In Focus

Mahul protesters refuse to return to ‘hell’

A Draft Correspondent | Mumbai

On December 16, the protesters, all residents of Mahul, agitating at South Mumbai’s Azad Maidan for a much-delayed implementation of a High Court order to salvage them from the toxic environs of chronically-polluted Mahul were hustled away by the police and told to move to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Railway Station hundred metres away. “Even then, Fadnavis could travel all the way till Gateway of India in Colaba but couldn’t meet the protestors at Azad Maidan on December 15,” said Mahul resident and agitator Rekha Gadge.

“All of us moved to CST’s Platform No 18 to sleep the night but, owing to an acute constraint of space, others moved onto Platform No 10 and Platform No 11,” said a teary-eyed Mahul home-maker Saroj Jaiswar on the travails faced by the protesting residents. She had been relocated to Mahul from Vidyavihar. “It was the worst night of our lives. A lot of young mothers found it difficult to care for their infant children shivering in the cold of the night but the authorities just couldn’t care less,” she added.

Saroj Jaiswar (left) and Meera Prasad (right) at Azad Maidan in Mumbai

“The police simply watched the children quiver and women huddle up for safety in the night but didn’t offer to locate us in a safe shelter for the night,” rued Mahul-based widow protester Meera Prasad whose 23-year-old daughter Anita has been suffering from a chronic stomach infection ever since they “stepped in Mahul”. Why, even Saroj Jaiswar’s 24-year-old daughter suffered from a platelet shortage issue for months on end while at Mahul where her health deteriorated before she was relocated to Kurla. Owing to her illness, and a spate of leaves from work, she had to give up her job as an engineer in a private firm.

It may be recalled the Bombay High Court on August 8, 2018 had directed the government to shift the Tansa Pipeline Project affected people from the ‘critically’ polluted Mahul to a safe place. An interim report given by Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay following the order of the High Court maintained that staying in Mahul was risky.

“Fadnavis doesn’t have the time to come to meet us and solve our problems despite his own ministers having assured us of the same,” rued Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan activist Bilal Khan. “The CM doesn’t seem to care for the 30,000-odd residents of Mahul facing a life and death situation,” added a belligerent Khan.

Ghar Banao Ghar Bachao Andolan Activist Bilal Khan

Even, Maharashtra’s Environment Minister Ramdas Kadam had written to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis that Mahul was not suitable for human habitation and its residents should be taken out of that area as soon as possible. In December 2015, Mahul had been declared a highly polluted area by National Green Tribunal that maintained there was danger to the health of its residents.

Three days after the Jeevan Bachao Andolan was initiated by the residents of Mahul, on October 30th, MHADA announced 300 houses would be provided to Mahul residents. It was only after Housing Minister Prakash Mehta was gheraoed that the minister agreed to meeting the residents. “In the meeting, he expressed the hope that 5,500 houses of Kurla HDIL could be allotted to the residents of Mahul and promised he will discuss this proposal with the Chief Minister,” said a Mahul resident. “But all of these were only empty promises,” recalls Rekha Gadge.

Rekha Gadge at the Azad Maidan andolan

At Mahul, there are stories of pain and tribulations. Mahul resident and beautician Asha Sonawane has procured a string of infections that have left her physically scarred and unwell. “Even since I landed in Mahul last year I haven’t earned a rupee. I have only been spending on my treatment ever since and had to wind up my beautician business. My son is in the 12th standard and my daughter in the 10th standard and I haven’t been able to pay their tuition fees for the last year too,” she says.

Asha Sonawane comes to Azad Maidan every morning after sending her daughter to school

Mahul resident Sushila Pardeshi, raises slogans against the state administration at Azad Maidan but remains seated all the while. She can’t stand without support as she suffers from an acute uric acid problem affecting her joints. She has to wear tight socks to tackle the pain.

Sushila Pardeshi (centre) sat during the protest despite excruciating pain in her legs

And, Maltidevi has now discovered three cysts in her stomach since the last two months. "Once the andolan ends, I’ll see a doctor…it is getting worse ,” she tells her friend Laltidevi Prajapati.

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