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Available shelters for poor 'inadequate' to accommodate Mumbai's homeless

By Bilal Khan*
A Dalit community living on the pavement near Kalina-Vakola flyover has faced countless demolition in a period of 30 years. Latest demolition happened in March this year before the arrival of Prime Minister and President in Mumbai to attend a media conclave. 
Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), in order to ensure that the poverty remain unseen to the PM and the President’s convoy which was to pass by Kalina-Vakola flyover, removed the shanties from the pavement making each member of the community homeless. 
The shanties were replaced by small trees fixed in a pot so as to avoid chaotic view of the demolition site to the passer-by. Each member of this community possess those ration cards which are given to homeless persons. These ration cards are eight to nine years old.
The Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan brought this case of demolition to the notice of Maharashtra Human Rights Commission in April. The Commission had taken the matter as suo-moto and sought the response from BMC. Yesterday, during the hearing, BMC submitted a report to the Commission. The municipal corporation in its report has declared this community as ‘vagrants’ and has apparently shrugged off its responsibility to rehabilitate the evicted people.
The title of vagrancy can be given to a community settled temporarily at a place for a short period of time but surely not to a community as old as the one near the Kalina-Vakola flyover. Almost all the children there are enrolled in BMC’s local school. 
Each member of this community is locally employed however, informally. Income of the members of this community is not regular, they sometime work on sub contracts of BMC as sweepers or drainage cleaners and sometime even forced to beg on the streets in the absence of work.
As per the data of 2011 census, Mumbai has 57,416 homeless population. Keeping Supreme Court’s, National Urban Livelihood Mission’s (NULM) guidelines in mind and the number of homeless population in Mumbai, 125 homeless shelters are required in the city. However, as per BMC’s own admission, there are no night (homeless) shelters in Mumbai as per NULM guidelines except for the seven night shelters which were constructed before the SC and NULM guidelines were issued.
The currently available homeless shelters have an inadequate capacity to accommodate a huge homeless population of Mumbai. Neither the fund nor the space is an impediment in constructing the homeless shelter for the poor homeless people but the willingness of the government.
A fund of more than Rs. 100 crore is lying unused in the Maharashtra Government exchequer in the name of homeless shelter. BMC cites the unavailability of space for constructing homeless shelter in Mumbai but on the other hand government, many a time has dug out a space in the heart of a city even for privately owned projects.
GBGBA will file a response to BMC’s report on the next hearing before the Commission exposing the irresponsibility and the wrong facts of the report.
Meanwhile, as the BMC never sent for to water the trees planted on the pavement, the evicted person are now taking care of the trees they could save from getting dried after they had come back and settled on the pavement again.
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*With Medha Patkar, Jamil Akhtar, Uday Mohite and Jamila

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