Despite the Behrampada collapse, in which six children died and five were injured, several political parties are focusing on maintaining their vote banks — slum dwellers — ahead of the civic elections. Ruling partners, the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have been at loggerheads over the issue. The Shiv Sena demanded that civic Chief Ajoy Mehta stop demolishing structures higher than 14 ft. The BJP opposed this, saying Mehta should not be pressured as he is only doing his duty.
While a majority of those who vote for the Congress, Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Samajwadi Party reside in various slum pockets of Mumbai, the BJP and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) are not looking to woo the slum population, and have thus opposed the Shiv Sena’s proposal in the standing committee meeting held on Wednesday. Mehta said ground-plus-four or five storey structures should be demolished immediately, as they are unsafe for habitation.
“I have instructed officials to see that no further vertical extension is carried out in the city. Immediate action should be carried out by officials. If they fail to do this, ward officials will be held responsible. There were two serious incidents that cost the lives of many,” said Mehta.
The Congress demanded that the height of such structures be increased. NCP leaders said action should not be taken against slum dwellers. The MNS stuck to its Marathi Manoos campaign and said the slums have been extended by various outsiders, and thus should be demolished.
“Ground plus one structures should not be touched as various citizens’ families are growing and they need more space. A blanket demolition should be stopped,” said Trushna Vishwasrao, leader of the house and Sena corporator.
“The civic chief is doing his duty and carrying out demolition against illegal structures. He should not be pressured by anyone,” said Manoj Kotak, BJP group leader.
“Why is the Shiv Sena proposing this right before elections? Such structures should be demolished as outsiders are coming to Mumbai and encroaching upon space,” said MNS group leader, Sandeep Deshpande.
It was the Behrampada collapse incident that intensified the demolition drive, which was to be carried after monsoon, against the illegal vertical extension of slums across the city. Demolition instructions were also issued by Mehta in June, following a fire that broke out in a congested slum area of Juhu Galli in Andheri (West), in which nine members of a family were killed. Civic sources said political interference had led to a delay in taking action against haphazard vertical growth.
Demolitions were carried out at M east ward (Govandi), where there was serious resistance from locals. The police force helped the civic body continue their job. A demolition drive was also carried out at L ward (Kurla). The railway authorities and the civic body will jointly demolish various ground-plus-three or four storey structures at Behrampada, said officials.
“Why such isolated action against slums? A fire broke out in a high rise on Tuesday, will the civic body consider taking action against high rises using police force too?” said Rais Shaikh, Samajwadi Party corporator.