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Mumbai's 800 slumdwellers face demolition of dwellings starting May 22 to "save" mangroves, declared "reserved"

By Our Representative
Fear has gripped Bheemchhaya slumbwellers – mainly Dalits and poor – that they would become homeless after May 22, when the demolition of their 800-odd dwellings would begin, allegedly for “complying” with a 13 year old High Court order, seeking to “protect” the Mumbai's mangroves, which were mysteriously declared "reserved".
Helpless and terrified, they are trying to contact government authorities, but, says a note by the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (GBGBA), a Mumbai-based civil rights group, there is “nobody to listen to them.”
“Bheemchhaya residents have contacted the divisional commissioner for appeal”, says GBGBA, adding, “But the office of the divisional commissioner has refused to accept the appeal, since his office only deals with matter pertaining to land belonging got revenue department and not forest department.”
Even the court appears unable to listen to them, says the civil rights group. “The residents of Bheemchhaya have approached the High Court, but since the court is on vacation and the vacation bench is sitting on selected days, it is very rare that the matter will be heard on time”, says GBGBA.
“The Forest Minister is out of the country, and his secretaries are also on leave, so there are no chances. There is no one available in the government to hear the grievances of the slum dwellers. When everyone is on leave, why can’t slum be spared from demolition?”, it wonders.
Following a Bombay High Court order dated October 6, 2005, in the matter of Bombay Environment Action Group in the Writ Petition (lodging) No 3246 of 2004, a large number of mangrove areas in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai were notified as “protected forests” by the Maharashtra Forest Department.
Since certain activities can be allowed in a “protected forests”, like collection of forest produce etc., the Maharashtra government decided to go a little further – notified these areas as “reserved forests”, setting aside its earlier decision to call them just “protected forests”.
Situated in Kannamwar Nagar-2 in (Vikhroli East) in Mumbai, Bheemchhaya is in close proximity to the mangroves area, which is notified as reserved forest. However, claims the civil rights group, “The court in the order said that no construction will be allowed to take place in the mangrove areas after the passing of the order.”
It adds, “Bheemchhaya is in existence prior to order of the High Court was passed and it is also a protected slum as per the Maharashtra Slum Areas (Improvement Clearance & Redevelopment) 1971. A slum is treated as protected if it is in existence prior to the year 2000, and the slum dwellers possess certain documents specified by the government to prove their residence since the year 2000.”
Pointing out that slum dwellers in Bheemchhaya have all the valid documents proving their residence prior to the year 2000, GBGBA says, despite this, the Mangrove Cell of the Forest Department served notices to the residence of the Bheemchhaya in the year 2015 to prove their claims on the land where their homes are located.
“All the residence submitted their residential proofs specified under the Maharashtra Government Resolution dated May 16, 2015. This Government Resolution (GR) has specified procedure for the rehabilitation and protection of slum dwellers on government land if they possess specified documents prior to the year 2000. However, the Assistant Conservator of Mangrove Cell, rejected these claims and passed an order of demolition of their homes in Bheemchhaya”, it adds.
Worse, says GBGBA, “The Assistant Conservator passed these orders under section 53 and 54 of the Maharashtra Land Revenue Code 1966. Section 246 of MLRC provides for appeal if someone is aggrieved by the order passed under section 53 and 54. Yet, in the case of Bheemchhaya, the Assistant Conservator has not specified the appellate authority.”

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