Most of us are filled with awe at the sight of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link and the sweeping Bandra Reclamation flyover; a closer look around the place, however, will definitely change our opinion. The Nargis Dutt Nagar slums have encroached the area near Ali Yavar Jung Marg, which connects the Reclamation flyover to the Sea Link and the Western Express Highway.
The slum dwellers first started pitching their hutments here in the early 90s. At that time,there were only 10 to 15 shanties, which used to be demolished every now and then. Now, the number of shanties has increased substantially.
Mushrooming all around
Anil Joseph, chairman, Perry Road Residents’ Association, says, “Our association had taken up this issue with the authorities; we had persuaded the chief minister to issue an order for the demolition of these slums. That was back in 2012. now, the slums are back and they have expanded further. These slums have been surviving here for decades and this is possible due to the backing of politicians, for whom, the slums are vote banks.”
The slum dwellers are now extending their shanties vertically to form second and third storeys, as they are being concretised. Entire footpaths, on both sides of Ali Yavar Jung Marg, have been taken over by the slum dwellers. Besides building shanties, they have set up food stalls and dumped garbage here. To make it worse, children use portions of the footpath to defecate and debris has been dumped on the road.
Safety and security
Anandini Thakoor, chairperson, H-West Federation, says, “The condition is frightening as children run helter-skelter on the roads and can get hurt by passing vehicles. Add to this, security is a major issue here, as nobody knows what happens here or who lives in the slums.” Due to the lack of proper census, nobody has any information about the slum dwellers, where they work, or what their background is. The level of hygiene here is also very low, thereby directly affecting their health, especially that of children.
These illegal encroachments also affect the lives of the residents living nearby. People, who pass this area at night, find it rather unsafe; there have been unreported incidents of people getting robbed here.
Prashant Sapkale, assistant municipal commissioner, H-West ward, says, “Regarding the Nargis Dutt Nagar slums, a lot of coordination is required between MSRDC, the police and the ward if we have to demolish it. We are working towards it.”
St Elias High School, a well-known school in Khar, has been facing encroachment issues for almost three decades now. Starting from Khar 20th Road, the shanties extend all the way from the school’s gate number 2 till the entrance of St Vincent de Paul Church on Ambedkar Road. Dolphy D’Souza, spokesperson, Save Our Land, says, “The way these illegal constructions have taken place is unacceptable. We had met assistant municipal commissioner (H-West), Prashant Sapkale, but received little help. These hutments are built on storm-water drains due to which the drains have not been cleaned for several years.”
To add to the woes of the school, these shanties have recently been concretised, using the walls of the school and the church as support on one side. This poses a safety hazard to around 2,500 school students, who have no space to walk.
The slum dwellers here are quite violent and openly threaten people. When someone from the school spoke to the press about the concretisation issue, around 10 slum dwellers barged into the school and questioned the authorities. Similarly, when our photojournalist went to take shots of the encroached area, she was intimidated by the slum dwellers—a group of 15 women harassed her, aggressively questioned and threatened her, and even made her delete the pictures.
Sapkale says, “We have been working towards resettling these slum dwellers by giving them alternative accommodation. However, the procedure includes verification of submitted documents, so it is going to take at least six months to shift them to their new accommodation.”