Despite the hectic dislocation to Chandivali, slum dwellers at Sanjay Gandhi National Park look forward to chirpier morning in their new concrete homes, says Rishi Majumder
Photographer: Rana Chakraborty
Mil Gaya?” Uma Nath, a full time worker for Nivara Hakk Welfare Centre (NHWC), and a slum dweller himself, asks a face in the crowd. Thirty-odd people sitting cramped in the ground floor room of an eight-storey building in Chandivali stare at us with a mix of anticipation and anguish. Over a hundred others wait outside the room in groups. The slum dweller flashes a smile and a paper – certifying him as the rightful owner of a 225 square feet flat. He is one of 4142 people to be rehabilitated in the first phase of what is called Asia’s largest rehabilitation programme. Seven years ago, approximately 11,500 slum dwellers living in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park area paid Rs 7,000 for the promise of a flat. 650 of those hold “pauthis” entitling them to ownership today. Most of these people have kept their employments aside for the last two days to visit the building in the hope of receiving a key. “Today,” says part-time NHWC worker Dinkar Parabh. “Was the day appointed for the distribution of such.”
Parabh, a central government worker at the Film Division, is also a slum dweller receiving a flat in the building. “People are complaining about the wait, just as they are complaining about glass being broken in some flats, and some fittings not being there,” Parabh tells us. “But these things will be sorted out once they move in. The larger picture is that they have got a flat.” Post the High Court order to rehabilitate 33,000 families who pay the Rs 7000 fee, the slum dwellers had refused to shift to a remote location offered in Kalyan. This mammoth project undertaken by Nivara Hakk, the State Government and Sumer Corporation titled, “apna city” in an architect’s map, had stalled mid-way to see part completion now. Ironically, it is slums that line the boundaries of the complex, and Parabh tells us the same slum dwellers are responsible for many of the windows being broken to convenience either theft of door, window and bathroom fittings, or a game of cricket. “Par ye to chota cheez hai – these are excellent buildings,” he says, pointing to the recently painted apartments reflecting the sun.
“Any idea when the keys will come in,” Babu Kishan Chimole asks us separately. A children’s night clothes tailor, he sells his wares to retailers in Malad (which is where the first phase of the scheme focuses). Forty-year-old Chimole has five children and a wife as dependents. While he likes the look of his second floor house, he smiles ruefully: “To be honest, my earlier home, though in a slum, had more space… which is what I need.”
On seeing Chimole, other slum dwellers with pauthis stroll over to talk to us. Ibrahim Sheikh, a “construction mistri”, says, “That we have a solid house is great. But we need to work to pay its maintenance and electricity bill. The closest bus station is 2 km away. We need a bus station closer to our house. If we travel by auto it’ll cost us Rs 70 a day.”
L B Pandey, an aged and reserved gentleman with a pauthi for a third floor flat, points to the need for a hospital or medical facility close by. Bhagwat Patil, who’s been allotted on the second floor talks about the difficulty of admitting his 14-year-old son Gajaanan to a new school nearby. “Schools have fixed, quotas of new entrants. Unless the bus service is fixed his crucial class X will suffer,” his wife mutters. Ramdas, who’s moving in with two generations worries about the same for his grandchildren. Other requests fervently
made are for a police outpost and a basic rationing office. The original plan for the scheme provided for two hospitals, small clinics and medical centres, two cultural centres, 16 schools (primary, secondary and high schools), one 4-acre maidan, two 1-acre playgrounds, a market, mosque, temple, church, Buddhist temple, gurudwara and 250 industry-promoting units. “Which will probably happen, but when? And how do we adjust till then?” Patil’s wife says again. Settled in Mumbai for over 20 years, most of the crowd originally hail from outside the city. People from rural Maharashtra, Karanataka, Gujarat… who’ve long left the concept of a home back in their villages, get together in worrying about whether these apartments will fit their concept of a house — which was what their slums in Sanjay Gandhi National Park served as.
The people who were excitedly quiet in the morning grumble amongst themselves, because it’s afternoon and the builder’s man designated to hand over the keys isn’t there. While the younger folk ask us if we know anything, middle-aged and older men are more complacent: “We have no reason to get tense really, we’ve waited for so long already.” But their insecurity stems from more than a wait in the sun. “The forest department men have started to scare us, saying we have to leave by the tenth of the month,” one man who refuses to give his name tells us. Another anonymous takes this opportunity to question the department’s motives further: “What I don’t understand is why should we be removed, when constructions by Thakur and Lokhandwala builders are on in forest area in Kandivali East, on areas four times the size of this even?” This, in turn, leads to a conversation about Vidya Chauhan, an NCP nagar sevak, assuring slum dwellers who pay upto Rs1800 an ID card that “will mean no one can remove them.” Nath announces sadly in the end: “We won’t be getting the keys today.” But he adds that those who want to save themselves from trouble in the future should avoid coming all the way here to check: “Instead see the notice put up at our office, which will be closer.”
Standing outside the apartment complex in the evening, we meet a slum dweller whose not a part of Phase 1 of the scheme. “Luckily I drive an auto. So I can drive down here every now and then to check.” says M Prasad. “I have an allotment due too but since I stay in Kandivali, I’ll have to wait my turn.” Prasad, from UP, has shifted cities twice to reside in Kolkata before he came to Mumbai. “I’ve told my wife and two daughters to come down here now. I refused to get them here before because of where I was staying,” he laughs, looking at the Hiranandani building profiles twinkling against the horizon. He then tells us it doesn’t make sense for him to keep coming here to enquire about the flats because he’s so far back o n the waiting list: “But I continue doing so because I love looking at the flats… and because by now, the watchman’s almost become a friend!”
This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/hgmz