PUCL Bulletin, February 2005

Letter to the Afternoon Despatch & Courier, Copy to PUCL Bulletin

Plight of pavement and hutment dwellers in Mumbai

-- By M. A. Rane, PUCL Mumbai

Sir, Kudos to your senior Columnist Tavleen Singh for highlighting the plight of the Pavement and Hutment dwellers in Mumbai consisting 60% of the city’s, Population in her column titled “The other side of Shanghai dreams” (ADC 23rd Dec).

During her visits to Mumbai she found a young street boy sleeping on the footpath at Marine Drive near the AIR India Building in shabby clothes and hungry. As a good Samaritan she persuaded a street vendor selling idlis to feed the boy and other children with idlis regularly, for which she promised to pay him.

When she recently visited Mumbai she found that all the street boys and the idli vendor were forcibly evicted from Marine Drive by the Police, pursuant to the Government policy to convert Mumbai into Shanghai. She called the concerned Police Inspector Bhagwat and asked why he was harassing these poor people. Bhagwat replied “They were cooking in the street... and do everything in the street which is against the law”. When she asked him “Where should they go?” the officer gave a callous reply “I do not know and do not care”. My orders are to get them out of here.

To those in power, the rich and the upwardly mobile middle classes, who are the sole beneficiaries of the economic boom, the pavement and hutment dwellers are an eyesore and a blot in Mumbai. These poor people migrate to Mumbai from rural areas to earn a living, as they have no jobs in the villages. In Mumbai they cannot afford a shelter like the privileged classes and therefore live in hutments or on pavements.

This reminds me of the first PIL we filed in the Bombay High Court on behalf of the PUCL Mumbai Branch to protect such unfortunate people in July 1980, when the then C.M., A.R. Antulay secretly planned to evict pavement dwellers on the Tulsi Pipe Road and hutment dwellers in Kamraj Nagar living on the land adjoining the Western High Way. We drafted the PIL hurriedly when the unfortunate people were being removed in S.T. Bus to Solapur or Jalgaon. Fortunately we had a kind hearted Judge like Justice Lentin before whom the PIL could be moved at 4.p m. Looking out at the heavy, down pour, the Judge remarked “Why were they evicting those poor and helpless people in this wretched weather?”.

He granted us interim stay and directed the Government and the BMC to bring back the people and rehabilitate them in their humble destroyed dwellings by reconstructing them pending the Monsoon. The PIL was ultimately taken to the Supreme Court, who held that the people had no right to squat on pavements or open lands, but they should not be evicted without giving them a reasonable notice.

The issue involved is not a legal one, but one of doing justice to the poor and the underprivileged. The authorities are under a legal obligation to provide gainful employment to the jobless people, in the rural area so that the tide of migration to cities can be stemmed. It is also their duty to provide affordable shelter to the poor people in the cities. The Supreme Court has held that the Right to Work and the Right to affordable shelter are Fundamental Rights under our Constitution. Yours faithfully, M.A. Rane, Advocate, Mumbai,
24th December 2004


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