The Case Of Golibar
By Chatura Rao
07 February, 2011
What will you do if the bulldozers smash your homes? Do you have a plan to save your belongings and your children?
There is no plan, the women reply, but to stand before the bulldozers. We have prepared the children… We will die to save our homes. Or kill to save our homes. There is no other plan.
When they came, MHADA’s demolition squad were “given protection” by around 300 police personnel. The women of Ganesh Krupa Society, Golibar, sang the national anthem, chanted slogans, and waved the Indian flag. Gandhian Medha Patkar appealed to the MHADA officials to consider leaving the people’s homes standing. She and the women were pushed down, dragged and forced into the waiting police vans. The residents of Ganesh Krupa Society who had spoken up for his or her rights were individually picked up by the police people in plainsclothes.
Ganesh Krupa society and neighbouring communities, in the middle of a working-day afternoon, fell deathly quiet. The media was cordoned off. Only police and SRA officials went into the Society to deal with the scattered, frightened family members inside. “People are being beaten up, their belongings are being thrown out, and in some cases, shifted summarily into the Shivalik Ventures’ transit camp,” reported an advocate from the Human Rights Law Network. “All this without making the panchnamas. The police are trying to force people to accept rent cheques from the builder and to sign their acceptance of the builder’s proposal. We are going to lodge a complaint with the Commissioner of Police.”
In Khar east, Mumbai, is a 140-acre slum called Golibar, second largest to Dharavi. It occupies the area between the local train track and the Western Express Highway. About 3kms from the domestic airport, it is situated on prime property in a city where, proverbially, land is gold. Golibar has been in existence for over sixty years. The early residents settled the land when it was unclaimed and marshy. Many of the present residents have been born and raised here. They are employed in the service sector that fuels the economy of this vast city.
Golibar’s 46 societies are slated to be demolished under the Slum Rehabilitation Act (SRA) to make way for a project called Santa City. According to the rules of the SRA, slum-dwellers appoint or approve a builder. 70 percent consent is mandatory.
In the eye of the storm, here, is Ganesh Krupa Society. In 1996, Ganesh Krupa Society was declared a slum for rehabilitation purposes. A year later the Society paid property assessment tax of Rs. 5 lakh and the households gained a legal foothold on their land.
In 2003, as part of MHADA’s Slum Rehabilitation Scheme, the residents of Ganesh Krupa Society signed an agreement with Madhu Constructions to develop their land. Out of 323 members, 283 were deemed eligible for rehabilitation. In 2004, Madhu Constructions got a Letter of Intent (LOI) from the SRA, for redeveloping Ganesh Krupa Society.
On March 2, 2008, Madhu Constructions entered into an agreement with Shivalik Ventures. So Shivalik Ventures was to now redevelop Ganesh Krupa Society. The residents say that they never tendered the 70 per cent mandatory consent to Shivalik Ventures and were shocked when, on January 1st 2010, they were served an eviction notice. “Through RTI petitions, we discovered that our signatures had been forged on the consent letter,” says Ajit Gaonkhadkar, the head of the Society’s committee. The signatures were supposedly taken at a General Body Meeting in February 2009. Any such GBM is supposed to have a Registrar of Societies present. There was no such person present, even on paper.
“With increasing globalization, private players are being vested with what would otherwise be the government’s responsibility of developing Low Income Group housing,” explains Amita Bhide, Chairperson, Centre for Urban Planning and Governance, Tata Institute of Social Sciences . “The responsibility of facilitating the process must lie squarely on MHADA. It is supposed to be protecting the interests of the slum-dwellers.”
“Ganesh Krupa society, by majority, passed a general body resolution to join in Shivalik Ventures’ rehabilitation project,” refutes Kiran Jadhav, COO of Shivalik Ventures. “Ganesh Krupa, though formed in 1994, had obtained sanction of SRA in 2004, nominating Madhu Constructions as their developer. They later forced their developer to forge a joint venture in 2009 with Shivalik Ventures, because of Shivalik’s excellent rehabilitation record.”
This list of consent signatures include one (in English) of an illiterate woman who had died in 2005! Even after approaching all authorities, there was no enquiry. So on 18 February 2010, the residents went to the Nirmal Nagar Police Station, Khar east, to file an FIR which the police refused to register. The case went to the High Court in September and the judge instructed the police to file the FIR. Finally this was done on Sep 19, 2010.
The police kept postponing recording statements of the complainants and the process took an entire month. They are still in the process of recording statements of the other party and no arrests have been made in spite of one offence being non-bailable.
Explains advocate and ex-IPS officer, Y.P. Singh, “At first the FIR did not contain the builders’ names – the big names behind this scam – so it was not going to be a focused investigation. We had to approach the Court to direct the police to include these. Ninety days have passed but the accused have not been charge-sheeted. When the charges are so serious and clearly provable, the accused should be arrested and custodial interrogation must be done, so that the people behind this can be exposed. But in a case like this, there is extraneous pressure at work, so the police is dragging its feet on it.”
“The case is under investigation,” says Senior Inspector Bagade of the Nirmal Nagar Police station, guardedly. The residents have now filed a Writ Petition asking for the investigation to be completed. If the forgery case is proved, the SRA will have to revoke the Letter of Intent it granted to the builder.
The residents of GKS had filed a civil case protesting that 70 per cent had not appointed Shivalik Ventures, and that they had not attended any General Body Meeting of the Society on 7th February 2009. The judgement was delivered on September 21st, 2010. It said: ‘We find that out of 320 tenements in the concerned slum, as many as 167 tenements have been demolished and occupants have already been shifted to temporary alternate accomodation. Therefore no useful purpose will be served by allowing the petitioners to raise any dispute about the meeting which was held on 7th February 2009.’ And so the High Court put aside the issue of the meeting where mandatory consent had had to be obtained. It went on to rule in favour of Shivalik Ventures.
On November 14th 2010, a thousand residents, wearing black gags over their mouths, and carrying placards, took out a silent protest march. Then on November 25th, thousands gathered to hear Medha Patkar of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) urge them to insist on their right to a fair deal on the scheme. A few days later, a contingent from Golibar presented a letter outlining the crisis, signed with their own blood, to the Chief Minister at the Nagpur Adhiveshan, the winter session of the Maharashtra Lok Sabha.
On February 6th, 2011, a mass rally was organised by the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan. Over 4,500 people from Golibar and other slums across the city attended it. A People’s Inquiry Commission into Shivalik Ventures’ activities was instituted. The panel comprises Chief Justice of Supreme Court (Retd) Justice Suresh Hosbet, architect Chandrashekhar, writer Vidyadhar Date, filmmaker Ashok Pandit and academician Amita Bhide.
As a result of the intense stand-off, Ganesh Krupa Society that comprised 323 homes is now down to 143. For the past few days, the families had been not cooking, not sleeping, not sending their children to school, risking their jobs to stand guard at the entrances to their Society, to resist the demolition team that threatened to come everyday.
This cheerful, working-class neighbourhood is, today, in shambles. Tense and sad, the people are trying to put together the pieces of a working-class life. But the symbols and slogans of resistance remain painted on every unbroken wall.
(With additional inputs from Ashutosh Pathak)
An artist who lives in Ganesh Krupa Society making the stencil of resistence.
Photo/ Ashutosh Pathak