The homes were in the shadow of Adarsh building whose own demolition has been stayed by the Supreme Court.
The demolition of over 1000 hutments in Mumbai’s Cuffe Parade last week has angered activists who claim that the action of the state’s forest department is ‘prima facie illegal’. “No adequate notice was given to the dwellers and excessive force was used” to bulldoze the hutments, many of them pucca – made of brick – houses. The department’s team was accompanied by policemen who, the activists said, conducted a lathi charge against resisting residents.
A fact finding report of the Committee to Protect Democratic Rights (CPDR) said that many of the residents living here since the 1980s and not only had various documents establishing their identity and proof of address, but had also taken loans to build their hutments. Almost all of the huts have electricity connections and the Municipal Corporation has also given communal water connections. The residents, many from Buddhist and Banjara communities, work in the homes of residents of tony Cuffe Parade as domestic help or as street vendors and taxi drivers. Their children go to neighbouring schools.
The forest department, under whose supervision the demolitions were carried out, had claimed that the hutments stood on mangroves and thus violated court orders to protect mangroves. The residents had been asked in 2015 to submit their documents to verify their identities. But, many of them had lost these in a major fire in 2013 that gutted a large part of the basti. The homes were then rebuilt, often by taking hefty loans.
Ironically, the hutments stand in the shadow of the infamous Adarsh building, which became a monument of official corruption with bureaucrats and politicians getting sea facing apartments at hugely subsidised prices. The Bombay high court had ordered in April 2016 that the 31-storey building be demolished but this was stayed soon after by the Supreme Court.
The residents have been left without homes or belongings, which were thrown among the debris. An activist said they were not allowed to take away anything that belonged to them. The CPDR has demanded compensation for them and also an inquiry into the excessive police force used during the demolition. They have claimed that they got no help from the local municipal corporator or the MLA, both from the BJP.
Photo credits: Javed Iqbal