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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 24, June 4, 2011

Victory of Lokshahi at Golibar

Thursday 9 June 2011, by Suhas Borker

Last Saturday (May 28), at the Golibar slums in the Khar area of Mumbai, Medha Patkar ended her indefinite fast on the 9th day at 1.45 pm by accepting a sip of lemon juice from Akanksha Bai, an 80-year old resident of Ganesh Krupa Housing Society who had herself been in jail for resisting the shun demolition. Medha had not only won a hard-fought battle for the slum- dwellers of Mumbai but also brought into sharp national focus the plight of 93 million Indians who live in the urban slums of the country— more than the combined populations of France and Australia.

According to the 2011 census, the population of Mumbai City is 12,478,447 (1.24 crore or 12.4 million). Around 60 per cent of this population live in slums and that means that one in two Mumbaikars is a slum-dweller. A critically relevant dimension is the space these slum-dwellers together occupy—just six per cent of all land in Mumbai leading to their horrific and abysmal living conditions.

Medha’s indefinite fast was borne out of a long struggle of lakhs of Mumbai’s slum-dwellers for the basic right to a house which had been subverted by corruption and a nexus between the government and builders under the garb of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA).

The SRA authorises private builders to redevelop the slum land. The slum-dwellers are moved into vertical establishments, and the land that is thus freed up, becomes available as a free-sale component in the property market. Privatisation also means that the government is not responsible for maintaining transparency and quality. Since the money to be made from new land sales in Mumbai is extremely high, there is a vicious competition amongst the builders to woo the slum residents.

Moreover, the SRA only authorises a house to those people who can show proof of residence until 1995. It also gives the power of go-ahead to the builder if they can attain approval of 70 per cent of the people in a Society. These two facts are exploited by the builders to practise extortion, fraud and forgery at the ground level, and have become the common practice to lure Societies into signing a deal with them.

A date-based cut-off to the Right to a House, and limited participation of a government agency have made the SRA into a pro-builder scheme.

In these days of LPG (Liberalisation, Privati-sation and Globalisation), you may well ask: but why redevelop slums? Aren’t they illegal in the first place? Today 60 per cent of Mumbai’s population that is, 75 lakhs or 7.5 million, live in slums. Those recognised under the SRA have paid Assessment Tax to the government. The people living here comprise a major part of the people working in the service industry and small-scale industries. Slums are not a result of squatting, but the consequence of a lack of low-cost housing options. The virtual withdrawal of the state from housing development has led to a big gap in demand and supply and the resultant profiteering by the builders has pushed the poor out of the market.

Mumbai’s slum-dwellers have been fighting for their rights since 2004, when vast areas of slums were razed to the ground by the govern-ment “to convert Mumbai into Shanghai”. Like the Adarsh Housing Society scam and the Hira-nandani Developers, land grab, the ‘redevelop-ment’ in Khar Golibar is an example of the extent to which a handful of powerful people can rob the ‘aam admi’ of his basic right to shelter.

THE history of ‘redevelopment’ in Khar Golibar, as narrated by NAPM activists, makes very interesting reading. One hundred and forty acres of land—home to 46 Societies and over 26,000 families—is “literally gifted” to a single private company, Shivalik Ventures, by invoking a special clause—3k—of the SRA. This clause gives a single builder complete rights to redevelop a large slum without inviting tenders.

Soon a small Society of 323 tenements in Golibar—Ganesh Krupa—becomes the flash- point for the struggle between the SRA-builder nexus and the slum-dwellers. Ganesh Krupa slaps a case of fraud and forgery on Shivalik Ventures, the builder that forcefully undertook the rights to their development. Six forced demolition drives over the past year push the Society against the wall and they appeal to Medha Patkar and ‘Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao’ for help.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who takes over the reigns in the wake of the Adarsh Housing Society scam, says, while addressing the Global BITS alumni meet of his alma mater in January 2011, that builders, politicians and bureaucrats have formed “an unholy nexus in Mumbai to sell the city”.

Chief Minister Chavan assures Medha Patkar of an inquiry into the Golibar demolitions, and the larger issue of redevelopment of slums in Mumbai. In April 2011, along with Medha, a large 10,000-strong delegation from different slums in Mumbai march to Azad Maidan to raise the issue of redevelopment. But nothing moves. On May 19, the police and Collector’s men enter Ganesh Krupa and set the bulldozer to work razing the Society tenements. This continues on the next day. An indefinite fast is now the only alternative left, says Medha and she starts her fast for justice on May 20 itself.

Here, some background details on the Ganesh Krupa Society, taken from NAPM sources, should be given. The Society is declared a slum in 1997. A rehabilitation scheme is approved and M/s Madhu Construction Company, to which the slum-dwellers are amenable, is given the project. The Slum Rehabilitation Authority issues a Letter of Intent bearing No. SRAIENG/819/HE/PULOI dated October 3, 2004 in favour of Madhu Constructions; however due to financial constraints and pressure from big companies, Madhu Constructions is not able to undertake the project and subsequently enters into a joint venture agreement with Shivalik Ventures Pvt. Ltd. on March 3, 2008. This is done without the knowledge of the slum-dwellers. Shivalik Ventures now forges documents to procure the Letter of Intent bearing No. SRA/ENG/1188/HE/ML/LOI dated August 20, 2009. The crucial resolution dated February 7, 2009 of the Society approving of and giving consent to the company to carry out the development itself is fabricated by Shivalik Ventures. However, relying on the fraudulent document and consequential actions, Shivalik succeeds in obtaining favourable orders from the Courts and begins forcible and illegal demolition of houses in the slum. Fortyeight houses are demolished in January 2011. The flashpoint is reached when 24 more houses are bulldozed on May 19 and 20.

