Lost in Transit

By Kedar Nagarajan on March 12, 2020

Plot 138 A & B in Mankhurd is the site for what was meant to be temporary housing for people displaced due to the Mumbai Urban Transport Project II. Originally constructed to house these displaced residents before allotting them permanent tenements, it has turned into a permanent home not just for those displaced by MUTP II, but for people displaced by several other projects from across the city. In addition to living in highly unsafe conditions with poor access to basic infrastructural services, the residents also live under the permanent threat of their existing tenements being demolished. The most recent round of demolitions of a substantial amount of tenements took place in in April, 2019, and demolitions of a smaller number of tenements continue to take place sporadically. 

Over the last twenty years, occupancy in the plots has significantly changed and the narratives of current residents reflect a variety of stories of how they became a part of the space. Almost none of these narratives correspond to the encroachment narrative that has been utilized by the Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centers (SPARC)—the NGO that has managed these plots since 2000, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) or the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA). The narratives reveal elements of transit, occupancy occurring under highly vulnerable conditions sanctioned by SPARC and forms of slum lord-ism. 

The remainder of this note traces the shifts in residential patterns in the Transit Camp since its construction in 2000. Information on these shifts has been traced through RTI responses, interviews with residents in the space, court rulings and responses to letters written to the MMRDA, MCGM and SPARC by the Ekta Rahivashi Sangh—a group comprising residents of the Transit Camp and Slum Rehabilitation Society—an NGO based in Bandra.

 

1998 – 2000: Initial Steps Towards Creation of the Transit Camp

In 1998 the MMRDA tasked SPARC with carrying out a baseline socio- economic survey of the Mumbai Urban Transportation Project (MUTP) II project affected persons (PAPs) and facilitate their shift into a Transit Camp initially, and subsequently into permanent accommodation in tenements constructed for resettlement. At the same time, Mr. Sanjay Ubale, Special Secretary of the Maharashtra Government was drafting a policy for the rehabilitation of all pavement dwellers in Mumbai called the Mahatma Gandhi Pathakranti Yojana (MGPY). Mr. Jockin Arputham of the National Slum Dwellers Federation—an affiliate of SPARC— was also consulted during the framing of this policy of the Maharashtra State government. 

In 2000, the then Chief Secretary of the Maharashtra State Govt., Mr. Anil Bongirwar directed the collector to hand over a plot identified by Dr. Jockin Arputham to begin the construction of the Transit Camp. SPARC then began the construction and covered expenses for the same. No official handing over of this land has been made till date, and therefore its transfer was facilitated by an oral agreement between Mr. Bongirwar and Mr. Arputham. Neither Mr. Bongirwar nor Mr. Arputham is alive today, the camp however continues to house transient families permanently. 

 

2001 – 2005: Residential makeup of Transit Camp Diversifies

Between 2001 and 2005, a large number of families affected by the MUTP II were brought to the Transit Camp temporarily by SPARC. After 2005, the MMRDA began shifting some of its MUTP-II residents into permanent settlements. This then created vacant tenements in 138 A&B, which SPARC used to house people displaced in anticipation of the MGPY and people displaced by other MMRDA and MCGM projects. 

SPARC’s resettlement of pavement dwellers was carried out in multiple rounds. It began with the shifting of around 336 families from Ballard Pier, Azad Maidan and Marine Lines to another Transit Camp in Maharashtra Nagar in 2000. Most of these families have proof of residence prior to 1995, which SPARC stated was an essential condition for resettlement. In interviews with TISS, the families stated that all of them were promised permanent rehabilitation under the MGPY, which at the time was being drafted. The 2005 floods submerged the Transit Camp in Maharashtra Nagar and many of the pavement dwellers and other PAPs were shifted into 138 A and B. SPARC however maintained no records of this movement between Maharashtra Nagar and 138 A & B. This left several residents without any proof of having been brought here due to the formulation of the MGPY. That same year, SPARC also moved families from Rahul Nagar and Tilak Nagar in preparation for the construction of the Santa Cruz-Chembur Link Road. 

