Slumdog sleuths unearth scam

Housing authority was rehabilitating them in illegally built multi-storeys

By Nidhi Jamwal
Published: Saturday 15 May 2010

The residents of Golibar slum colony near Mumbai airport have sniffed a scam in the state housing agency’s rehabilitation plan for them.

They found the land where they are being resettled is encroached land belonging to the Air Force. About 550 families have already been shifted there in six housing blocks, built by the private developer executing the plan. A seventh building is under construction.

The Air Force Station at Mumbai has moved court against the Maharashtra Housing Area and Development Authority (mhada) that approved the plan. It has sought stay on further construction on the five hectares (ha) in Santa Cruz (East) which is on one side of the slum. A city civil court admitted the petition and posted the case for June 14 after preliminary hearings in April.

Change of scheme rang alarm
Dattaram Tandel, a resident of Golibar, said the slum dwellers did not want to be shifted into the flats. “We would soon get thrown out,” he said. It was Tandel’s letter to the Union Ministry of Defence (dated December 30, 2009) that alerted the Air Force. Golibar slum, spread over 56.6 ha, is owned by different state agencies. It is divided into 46 housing societies. The builder, Shivalik Ventures, signed agreements with nine societies by 2006 and gave 550 eligible families Rs 1,58,000 as rent for 18 months—the period in which the flats were to be completed. All was going well till the builder changed the scheme midway.

The initial plan was to shift the residents into seven-storey buildings. In 2008, after constructing six seven-storey blocks, the builder decided to increase the height of the rehabilitation buildings to 15 storeys. “A highrise means additional expense on maintenance. Slum people cannot afford it,” said Sada Shiv Hedkar, a resident. He said the developer’s motive was to pack the slum into highrises to free more area of the slum colony which can be sold at market prices. Golibar occupies prime location.

The residents then decided to scrutinize the layout plan. “It showed the multi-storeys huddled on either side of Golibar. On one end is defence land and on the other is railway land,” said Tandel. He then filed a Right to Information application with the defence ministry seeking details of the land on which 550 families have been shifted. The Air Force Station commander confirmed the land belonged to the department and that no permission was given for construction activity. The department moved court for relief.

Golibar residents dug out more violations. For instance, they found the six buildings constructed in 2008 did not have the mandatory approval of the state environment impact assessment authority (seiaa) at the time of construction. The authority gave its approval in August 2009.

550 families fooled
The seiaa documents revealed something more: Shivalik Ventures had informed the authority that the six rehabilitation buildings are transit camps which would be demolished after the multi-storeys are built. “The builder has fooled the 550 families living in the six buildings. If these are transit camps, it means not a single rehabilitation building has been constructed. How and when will the builder rehabilitate all the 26,000 families?” questioned Hedkar.

Activists said the case exposes the nexus between politicians, builders and bureaucrats. “How is it possible that such a large slum rehabilitation project was approved by mhada and the Slum Rehabilitation Authority without checking ownership of the land?” asked Simpreet Singh, an activist with Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan in Mumbai. Shivalik Ventures denied there was a scam. “We constructed the six buildings on land in possession of mhada. Air Force has no legal records to prove its ownership except one internal note,” said Vasant Shirke, legal adviser to the firm.

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