For long years, they have been living with the pain of displacement, a common feeling searing millions of Indians uprooted from their lands. All these 40 years, their quest has been for a permanent home and a life with dignity. And all they aspire to is development — not the kind that spawns concrete jungles but of an enlightened variety, which gives space for greenery, recreation, efficient connectivity and a better life overall.
“All we want is to stop living like displaced individuals and have a developed neighbourhood,” says P.S. Abul Hassan, president of the Nagrik Vikas Samiti at Cheeta Camp, Trombay.
The slum ranks low on growth, development and social indices. Most of the families, mostly Muslim, have been displaced twice — from Carnac Bunder in the 1950s and from the land of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in 1976 during the infamous Emergency.
The one-lakh camp residents were disappointed by the draft proposal of the Development Plan, 2034, released by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation in February 2015. “When we saw the proposal, we realised that the Corporation had committed nearly 110 mistakes in mapping the area,” Mr. Hassan says. The plan excluded toilets, land for schools and Balwadis and so on. “They had not even included an existing fish market,” he says. The residents came up with an alternative plan, an expression of intent that shows how the grand designs of urban planners fall flat.
Mr. Hassan was part of the 30-member team that shaped the alternative plan, which added the omissions and introduced proposals for amenities that the camp lacked. “We wanted to put in things because if they are not in the DP, they will never come up,” says Mohammad Farooque, a former corporator.
A key demand was extending to Cheeta the metro proposed up to Mankhurd. “We have asked them to extend the metro to Trombay, via Cheeta,” Mr. Farooque says. But the authorities have been reluctant, though the metro car shed will be built in the camp. “We have been reasoning with them: if you can extend the metro from Kandivali to Charkop, then why not from Mankhurd to Trombay,” Mr. Hassan says.
“A metro will definitely improve connectivity and may even aid in changing people’s perception of the area,” says Salim Sheikh, who has lived all his life in the camp.
The Corporation soon opened consultations on its draft proposal, but its demand for precise recommendations with coordinates was a letdown. “None of us knew how to make a map, and we didn’t have the means to hire technical people,” Mr. Hassan says. Mr. Sheikh volunteered to do the work. “The entire process took about 20 days. I used to work after getting back from office, sometimes well into the night,” he says.
The camp residents sadly have to demand something that affluent sections take for granted — open spaces. “There isn’t a single garden in Cheeta Camp,” Mr. Farooque says. There is just one small reserved space, Deendayal Upadhyay Udyan, a dusty ground used by children to play.
The Corporation’s plan had classified many of the reserved areas into “vacant land”, giving it the flexibility in deciding what to do with the land. “We have proposed that those areas be reserved as open spaces for recreation,” Mr. Hassan says. The contrast between the two maps — the Corporation’s and the camp residents’ — is the colour green.
Take the case of the 22-acre Simarti Udyan. “Nearly 4,000 children play here every day,” Mr. Hassan says. The Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority had planned a housing project on this piece of land. However, the Navy did not give it permission to build. Under the draft plan, it was earmarked for a correctional facility. “We feel that you must first address some of the demands of the neighbourhood. We have very little ventilation in our homes and no open spaces,” Mr. Hassan says. The local people fear that a correctional facility will only reinforce the kind of stereotypes that the community has been trying to shed for years.
While charting the map took about 20 days, the awareness programme took much longer. The Corporation is expected to bring out the proposed land-use plan by June-end. “It remains to be seen if the authorities have considered the proposals of the camp residents,” he says.
“If our plan is accepted, Cheeta Camp will finally see some development,” Mr. Sheikh says.