Claiming Urban Space For The Poor: Eviction Stories From Navi Mumbai

Baltu Bai Nagar
Baltu Bai Nagar

Some 350 years ago people came from far west to make us ‘civilised’, because we were a potent market for them to be exploited. And now, they are trying to make us ‘Smart’, because they feel we are ready to move from mere civilisation to smart civilisation. This is from where rises the dilemma of becoming smart and defining what smartness is actually? This smartness begins from technology and ends at eviction of Urban poor. The Neo-liberal planning shift for the growth and Urbanisation has meant that evictions in cities have become a common phenomenon. It can be done for beautification, redevelopment, cleanliness, infrastructural development or other Urban Development Activity. Sometimes evictions are also done for the safety, security and well being of the residents in slums but these are very less in number. According to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, general comment No. 7 (1997) on the right to adequate housing: “Evictions are the permanent or temporary removal against the will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection.” With the advent of Urban Rejuvenation and Transformation Programmes like PMAY, SBM, Smart City, AMRUT etc. the fear of evictions has increased manifold. It raises the concern of access and control over Space. A space which is central to the Urban Politics, Urban Sociology and Urban Economics. A space which has made cities, an engine of growth. The Labour and its relation with space, A manager and its relation with space and Government and its relation with space. Government has control over space, the Manager or Market has affordability of space but the labour or the poor are denied even the access of space.

Politics of Space

Tata Nagar
Tata Nagar

Evictions in Cities should be viewed  in 3 essential criteria ‘Politics of Space’, ‘Politics of Legality’ and ‘Politics of Cleanliness’. Space is the most important Urban phenomenon and it fuels the New Urban Politics as Ipsita Chatterjee puts in her famous work “Displacement, Revolution and the New Urban Condition”, Someone somewhere must move and hence produce space for someone else. This is where the politics of space brings in Eviction. As has been the case of Tata Nagar Slum in Navi Mumbai. The slum is situated near the Konkan Bhavan which is near Kharghar and Belapur. It is a prime location and CIDCO (City and Industrial Development Corporation) in association with NMMC (Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation) are planning to make a Library on that site. Also, there is a Metro Project being developed on the very site and work on the site is almost completed. People of Tatanagar, some 200 households mainly belonging to Scheduled Castes and Buddhism have insisted the authorities to allow them to live there as their livelihood is connected to the place. Most of the people in slums are Daily wage labourers, and Labour produced itself through space. Where do we see a ‘space’ in understanding the relationship between justice and rights. What are Spaces? A Right or Justice?

Tata Nagar
Tata Nagar

There’s a concept of Spatial Justice, which has been developed to understand the interaction of societies and spaces in relation with social justice. What is meant by a slum evicted? A cleaning process or clearing up space or diminishing poverty or erasing poor from the landscape? A whole of everything. Also the accountability of one authority over land has not been fixed in the area of Navi Mumbai. There is one land owning agency CIDCO but there are three agencies which simultaneously work on the issue of Land here, NMMC. CIDCO and Panvel Municipal Corporation (PMC), along with villages which were situated here before CIDCO procured the land also claim the ownership of land here. The residents of Tata Nagar who have resided under the aegis of Ghar Hakk Sangharsh Samiti (GKSS) and other Community Based Groups against eviction claims that if they do not stop fighting even they will lose their lives in coming days. Space: The reason for threat to life. Library. A civilised and educated citizen of Smart city.


Politics of Legality

“There has been no demolition in past 2 decades or so, but in last 4 months they have come thrice and tried to evict us. There has been 3 demolitions, the first where (March 18, 2017) they gave us a notice, but in previous two instances (April 18 and June 7) there was none. They came with 2 Bulldozers, 3 policemen also consisting of women officers and CIDCO watchmen on June 7th, 2017. They demolished almost everything, if anyone resisted they dragged and beat them.” Recalls Sugandha Bai (Name Changed, on request), a resident of Baltu Bai Nagar who has spent more then 20 years here. Most of the residents in the community have Ration Card, Voter Identity Cards, Gas Connection and even Adhaar Cards, on the basis of which they claim that they are the genuine citizen of city. Also, they have identity cards which shows that they have been living here from and before 2000 which is the Cutoff year for the rehabilitation of slum dwellers in Mumbai. This forms the second contestation or criteria, The Politics of Legality. Who is the legal resident at a place? If they possess the essential Identity Cards of being Citizen and passing all the Means Test for the Basic Services, then how could they be encroacher of state land? Residents had to live under sky for 3 days before shifting under a flyover due to heavy rain on the night of June 10th. A resident of Baltu Bai Nagar claimed that there are bigger politics behind this eviction. She says that the social relations of residents at Baltu Bai Nagar is getting worse. There used to be a cohesive environment here, before the ‘Sanskaar Sabhas’ (Like Shakhas) began to take place in near by locality. Children and youth began to go to the Sabhas which are organised to teach the ethical ways of living and good behaviour along with Love for the Nation and Religion. After the introduction of these Sabhas the situation has become worse, the neighbourhood communities have begun to dislike us. Even there has been wide and explicit segregation on the grounds of Caste, Origin and Religion. People from Jharkhand and People from Maharashtra have begun to dislike each other. People in neighbourhood communities call our children, give them something and if our children take those things they call Police claiming that the child has stolen things. On such grounds they are demanding our slum to be transferred from here.


