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Rampant demolition: Maharashtra govt told to declare rehab policy for slumdwellers

By Our Representative
In a major relief to around 1,500 families of a Cuffe Parade slum in Mumbai, the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission (MSHRC) has upheld the rehabilitation rights of slum dwellers living on mangrove land. MSHRC directed the Maharashtra chief secretary to form a committee of experts in order to make a rehabilitation plan for the families of Ambedkar Nagar slum in Cuffe Parade.
The slumdwellers' houses were demolished by the Mangrove Cell of Maharashtra Forest department in May 2017. “Finally after almost three years since our houses were inhumanly destroyed overnight, our rehabilitation right has been recognized. It’s the most appropriate gift one can get around the Republic Day", said Jagdish Gujar, a resident of the Ambedkar Nagar slum who lost his house in the demolition drive.
The order was passed by MSHRC on December 30, 2019. However, the detailed order copy was received by the complainants on January 24, 2020.
The Mangrove Cell of the Maharashtra Forest Department has been demolishing slums in Mumbai which are located in and around the mangrove areas pursuant to an order passed by the Bombay High Court directing the government to conserve and protect mangroves.
While doing this, the Cell has completely ignored the rehabilitation rights of people living in these areas, saidGhar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (GBGBA), which has been agitating against the "injustice" ever since the demolition drive started. Soon after the Ambedkar Nagar slum began being demolished, a complaint was filed by GBGBA before MSHRC.
GBGBA in a statement said, it supports the conservation and protection of not only mangroves but environmental rights in toto. However, this cannot be done at the cost of basic human rights of the slum dwellers. "GBGBA does not support the manner in which the Forest Department has been executing orders for the protection of mangroves while blatantly violating the right to shelter, right to life and dignity of the slum dwellers."
It continued, "In the name of protecting trees, the government cannot jeopardise the lives of poor citizens by rendering them homeless by denying them their right to shelter and proper rehabilitation."
GBGBA added, "The Mangrove Cell by cracking down on the meagre hovels of the poor while conveniently turning a blind eye to the major violators who have cleared out and destroyed large tracts of mangrove areas for real estate development in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai has shown its anti-poor stance."
According to GBGBA, "Before carrying out any demolition drive, due process of law should be followed which includes rehabilitation of all eligible slum dwellers and preserving the dignity of all. Instead of doing that the Mangrove Cell has been demolishing slums summarily."
While the Cell defended itself by saying that the Forest Department does not have a rehabilitation policy to rehabilitate slum dwellers, MSHRC refused to accept this stand and directed the formulation of a special policy for the rehabilitation of residents of Ambedkar Nagar. 
MSHRC also said that the government cannot be discriminatory by rehabilitating one set of slum dwellers while ignoring other similarly placed persons. MSHRC has directed compliance with the order within three months.

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