Medha Patkar Voices the Plight of Homeless and BMC’s Apathy as Monsoon Arrives in Mumbai

The most awaited monsoon has knocked the door in Mumbai. Hashtag #MumbaiRains has been on trend with celebration posts accompanied by cheerful photos. Who don’t wait for rains? It is a boon to farmers, healers to everyone who bathe in sweat while commuting in local trains, buses and in the annoying hot wait at traffic. It is also joyous to play various sports during rain and Mumbai knows the best ways to do it, it’s the most awaited time in the year. But rains have been scary at times.

Who can imagine that rains can even prove curse to someone? Rains are a scary ordeal for homeless persons to protect their children and infants, the sick and the aged. It proves risk to their lives. What is important to know that whether the government is bothered to take care of its poorest citizens to ensure them protection from any kind of life risk?

As per census of 2011, there are 57,416 homeless persons in Mumbai.  The guidelines laid down under the National Urban Livelihood Mission of the Ministry of Housing and Urban poverty Alleviation clearly states that there should be a permanent community shelter for every one lakh population. Mumbai has a population of 12,442,373 as per 2011 census. As per the guidelines, there should be at least 124 community shelters. But it seems that neither the Maharashtra Government nor the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai is bothered about risk of life the homeless may face during rains in the absence of any shelter. A response received through an RTI has revealed that there is no shelter built by MCGM as per NULM guidelines and only 7 night shelters are in existence prior to NULM guidelines which do not match the standard inmates capacity.

Mumbai HomelessThe Supreme Court of India and various High Courts have at several occasions clarified that the ‘right to shelter’ is part and parcel of ‘right to life’. This means that denying shelter to anyone is a clear violation of ‘right to life’.

Mumbai, which is a financial capital of the county, has always been a contest for space and accessibility to various services. The recent release of Development Plan of Mumbai has again reignited this discourse and various civil society groups sending suggestions and objections so as to make sure that maximum space remain in public domain and allotted in the interest of people with special focus on poor. In this contest the poor, especially the homeless leg most behind. They are least heard because there is no legislation which ensure them their ‘right to shelter’. This allows Governments to easily shed their responsibly towards its homeless citizens. But there are clear ruling from the Supreme Court which has made it mandatory for the state governments to construct shelter for homeless.

In a latest affidavit filed by Under Secretary to the Government of India, (MHUPA) in the Supreme Court, it is revealed that a total amount of Rs. 15272.72 lakh has been allocated to the Maharashtra state in the current fiscal year to construct permanent shelters. It is startling to know that not a single rupee has been spent so far by the Maharashtra Government.

Prem Kishore Gaikwad, mother of a girl child, in her twenties has been living on pavement since her parent died twenty years back. She clean the gutters throughout the year except rainy season when they switch their job to rag picking. Gaikwad says that “I have built a temporary roof of plastic on the pavement but it leak badly during the rains, so, we move to sleep under the nearby bridge”. Her pavement dwelling along with more than 20 families is located at Santacruz Highway.

The Supreme Court in an PIL filed by People’s Union For Civil Liberties has made it very clear that “The State owes to the homeless people to ensure at least minimum shelter as part of the State obligation under Article 21”.

The Maharashtra Government by not obliging to the ruling is a clear contempt of the apex court as well as violation of ‘right to life’ for which the government must be held accountable and appropriate action be taken.

We urge to the Maharashtra Government as well as the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai to look into the matter with utmost urgency and provide all the possible relief to the homeless living in Mumbai keeping in mind the possible risk to life during rains.

The Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan is planning to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court in August when the related matter is schedule to be coming up.

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Medha Patkar           Bilal Khan      Santosh Thorat          Subadra Kedare        Uday Mohite

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