Years after the forestland issue cropped up in Mulund, residents of the area continue to struggle, while politicians continue to take advantage of it. Rakesh Shetty, national youth wing president, Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), has decided to go on a fast unto death in Nagpur from Wednesday, demanding justice for the slum dwellers on the disputed land.
Large tracts of land in the Mulund-Nahur area on which many residential complexes, offices and malls had come up, and several new constructions were underway, were declared forestland by the Bombay high court in 2005. The court order came after an NGO filed a petition claiming that the area was a forestland prior to 1955. Following the court order, construction of the complexes stopped, leaving people in the lurch. Shetty claims that following the court order, the state government recently carried out a survey of the affected areas, which included 25-30 acres of slums apart from residential complexes. He alleges that the government has declared in the survey that while these residential complexes come under the private forest zone, the slums along their boundaries come under the Sanjay Gandhi National Park zone. Private forestland can be used for residential construction following proper procedures, but national forestland cannot be used for any construction purposes.
The Supreme Court had asked the state government to provide an alternative place to these slum dwellers in Chandivli in lieu of a payment of Rs7,000. Shetty says these people should be allowed to stay in their existing slums, as shifting to Chandivli will affect their livelihood. Those who have been closely following this issue say that it is not possible for the state government to let these slums continue as doing so will be violating the apex court order.
Prakash Padikkal, president, Hillside Residents Welfare Association, has been fighting for the residents’ cause. He says “I would like to emphasise that Mr Shetty is not fully aware of the ground reality. The buildings are absolutely legal, whereas the slum dwellers have illegally encroached upon the national park area. Rehabilitating them is not wrong.”