For 15 years, Sangita Suryawanshi and her family members had to wait long for their turn to collect four buckets of water for ₹200. All that changed when 120 households in Jogeshwari’s Gautam Nagar slum received water through the civic body’s legal water pipeline on Wednesday morning.
“Our life was limited to fetching water for cooking, and for drinking. I used to work as a domestic help, but had to skip work for the sake of water. It cost me dearly as flat owners did not like us taking too many leaves,” she said.
After a two-year-long struggle, Pani Haq Samiti (PHS) — an organisation working for the citizen’s right to have access to safe water — secured a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the office of Aarey Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to lay water pipelines in Gautam Nagar slum, situated on Aarey land. The NOC has opened the possibility of over 20,000 non-tribal individuals residing on the Aarey land, between Goregaon and Jogeshwari, to access water legally from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The NOC however clarifies that it would not be considered as proof of residence. It has paved the way for 12 water connections in Gautam Nagar, the expenses for which will be borne by all 120 households.
“When we took up the issue, BMC officials told us that since it is Aarey land and the slum was set up after 2000, it would require an NOC from Aarey CEO to lay water pipelines. Thus began our struggle to bring people together and seek an NOC,” said Sitaram Shelar of PHS.
Sunil Yadav, also of PHS, who locally brought all the residents together said, “Water is a basic necessity. Buying water illegally meant creation of black money and water mafia. We argued that giving legal water connection would also help the BMC and eradicate mafias.”
Residents under the banner of Jai Santoshimata Welfare Society approached the K-East ward office of the BMC with applications for water connections. After being told to bring the NOC, the slum-dwellers followed-up incessantly for over nine months with the Aarey and finally secured it on April 20. By Tuesday, all 12 connections were in place and Wednesday saw residents distributing sweets and celebrating the arrival of ‘legal’ water from the taps.
“Since we started living here, we have been buying water from neighbouring localities. We were totally dependent on them for our water needs,” said Nasreen Sheikh, one of the women in whose name the water connection has been given. Another resident Deepali Singh pointed out that the residents had dug a small well near a sewage flow to satisfy their needs, but this used to get contaminated during rains and they were many a times forced to use the water after boiling. The residents claimed that neither politicians nor government officials wanted this locality to survive and denying water was the best way possible to evict them.
“For over a decade, men, women, and children of our area spent hours collecting water. Even our slums were demolished once. But we don’t want anyone to suffer for the sake of water like we did. Let’s hope others too will be inspired by our struggle, and get water,” said Ms. Singh.