NOW what is Shivalik Ventures? The NAPM says that Unitech owns 50 per cent of the shares of Shivalik Ventures Pvt. Ltd. citing its website and Annual Report 2009-10. The Annual Report 2009-10 of Unitech further provides under the heading “Capital Commitment” that: “Invest-ment in 10,00,000 equity shares of Rs 10 each at a premium of Rs 9990 per share aggregating of Rs 1000 crores has been made in a joint venture company, Shivalik Ventures Pvt. Ltd. An amount of Rs 442.77 crores has been paid against the allotment of fully paid-up shares. The balance securities premium of Rs 557.23 crores will be accounted for on payment.”

Shivalik Ventures, in turn, enters into an agreement of joint venture on March 2, 2008 with M/s Madhu Construction Company to jointly develop the Ganesh Krupa slum at Golibar.

Here NAPM activists highlight the period during which Unitech enters into redevelopment of slums in Mumbai since it corresponds to the period during which it illegally secures thousands of crores in the 2G scam. The Director of Unitech has been included in the charge-sheet filed by the CBI and is under arrest. Activists quote from the CAG report to buttress their point further: Unitech after availing the spectrum licence in September-October 2008 for Rs 1658 crores subsequently sold it off to Telenor company at the rate of Rs 6120 crores. According to the CBI, Unitech was alloted Unified Access Service licences in 22 circles for Rs 1658 crores, 60 per cent of which it offloaded to Norway’s Telenor even before the roll-out.

NAPM activists say they are apprehensive that this illegal gratification enjoyed by the company has been diverted and invested in its 50 per cent equity at the Shivalik Ventures Pvt. Ltd. and the same is being channeled into the developmental projects of Shivalik Ventures including the slum projects in Golibar.

MEDHA ended her fast after the government of Maharashtra issued a notification accepting all her demands. Mumbai Suburban District Collector Nirmal Deshmukh came with the notification to the fast site.

Several rounds of talks with the Suburban District Collector Nirmal Deshmukh and State Chief Secretary Ratnakar Gaikwad and represen-tatives of the Ganesh Krupa Society were held. NAPM sources say Aruna Roy, Member, National Advisory Council, spoke to Smt Sonia Gandhi and Chief Minster Prithviraj Chavan, on the demands of the movement and urged them to hold dialogue and resolve the situation at the earliest.

The talks reached a climactic point on Friday evening (May 27) with the intervention of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. In a telephonic conversation with Medha Patkar, the CM assured her of positive developments. This paved way the for decisive talks on Saturday.

As per the agreement, all the demolitions in Golibar area will be halted till the enquiry by constituted committees is complete and action is taken on the recommendations. The 3k clause will also be revoked, thus cancelling all agree-ments between builders and the Slum Redevelop-ment Authority (SRA) for the six projects where 3k has been applied. The government accepted the proposal for 19 plus settlements post-1995 to be declared slums under Maharashtra Slums Act, 1971 within three months. Time restrictions were also imposed on the committees. While the joint five-member committee to look into irregularities of 15 Societies is to submit their report in four months, another three-member committee to look into irregularities in the Ganesh Krupa Society is supposed to submit its report by June 15.

The demands that have been accepted include:

1. Decision regarding declaration of settlements as slum under section 4 of Maharashtra Slum Area Act to be undertaken for improvement as per section 5.

2. A joint meeting involving representatives of Government of Maharashtra, Government of India and ‘Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao’ to discuss implementation of the Rajiv Awas Yojana in Mumbai.

3. Activation of the existing High Powered Committee, chaired by the State Chief Secretary, appointed by the Honourable HC in 2005 meant for reviewing the policies and recommend or suggest new policies related to slum housing to the Government of Maharashtra.

4. A four-member committee, chaired by Justice (Retd) H. Suresh and Simpreet Singh, Satish Gawai and K. P. Bakshi as members, to investi-gate and make recommendations related to Ganesh Krupa, Golibar Society by June 15 to the Government of Maharashtra.

5. A five-member committee, chaired by Justice (Retd) H. Suresh and Sudhakar Suradharkar (a former IPS Officer), Simpreet Singh, S. S. Zende and Swadhin Kshatriya as members, to investigate into 15 SRA and 3k cases of fraud and forgery, including Shivalik Ventures Project, and submit a report by September 30 to the Government of Maharashtra.

The struggle has now to be carried forward to the next level. Medha Patkar has announced a Zameen Haqq Satyagraha from October 2 in Mumbai.

On breaking her fast Medha said: “It is a victory of the lakhs of people fighting for their right to live in the financial capital of India with dignity. The real fight is about the right over land of the poor who make this city what it is. Today the land is being given or grabbed by the builders and influential people like Mukesh Ambani who has built his 27-storey building on the land of Waqf Board. A thirtythree thousand acre land, which was either encroached or is free, is now available after the Land Ceiling Act has been revoked. After 30th September when the work of these Committees would be over, we will launch a Land Haqq Satyagraha in Mumbai to capture government land for the poor people of the city. Our CM Prithviraj Chavan has a bigger battle ahead and against a powerful lobby; if he intends to fight it we are with him, or else we are on the path of struggle and justice and dignity for poor.”

Medha Patkar’s indefinite fast, with wide-spread support of civil society from all across the country, has won justice for the slum-dwellers of Golibar. It was a victory of Lokshahi—people’s power. If Gandhi would have been here today, he may well have given a call to his countrymen to go on an indefinite fast against all-pervasive corruption, injustice and growing inequity.

Suhas Borker is the editor of CFTV News and the Convener, Working Group on Alternative Strate-gies. He can be contacted at suhasborker@gmail.com

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