2005 – 2010: Additional Relocated Populations Enter the Transit Camp

In 2006, more than 75 Pardhi—a denotified tribe—families were shifted from Rajaram Wadi and Hanuman Road in Vile Parle for the construction of the Jogeshwari-Vikroli Link Road (JVLR). In our interviews with the families affected by these two projects, we found that very few of them were aware of the projects because of which they were being shifted. Most seemed to reiterate the fact that they were given little information, but were told that a Mr. Waghmare from the MMRDA would move them to the Transit Camp. These families were only informed to vacate their homes and in return they were promised permanent resettlement in apartments. In some of our interviews, Pardhi residents have stated that when the men of the family went out for work, Mr. Arputham and his trusted employee Shekhar of the NSDF came with a police force and started ushering families into trucks and brought them to 138A & B. TISS’ independent survey of Pardhi families and the families from Rahul Nagar, revealed that no baseline survey was conducted either by SPARC or MMRDA before shifting them into Transit Camp. 

Interviews with pavement dwellers from Nagpada who were brought to the camp in 2006, suggest that SPARC asked them to work as labour in the construction of permanent tenements in Mankhurd without the promise of compensation. They were told that a few of these tenements would then be given to them. However, very few were shifted into such tenements and many were resettled into 138A & B. 

In 2007, more than 150 pavement dwelling families were shifted from P. D’Mello Road, Byculla and Dimtimkar Road. As stated by, Madina Bibi Sheikh, a resident from the P.D. Mello Road and Mohd. Zahur from Dimtimkar road, these families were promised homes under MGPY and were shown buildings and apartments where they would be shifted. In the same year, SPARC shifted many families like that of Munna Pathan and Akhtari Kahtoon who received support from them were their employees to the camp. 

Current Situation

Field studies have led us to the conclusion that since the inception of transit camp, SPARC has controlled the supply of water and electricity, and possessed the power to allot tenements to PAPs being shifted. Residents from the varying categories that our field studies have been able to identify came to 138 A&B in different waves and this has further complicated state agencies’ understanding of who is and is not a legitimate occupant that is entitled to R&R. The absence of an official handover from the collector to SPARC has been an effective way for both the MCGM and the MMRDA to deny having any responsibility beyond ascertaining the validity of the residents that currently reside there. 

In an attempt to clear confusion and ensure that the R&R needs of all current residents were met, a PIL was filed in 2018 on behalf of the residents of the Transit Camp to demand rehabilitation of all current residents. The Ekta Rahivashi Sangh—a group comprising residents of the Transit Camp, spearheaded the PIL with assistance from the Slum Rehabilitation Society (SRS) and TISS. The PIL was however dismissed and the high court order set in motion a process that has brought even more discord in the area. While the PIL was being heard, SPARC and the MCGM failed to acknowledge and bring to light that pavement dwellers from various parts of the city were also moved to 138 A&B. 

The Bombay High Court on June 27 2018, ordered the creation of a committee consisting of:

Senior officer to be deputed by the chairman of the MMRDA

  1. Additional Commissioner (MCGM)
  2. Additional Collector (Suburban)

Where the committee was directed to undertake the following:

  • Verify list of persons submitted by the MMRDA
  • Supervise to carry out physical verification of the occupants residing in Mankhurd area (Transit Camp)
  • The source of occupation of said occupants 
  • Eligibility of occupants.

Following the above orders of the court, the tripartite committee was to conduct an independent survey in order to fulfill the aforementioned points. However, TISS’ independent verification of the reality on the ground has led us to believe that this survey conducted, was influenced in large part by the list that SPARC—one of the parties against whom the PIL was filed—had produced for the MMRDA and MCGM.

