odd families housed in 60 such transit camps set up by the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) across the city. Since the 1970s, the MHADA started shifting people from its dilapidated buildings in south Mumbai into transit camps. They were to move back once the old structures are rebuilt. But, promises remain unfulfilled.

In the Kannamwar Nagar camp in Vikhroli, where Ansari lives, people have been languishing for decades, waiting for their homes. “My parents used to live in Kharwa Galli near Byculla. Their building was torn down in 1972, after which they moved to the Kannamwar Nagar camp,” says Mr. Ansari. “The original building in Byculla is ready but we have still not got our shifting letter.”

Poor state of camp structures

The condition of the transit camps bears testimony to how long the ‘transit’ has been. Leaky ceilings, collapsing slabs, choked toilets and uncleared garbage are there everywhere . “Almost every day, there is an accident or someone falling sick. A slab fell from the ceiling and injured an old woman recently,” said Priyani Tiwrekar of the PMGP camp in Mulund.

For many, the shift meant jumping from the frying pan into the fire. “We shifted in 1972 because our building in Chira Bazaar was dilapidated. Now, our transit building here in Kannamwar Nagar is on the list of ‘extremely dilapidated structures of Mumbai’,” said 70-year-old Laxmi Gaikwad. She has put a tarpaulin sheet on the ceiling to prevent rainwater and slabs from falling.

Kannamwar Nagar is one of the biggest transit camps with 46 buildings and 45 chawls. A total of nine buildings and chawls have been taken up for redevelopment by the MHADA.

Sale to third parties

The PMGP camp in Mulund is a stark example of things going wrong at different levels. Originally, there were 11 buildings. But in 2010, the MHADA began redeveloping the buildings. It found that many original tenants had left and sold their homes to others. These “third parties” were termed encroachers.

This means that 14,000 families — who were regularly paying rent to the MHADA and receiving receipts for it, have suddenly become illegal residents “These families bought homes from original tenants. The MHADA transferred the respective flats in the name of such third parties. This was done in collusion with the authorities,” alleges Anjali Damania of the Aam Aadmi Party, which has taken up the cause.

So what happens to 14,000 such families? A couple of years ago, the MHADA mooted the idea of imposing a penalty on illegal tenants and allowing them to stay on, a decision which never came through. Those termed “encroachers” fear losing their homes, even though the MHADA has assured them that they would be included in the new constructions.

“We are in the process of drawing up a master list of people who bought homes from the original tenants. We will make them pay for the construction cost and make sure they get permanent homes,” said MHADA chairman Prasad Lad.

But residents remain wary. “If they could suddenly decide we are illegal even though officials were involved in all our transactions, how can we trust them now? asked Shaheen Patri who bought a home in the Goregaon transit camp six years ago for Rs. 3 lakh. With this crisis of trust, the mass reconstruction of camps poses a serious challenge. It remains to be seen whether ‘transit’ for these people loses permanence one day.