Despite opposition from local tribals to a proposal by the Maharashtra government slum rehabilitation scheme, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh hinted that it would proceed with the plan.
The government wants to de-reserve a 5,000 square metres plot of land from the Aarey Milk Colony No-Development Zone (NDZ) and convert it into a Muslim cemetery and a residential zone.
Speaking to HT on the sidelines of a seminar on Thursday, Deshmukh explained that there were encroachers staying on government land. When it was pointed out that tribals were staying on that land for ages, the chief minister replied, "The tribals will be rehabilitated in proper houses. By vacating the plots and re-housing the tribals, the state government would then be able to vacate and protect the land freed, " he said.
When questioned on whether or not the local tribals would feel out of place with the 'apartment culture' that was being thrust on them, Deshmukh responded, " In that case, the tribals will have to change their lifestyle."
Tribal activists are upset with Deshmukh's remarks. "The tribals and slum dwellers will not vacate the land they have been staying on for generations and are ready for a confrontation with an insensitive state government.
How can the State try to sell off our land to private builders? Is this a move aimed at funding the forthcoming civic elections?" questioned Vitthal Lad of the Shramik Mukti Andolan.
Lad said it was necessary for the Chief Minister to visit the Aarey Milk Colony and speak to the locals on their objections to the scheme. BJP corporator Ashish Shelar, who first highlighted the issue in the civic improvement committee meeting, too hit out at Deshmukh.
"The chief minister calls adivasis as encroachers while extending the deadline for legalising slums to the year 2000. This is a case of double standards," he added.
Meanwhile, leaders of the BJP-Sena, which controls the improvement committee, said they were not yet decided on whether to oppose the state government's proposal to de-reserve a 5,000 square metres plot of land from the Aarey Milk Colony No-Development Zone (NDZ) and convert it into a Muslim cemetery and a residential zone.
Said Parag Alawani, BJP corporator and group leader in the BMC, "The state first needs to clarify why it wants to turn the land into the residential zone while on the other hand, the Hindu crematorium, which has been sanctioned on a nearby plot of the Aarey milk colony has not been converted into one.
The rules allow for the conversion of a NDZ into a cemetery, provided the BMC does not provide any services there."
Committee Chairperson Sharad Shah-Petiwalla, suggested that the land sanctioned for a Hindu crematorium could also be used for a Muslim cemetery without de-reserving any portion of the No-Development Zone (NDZ).
"We are not opposed to a Muslim cemetery per se, but the idea of using it as a pretext to gradually free up the one of the last green spaces in Mumbai for constructions," he added.
BJP corporators pointed out that the state government could directly de-reserve the land using a section in the Maharashtra Regional Town Planning (MRTP) Act that allows it to bypass the BMC in doing so.
Meanwhile, Congress corporators said the party would find it difficult to oppose the proposal considering the fact that it also includes a plan for a Muslim cemetery and that a Hindu crematorium has already been sanctioned.
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