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Medha: whither rule of law in Maharashtra land deals?

Rahi Gaikwad
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People from Mumbai slums gather for protest under activist

Social activist Medha Patkar addresses a protest rally against the Adarsh Housing Society scam in Mumbai on Wednesday. — Photo: PTI/ Shirish Shete
Social activist Medha Patkar addresses a protest rally against the Adarsh Housing Society scam in Mumbai on Wednesday. — Photo: PTI/ Shirish Shete

There was a time when Kismati Jaiswal's house at Mandala, Mankhurd, would be demolished thrice a week. Each time, she would have nowhere to go with her children. Hundreds like Ms. Jaiswal, from Mumbai's slum pockets, gathered on Azad Maidan on Wednesday for a protest led by social activist Medha Patkar against the Adarsh Housing Society and other land scams in the city.

“No one does anything to the powerful. For them, everything is legal. Only we are compelled to flee. Our houses are demolished every four months. We have come here because we want our houses to be saved under all circumstances. First you clean up corruption, demolish the building and then turn to the poor,” Irfan Khan, an envelope maker from Adarsh Nagar (another location with the same name) at Bainganwadi, Govandi, told The Hindu.

“Today's [Wednesday] dharna is by the people of Mumbai's bastis. Here, every inch and acre of land, be it mill land or belonging to the fisher communities, has been grabbed and given to builders for building malls. The leaders don't seem to have any job except grabbing land. The main issue in the Adarsh scam is land,” said Ms. Patkar, leader of the National Alliance of People's Movements.

When it came to land, the rule of law was absent in the State. “Everywhere irregularities are being regularised,” she said.

Hamare ghar anadhikrut batakar todte hain. Phir Adarsh ko kyun chodate hain?' asked a banner. (You demolish our houses saying they are unauthorised structures, then why do you spare Adarsh?)

Many slumdwellers are fighting daily battles for a piece of cover over their heads. All that Revathy Veramani Kaundal from the Anna Nagar slum at Andheri needs is a signature from the society to enable her to get a government house. But the signature remains elusive for as many as 31 huts in her area, owing to a dispute with the society.

Little did Ms. Kaundal realise that when the builder called the residents to the police station to “resolve” the issue, the police would slap cases on them.

“Those who did not go to the police station that day were spared. Those who went had cheating cases registered against them and were jailed for two days. And now, every Friday we have to go to the police station and sign,” she said.

The residents of Golibar Road are locked in another struggle against fraudulent deals in slum rehabilitation projects. “If officials act as dalals [brokers], where do we go,” asked Pradip Jadhav.

Ms. Jaiswal, who has endured demolitions during Mumbai's floods, feels that authorities should not allow structures to come up in the first place as it is difficult for one to be displaced from a place one has lived in for years. “We are in such difficulty and they say khaali karo [vacate the place]. The poor have no destination,” she rued.

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