Open floodgates

Will mere slum removals along Mithi stop Mumbai floods?

By Nidhi Jamwal
Published: Wednesday 31 May 2006

Bandra Kurla Complex:   Impedi On April17, 2006, the Munici-pal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (mcgm) moved into Mahakali Nagar, near Powai, with a police contingent and razed 276 slum units that were 'obstructing the flow of Mithi river'. Authorities believe the obstruction was responsible for the massive flooding in July 2005.

Without prior intimation, an mcgm official ordered the slumdwellers to immediately vacate their chawls. The residents protested against the demolition that soon followed. The policemen accompanying the squad beat up the protesters and arrested some of them. mcgm officials turned a deaf ear to requests from women who wanted time to collect their belongings. The police forcibly removed some women who lay down in front of the bulldozers and threatened to commit suicide.

Gone in a flash In a matter of minutes, the slum cluster was razed to the ground and the possessions of the slumdwellers lay buried under the debris. The bulldozers then moved on towards Shanti Nagar to remove encroachments there. But, as the slumdwellers pointed out, mcgm did not take any action against a nearby seven-storey building under construction, because it was 'sanctioned'.

"If our slums are being demolished because they are affecting the Mithi river, what about these buildings around us? If the state government is serious about flood control, it should demolish all the buildings so that Mithi gets back its original width," says Suhit Sharma, a resident of Mahakali Nagar whose house has been demolished.

Residents of Mahakali Nagar slum claim mcgm did not follow procedures laid down for demolitions. "In December last year, we were served the first notice directing us to prove Mumbai residency predating 2000, the cut-off date set by the state government. We managed and submitted documents although most were washed away in the floods. I submitted my electricity bill and ration card dated 1995. I have been paying assessment tax to the government, but still my house was demolished," complains Girija Shankar Yadav.

Most slumdwellers claim they were not served second notices before the demolition. "Authorities are demanding Brihanmumbai Suburban Electric Supply (bses) electricity bills, whereas bses has been taken over by Reliance Energy Ltd. How can we produce bses bills?" asks Daneshwar Pundit. "I bought the demolished chawl for Rs 2.80 lakh. I have lost my lifelong savings and have a huge loan on my head," laments Saraswati Suresh, a widow.

Who's the encroacher? City activists and environmentalists are appalled at the manner in which the state government is carrying out the much-hyped Mithi cleaning operation. Girish Raut, a Mumbai-based advocate and environmentalist, believes that the government is solving the problem at the wrong end. "Why is the government concentrating only on Mithi and ignoring its six tributaries, known as nullah s, which got flooded last year?" he asks.

"Massive construction is still underway in G-block of the Bandra-Kurla complex(bkc). According to an official report, this is directly affecting the Mithi river. Why is the government tight-lipped on large encroachments such as Mumbai airport that have forced the river to flow at a right angle? By forcibly demolishing slums, the government is only creating a facade of a flood-proof Mumbai. All encroachments both small and large, must be removed," says Raut.

Environmentalists strongly believe that flooding in Mumbai is directly linked to the concretisation of its suburbs (see: 'There's nothing august about Mumbai' , Down To Earth, September 30, 2005). Another reason is the reclamation of Mahim creek, where all water from the suburbs drains into the sea. "Massive quarrying on the mountains of Sanjay Gandhi National Park continues and is the chief reason for the flooding of downstream areas like Andheri, Kurla and Kalina," alleges Raut.

Recently three associations of slumdwellers around bkc have issued a legal notice to Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (mmrda) claiming that the entertainment complex coming up at the drive-in theatre abutting the mmrda office in bkc is constricting the Mithi river, The notice claims this place is several times more vulnerable than the place where the slumdwellers reside. mmrda is tight-lipped on this issue.

If the Mithi issue is handled in such a haphazard fashion, Mumbaikars may need to budget for another flood.

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