FJA 2020 Shortlist
Category: Contribution to Civil Rights
Tabassum Barnagarwala (India)
The Margins of Mumbai: Living in Colony Adjoining 17 Industrial Units
The Indian Express
September 22, 2019
The original publication is available via the following link: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/mahul-resettlement-colony-industrial-pollution-the-margins-of-mumbai-6016921/
5,500 families live in a housing colony in the city under conditions that the high court has said could cause them to die. The Indian Express on a resettlement colony adjoining 17 factories and refineries, the many pollution reports it has failed, the people who have fled it, and those who can’t.
It was August 21. Swati Jadhav and her three children travelled 30 km in a tempo from Kurar village in Malad East to Mahul, bundled up like luggage, to a new home allotted by the government to them in a high rise. It was a 125 sq ft flat with a bathroom, a toilet, and a dedicated kitchen space — a far cry from the 100 sq ft hut and community toilet that the family shared in a slum settlement.
Swati was thrilled. She arranged their belongings — four utensils, two bedsheets, a mat, and a few items of clothing — and even set up a tiny temple. But, it took all of 10 days for them to return, in another tempo, to Kurar.
“My neighbours ask me why I left a pucca flat in Mahul for this kuchcha house. I tell them I can’t breath there,” she says.
On September 3, hearing a clutch of writ petitions filed by Mahul residents, the Bombay High Court expressed shock over the conditions in which the government had pushed people rehabilitated due to its projects to live. Pulling up the Maharashtra government and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog said the State must treat all its citizens, rich or poor, with dignity. “You cannot let these thousands die. This is not correct,” he said, directing the government to assess the pollution levels in Mahul.
Hugging Mumbai’s eastern front, Mahul used to be a fishing village. Early this century, land was taken over near it to build a housing colony for slumdwellers under the ‘Project Affected People’ scheme, with construction carried out from 2006 to 2010 by a private developer. The initial idea was to house slumdwellers displaced by the BMC’s upgradation of the storm-water disposal system. But over the next decade, 10,000-15,000 families, roughly 60,000 people, were moved to Mahul as part of rehabilitation for various projects. Now the cluster of 72 buildings, seven to eight storeys each, holds an estimated 5,500 families, all in 125 sq ft flats.