The report presented on August 31, 2018 by the tripartite committee as per the orders of Bombay High Court, presents the legal status of residents of transit camp as considered by the committee. The table below shows the major findings of the committee:

Sr No Item MMRDA List Others Grand total
Plot 138A Plot 138B total Plot 138A Plot 138B Total
1 No. of tenements as per MMRDA resettlement list 816 733 1549 20 107 127 1676
2 Tenements number repeated in the list 6 31 37 0 0 0 37
3 Number of tenements not found on site 138 108 246 0 0 0 246
4 Actual Tenements on site 672 594 1266 20 107 127 1393
5 No.of tenements occupied by MCGM PAPs  0 367 367 0 67 67 434
6 No.of tenements found closed after repeated visits  41 39 80 3 9 12 92
7 No.of tenements found used for other purposes  0 8 8 0 2 2 10
8 No.of tenements found used for stay (other than MCGM PAPs)  631 180 811 17 29 46 857

 

The committee report states that 1,393 tenements currently exist in Transit camp 138 A and B. Out of those, 434 are occupied by MCGM PAPs. The report found that from the 434 PAPs, 222 were eligible occupants and 212 ineligible. Out of the balance 959 tenements, 92 were found closed and 10 were found being utilized for other purposes. None of the balance 857 tenements currently in occupation fall under the jurisdiction of the MMRDA except one, the former occupants of which, they claim to have rehabilitated. In the study conducted by TISS, we were able to ascertain that there existed a large group of families that were MUTP II PAPs that still await rehabilitation from the MMRDA, as per MUTP R&R policy.  

Additionally, in 2006 the MMRDA in response to an RTI filed by the Ekta Rahivashi Sangh stated that they had given permanent allocation to 733 households in 138B and 816 households in 138A. TISS’ field studies lead us to believe that once these tenements were vacated, they were used to house pavement dwellers, PAPs from other projects and families brought in by SPARC on humanitarian grounds. Our studies point to around 550 pavement dweller families (a similar figure mentioned by SPARC in its communication to BMC) shifted in anticipation of MGPY, around 300 PAP families (estimated figure from fieldwork) affected by MMRDA and MCGM projects and around 50 families brought in by SPARC on humanitarian grounds.  

Since the presentation of the committee’s report, an appeal process for ascertaining the eligibility of 212 ineligible PAPs was initiated by MCGM. Out of these 212, 136 have now been declared eligible and 76 are still undergoing the process. This process was carried out by the MCGM in coordination with SPARC. The MCGM posted unofficial letters in Transit Camp asking MCGM PAP residents to submit their documents to SPARC. However, the court had ordered that the tripartite committee carry out the process. A hearing of these PAPs was carried out in the M-East Ward office of the MCGM where eligibility was decided based on the documents provided by SPARC. These hearings were also influenced by SPARC as many residents with all the required documentation were declared encroachers, as they did not figure in SPARC’s list of eligible residents. Our interviews with many other groups of residents showed us that the figure of 434 MCGM PAPs is a deflated figure also generated by current representatives of SPARC in the space.

In 2008, SPARC was declared the nodal agency for MGPY. Ideally they should have immediately declared all the pavement dwellers brought to the transit camp in anticipation of MGPY beneficiaries of the scheme, and provided those residents with documentation that confirmed the same. Instead of completing that task however, they started requesting the MCGM for tenements in R&R colonies (particularly Natwar Parekh). MCGM on the other hand should have themselves taken responsibility of families shifted from municipal roads, instead they left the task to SPARC. Multiple letters sent by SPARC requesting MCGM to provide tenements for 77 E-Ward pavement dwellers to MCGM ascertain that the MCGM did not provide proper tenements to SPARC for rehabilitating pavement dwellers. Additionally, SPARC made no formal attempt to make them official beneficiaries under the MGPY. 

Despite the fact that there continue to remain constant changes in the residential makeup of the space, at present residents can largely be classified as belonging to one of these four categories: 

  1. MUTP II PAPs that are yet to be allotted permanent tenements (roughly 25-50 families)
  2. Pavement dwellers shifted by SPARC (eligible under MGPY) (roughly 500-550 families)
  3. PAPs subsequently shifted from other MCGM and MMRDA development projects  (roughly 250- 300 families)
  4. Families brought in by SPARC on humanitarian grounds. (roughly 25-50 families)

 

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