A face-off between the BMC and residents of Sion Koliwada ended in a stalemate on Thursday, after police had to resort to lathicharge to control the crowd gathered to protest against civic action on 25 buildings in the area.
Residents had started gathering on the streets on Thursday morning in anticipation of civic officials, who were scheduled to cut off electricity and water supply to the 25 buildings deemed dilapidated by the municipal corporation.
Around 9 am, Additional Municipal Commissioner Keshav Ubale of F-North ward, along with a dozen civic officials and close to 50 policemen, arrived in the area accompanied by four cranes and bulldozers.
The officials, however, met with staunch opposition from residents who tried to deter them from proceeding. The protesters, both men and women, raised anti-BMC slogans and demanded justice.
Since the court had earlier asked residents to submit an undertaking indemnifying the BMC and state in case the buildings collapsed, some of the locals visited the BMC office with a signed undertaking today morning.
However, the BMC refused to stall the action till the undertaking was presented in the court and it ordered a stay. Since residents were unable to submit the undertaking to the court, officials started preparing for the task at hand.
By afternoon, near thousand locals had gathered and more cops had to be called to maintain law and order. The protest, which had been non-violent since morning, quickly took a u-turn after a lathicharge by 80-100 policemen.
“A handful miscreants had started threatening the civic officials. When they began provoking others and the situation seemed to be going out of control, we had to resort to lathicharge,” a constable who was on the spot told Local Press Co on the condition of anonymity.
The residents, however, claim that the lathicharge was completely uncalled for.
“We have been living here since decades. We have the right to protest if we have been wronged by the BMC. At no point did any of us resort to violence. The cops started assaulting us when they saw that the supporters were growing in numbers,” said H.Bansal, a local who had been on the scene since 7 am.
At least five women and 15 men sustained injuries in the lathicharge. Reportedly, five cops were also injured.
BJP MLA Tamil Selvan had arrived on the spot prior to the lathicharge and tried to stop officials from disconnecting the electric and water supply. But, he was escorted away from the scene by Zone IV DCP N Ambika and ACP Ashok Satpute, who were also present.
After the lathicharge, Selvam released a video blaming the Ubale for his high handedness and sought an FIR against him.
While the action was called off for the day, the respite for locals is temporary and short lived at best.
Note: This is a developing story and more details will be added as they become available.
After the partition in 1947, thousands of predominantly Sindhi and Punjabi refugees migrated to the country. The government, in a bid to provide them basic accommodation, allotted them land for housing purposes.
A sizable chunk of the migrated population had settled on land allotted by the Central Government in GTB Nagar, Sion Koliwada.
Over a period of time, the occupants were given the deed of conveyance, which gave them ownership of the flats they were living in. They could sell or rent the flats to a third party by transferring the conveyance rights.
As of today, the population of Punjabi Colony, as it is commonly referred to by locals, has swelled to around 10,000.
Over the last decade, the BMC has identified at least 25 buildings, all of them half a century old, in the refugee camp which are in a dilapidated condition. The civic body has repeatedly tried to get the residents to evacuate the buildings, but to no avail.
The locals meanwhile are stuck in a limbo since unlike other refugee camps, where the land was allotted by the state, the land on which the families in Sion Koliwada are residing was allotted by the centre.
As a result, the state cannot enforce redevelopment till the ownership is transferred. What makes the whole proposition all the more tricky is that despite the centre’s consent, the state will still need to iron out a few issues before redeveloping.
According to a BMC official, some residents have managed to enter into a contract with builders for redevelopment, while others are yet to do so. A majority of residents have also added illegal extensions to their houses.
The locals have also declined to move to transit camps and instead demanded rent payment or accommodation in a transit camp in the same area.
Back in 1996, when the BMC had allowed a private contractor to undertake partial redevelopment, the project was marred in controversy over alleged corruption. A probe was ordered to look into the allegations, but nothing came out of it.
Since the last decade, the civic body has been sending notices to residents of 25 dilapidated buildings like clockwork. It has resorted to disconnecting the water/power supply and sending demolition notices, but it has done little to deter the residents.
The locals had even thwarted the BMC’s attempt at evicting them before the start of monsoon last year. Later, in December, when officials from F-North ward actually managed to disconnect the supply of three buildings, BJP MLA Tamil Selvan intervened and got officials to reinstate the connections.
More notices were served in March this year, following which residents approached the court for a stay; but failed to get any relief.
Edits: The number of locals present, injured individuals and policemen have been changed based on new information.