MUMBAI: Dahisar, the last suburb within Mumbai limits on the western track, primarily needs a comprehensive slum rehabilitation plan to protect its mangroves, free public space and allow affordable housing.
Developers and home buyers are rushing to make R-North ward their address, its greenery the selling point. More than a dozen residential highrises are lined up for completion by end of 2015 and 2016. But in a ward which has 2.8 lakh slumdwellers, more than half of its total 4.3 lakh population (2011 census), slum rehabilitation projects are bound to be the mainstay in the coming years. It will factor in a higher growth rate, say experts, and the civic administration will have to be geared to increase water supply and improve waste disposal. The ward, which has one railway station at Dahisar, is growing at a pace second only to M/East which has two railway stations, Govandi and Mankhurd. While R/North ward has a high satisfaction quotient among residents, civic officials admitted immediate action is essential to preserve its positives.
Ganpat Patil Nagar
The ward's biggest concern is a slum, twice the size of Oval Maidan, called Ganpat Patil Nagar. It stretches for about three kilometres off New Link Road, which is dotted by new highrises on the other side. Spread over nearly 50 acres is what was originally wetlands and mangroves, said activist Harish Pandey. Even corporator Abhishek Ghosalkar, whose constituency includes 11 gardens and open grounds, said the slums have encroached upon CRZ area.
G Sonkar, a resident of the slum for nearly two decades, blames Ghosalkar for stopping new hutments from coming up. Sonkar, originally from UP, who "found his fortune in Mumbai after starting as a nimboo-pani seller in the mid-90s,'' said water often rose to five or six feet in the slums. Landfill by truckloads made sure the slums came up to the road level, he said. In fact, the mud road passing through the slums still feels soft at places.
The BMC said it regularly razes a few hutments, but they return with greater speed. Ward officer S Dhonde said, "Every three months we demolish structures at a distance of 50 metres from the mangroves in Ganpat Patil Nagar. But they come back again. We bring down at least 2,000-3,000 structures in every demolition drive."
Water and power are usually sold through middlemen, with slum-dwellers paying up to Rs 400 per month for three gallons daily and Rs 200 monthly for electricity between 6pm to 6am, said an autorickshaw driver.
"The road is lined with hundreds of autos and tempos at night, which is both a nuisance and a danger, especially for women,'' said Ghosalkar.
"There should be a single-window complaint filing mechanism to report environmental damage through mangrove destruction and dumping of debris,'' said Pandey. "The mangroves are partly on government and private forest land. A complaint about mangrove destruction can be filed only by a talati from the collector's office. Even if a person is caught red-handed, he is eventually let off as no formal complaint is filed,'' he said. Lawyer Mihir Desai said the law needs to be amended and destruction of mangroves must be made a more serious offence. Activists agreed the solution to the slum sprawl is not simple. But while the state plans to rehabilitate the slum in-situ, environment activists, planners and architects say it would be "disastrous'' both for the wetlands and slum-dwellers alike.
Activist-advocate Gayatri Singh, who has represented petitioners in various PILs for mangroves said, "It is imperative to rehabilitate the slums elsewhere.'' In Ganpat Patil Nagar, just 200 of the approximately 8,000 hutments will fit the 1995 cut-off for slum regularisation.
Architect and public space activist P K Das said, "The SRA scheme of individual slum redevelopment is further slumming the city. Nivara Hakk and I submitted a master plan for slum redevelopment to the state government and BMC. It aims to remove slums from eco-sensitive zones and create an affordable housing stock in the city.''
The river, which originates from Sanjay Gandhi National Park and snakes its way across Dahisar West, has long turned into a nullah. Activists said it needs to be cleaned and desilted as it is a health concern.
The ward needs a planned drainage management system said activist Indira Bhende, adding the river cannot be used as a waste deposit outlet. Degradation of the river started in the late 80s, said Bhende, whose family lived there for over six decades before moving to IC Colony. "Sewage pipelines from most buildings in the area open into the Dahisar river. If these pipelines are connected to the main drainage pipe, the issue can be resolved. But this has to be done at the policy-making level where intent appears to be lacking,'' said Bhende. The stench emanating from the river is a health risk too, said local doctors, as noxious fumes are inhaled.
A measure residents can adopt is to stop dumping waste bags in the river, said activists.
Dipen Darpel, a resident of Holy Cross Road, said he recently met R-North ward officer Dhonde along with other residents, to complain about the hawker menace. "We were told it was not possible to remove them immediately as the hawkers were there for generations,'' said Darpel, adding they were assured the BMC was trying to resettle them nearby. Most are temporary stall owners or fish and vegetable vendors who clog the pavements. With increase in private vehicles in the neighbourhood, walking on the roads is dangerous, said residents.
Dhonde said a policy decision on market development has to be taken at top level. He added there were around five market plots in the ward, which have the potential to be developed.
Shubha Raul, corporator from Mandapeshwar, said BMC demolition drives on footpaths brought brief respite but the hawkers return in a few days.
Krishnaraj Rao, an activist, said the BMC should place steel bollards at the entrance of the footpath and use curbstones. "The height of curbstones will dissuade vehicles from parking on footpaths," said Rao. He also suggested the BMC, MMRDA and traffic police should have patrol vehicles to keep track of illegal constructions on footpaths and penalise them.
Traffic is an issue in some parts of the ward, especially outside IC Church and Dahisar station. Yvonne D'Souza from the IC Colony Women's Welfare Association, said, "Parking near near IC Church should be regulated. Traffic police should make the one-way board prominent and also man the road." In fact, 27% of respondents in the TOI-IMRB survey wanted more traffic personnel in the ward.