A statement by Students against Eviction in Agarwadi
Mumbai: On 28th November 2013, Thursday, at around 12 pm the police and the BMC forcefully, violently and without following any procedures evicted more than 100 migrant workers living behind Agarwadi bus stop close to Mankhurd. This eviction with gross human rights violations took place despite a Suo-moto notice being served to the BMC, PWD and the police by the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission, dated 26/11/13. The hearing for which is scheduled on the 13th of December 2013. Without any prior notice, the BMC officials started snatching the people’s property and loading them on to trucks. When the workers and students tried to ask the officials about the matter and requested them not to take away their belongings without any written notice, they were brutally assaulted, beaten up, threatened and verbally abused by the police. A male police inspector Mr. Dilip Thorat assaulted women, children. Then, the police forcefully took around 30 people, including the women and children from the community and 12 students, Vipul, Waqar, Ajmal, Ayushi, Shakti,Tenzin, Siddharth, Alia, Bishal, Sharib, Jenny, Ankur, Pradeep and detained them for around 10 hours at Trombay Police Station. Meanwhile, the BMC officials confiscated the workers’ property, including important documents like Adhaar Cards, Ration Cards and Voter Id cards and set fire to the remaining belongings.
These workers have built the surrounding area including the roads and the compound walls from which they are displaced. The workers have had to face constant threats and abuses including multiple evictions in the past one year. The police just pick up their leader Mr. Ramchandra at odd hours in the night for questioning and interrogation then detains him for no reason and leaves him on deserted roads and highways far from where he lives. Ramchandra says, that he has been detained like this for more than 50 times in the past one year. All of them are migrant workers from the states Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh who came to Mumbai in 1984. They belong to the Buriya Jangam (Karantaka) and Masan Jogi (Andhra Pradesh) communities. They have a Nomadic Tribe status in the state of Maharashtra. Traditionally, the occupations they engaged in were being part of theatre troupes and playing drums during Caste Hindu cremation rituals. After migrating to Mumbai in 1984, they started working at Morarji Mills in Worli. After some years in the mill, they received a contract to construct the compound wall for Children’s Aid Society, the biggest children’s home in Mumbai situated at Mankhurd. The contractor however gave the workers only a partial payment. Thus, they continued to reside within the same compound with the demand to get their due wages. This demand was never met. The workers cleared the area within the compound and made it habitable. They lived within the compound until 2005, when they were again evicted on the grounds of not having any residence proof of pre-1995. They settled on the pavement close to the compound and had been living there since 2005. Then began a series of threats and abuses by the police, BMC and the local residents which intensified around 2011 onwards. On further inquiry, it was clearly found out that a private hotelier wants to build a Banquet Hall on the land behind the pavement. He claims that the people living on the pavement would be a dent on his business as they look ‘ugly’. It is not a coincidence that the eviction threats by the police and BMC and abuses by the hotelier’s men started after he planned his grand Banquet Hall.
On 27th August 2013, a planned eviction took place without any warning or notice. The eviction drive was carried out at 11:00 am by the BMC officials. The workers were orally warned just the day before and were not served any formal notice and did not receive any time to relocate themselves. The next day, the BMC officials sent their demolition staff who forced the people to dismantle their structures- plastic sheets hoisted up by sticks-and confiscated the broken structures of their houses along with all their belongings. Officials also called in the Trombay Police personnel to monitor the demolition and provide protection to the BMC. After the demolition, the officials witnessed and allowed the fencing of the pavement in barbed wires without any delay and potted plants were placed in the name of beautification. Around 10 private security personnel with CCTV camera were also made to guard the pavement along the barbed wire fencing. Around 40 to 50 goons were hired by the private builder to ‘patrol’ the area. Eventually people were forced to settle on the opposite pavement which runs above a drainage pipeline.
A similar illegal eviction drive took place on 18th November 2013 and the workers were displaced from the opposite pavement as well, this time by the PWD. The PWD officials claimed that the pavement belongs to them and that the workers are ‘encroachers’, so the eviction was carried out. However, it is not difficult to guess why suddenly the PWD remembered that this pavement belongs to them. This led to the workers settling themselves along one corner of the Nitu Mandke road which falls between the two aforementioned pavements. Only a few days after the second eviction, they were evicted for the third time from the road with more violence, force and brutality than before. During the third eviction the BMC did not video record the procedure and did not provide any receipt of the goods they confiscated from the people, which is mandatory during any eviction. The BMC has time and again shown is unwillingness to follow the Supreme Court guidelines regarding shelter homes in cities. To the extent that when we approached the BMC authorities, they agreed that they are flouting the Supreme Court’s order and challenged us to sue them.
We, the students, in solidarity with the evicted community from Agarwadi strongly condemn Police brutality and BMC’s Violence against migrant workers in Agarwadi and demand urgent action from BMC and State of Maharashtra on the following:
- Migrant workers should immediately be allotted shelter by BMC according to the workers’ demands and convenience.
- Withdraw the fabricated cases charged against migrant workers and students.
- Compensation for the people whose belongings and documents were burned.
- Action against Mr. Dilip Thorat, Police Inspector Trombay for using force against women and children without any provocation.
- BMC should ensure housing for all the homeless/migrant workers in Mumbai adhering to the Supreme Court guidelines.
- Stop Police brutality and BMC’s violence against migrant workers in Mumbai.
- Above mentioned demands have to be met unconditionally and immediately.