The case of Baltu Bai Nagar is very different to understand as it is situated near the railway tracks and they claim that never have any railway officials asked them for anything. They are living here from the time when it used to be a village and most of the residents especially migrants from Jharkhand used to pay rent (Of Rs 300 to 500 per month) to villagers. CIDCO procured the land from villagers to develop it but there has been no such development work here as of now even after 20 years of its formation. The question of legality is haunting the residents of slum. They have been assured by their MLA that there will be no demolition but in a vain. Residents are daily wage labourers and domestic help in near by Income Tax Colony. According to Government Resolution (GR) of Maharashtra, No Residential structure can be or threaten to be demolished in the Monsoon from May 31st to September 30th. So this demolition can also be categorised as violation of GR. The question of legality associated with slums is very old and persistent. There are no proper categorisation of slums in Mumbai like Delhi or other Union Territories. The Census 2011 has defined the slums and it has come out with three categorisation of slums; Notified Slums, Recognised Slums and Identified Slums. Most of the slums in Mumbai qualify the definition of Identified slums with their population exceeding 300 and 60-70 households of poorly built congested tenements, in un-hygienic environment usually with in- adequate infrastructure. Still, some of them are not recognised and acknowledged by any statute or Government acts. These are mere game of definitions which shape the politics of legality for slums leaving them in acute distress.


The Politics of Cleanliness

The world continues to be more urban, urbanise, modernise, leaving behind the myths and attachments for making cities centre of all economic activities. As cities are becoming tall, imposing, beautiful, advance, and green at the same time interstitial, marginal and exclusionary. A common picture of city by its influential dwellers showcases the landscapes with malls, multi storied buildings, traffic system, Sports complexes, Movie Theatres, Parks, Jogging Hubs, and Parking facilities. They never imagine of having a slum or squatters in a city. It suppresses a section of identity in the cities, the one which works informally for this influential and ever aspiring middle, upper middle and elite class of cities. It formulates the politics of cleanliness. The much anticipated and sought after Swacch Bharat Abhiyan is a prime example of how do we look at the Cleanliness. The perception towards cleanliness has shaped our cities into eliminating the elements which create filth and dirt rather eliminating filth itself. The case of Indore should be looked in. There were 3 communities evicted just before the evaluation of Best Cities in Swacch Bharat Mission as they couldn’t meet the target of installing Community Toilets on time. Eventually, Indore was ranked first in the list. The politics of cleanliness is even dangerous when State tries to eliminate the communities on the basis of it. On the morning of June 14th, residents of Anand Nagar, near Turbhe got notice from Central Railways office at Mankhurd for vacating the land in a week. The reason in the notice was provided as Safety of Railway Tracks and Cleanliness. It is a railway land and it must be discussed under the National Policy On Resettlement And Rehabilitation for Project Affected Families-2003. Ghar Hakk Sangharsh Samiti intervened into the matter and wrote a letter on the humanitarian ground and with the reference to GR on eviction to put a stay on the eviction till Monsoon. The residents of Anand Nagar are called Masan Jogis, migrated from Andhara Pradesh and Karnataka, they are mostly indulged in begging.


There are rampant eviction happening in parts of Navi Mumbai, Indore and other cities who have been brought into the first list of Smart Cities. Houses have been demolished in Ambujwadi Slum near Malad, near Bandra, at Panchsheel Nagar near Belapur and several others. Lands should be cleared for the cities to becomes more beautiful so that it can attract more and more investors. Lets’ wait for the time we promote our civilisation to Smartness. There has been 300 years now, or so, and World want us to become smart now.

Ankit Jha: I am a Social Worker at Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) and has done Masters in Social Work from Delhi School of Social Work, University of Delhi. I was a founding member of Ambedkar Memorial Lecture Committee at DSSW and Co-editor of I write on the issue of Land Rights and Forest Rights.

Mail: [email protected]

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