Ashok Chaurasia (49) shudders every time he looks at his roof. His fears multiply during the monsoon — each shower brings with it the fear of the collapse of his crumbling chawl, Rambha Bhavan at Pydhonie.
“We know the building can fall like a pack of cards and that we might die,” said Chaurasia, who lives with six other family members in a 250 sq ft house. “But do we have a choice? Where can we go?” he said.
Chaurasia’s angst finds an echo in each of the 24 buildings, housing 885 people, declared dangerous and unfit to stay in by the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA).
On Monday, Mumbai Guardian Minister Jayant Patil visited four such buildings, urging residents to move to MHADA transit camps. If they don’t, they will be forcefully evicted. “I understand their problems and I’m ready to help, but they should move out,” said Patil. “Nothing is more precious than life and property. We will not hesitate to use force if needed.”
Mumbai has 16,378 buildings — 13,000 of which were constructed before 1940 and 378 between 1941 and 1969 — which have been declared dilapidated by MHADA. Before each monsoon, they are inspected and a list of extremely dangerous buildings drawn up. Residents of these buildings are asked to evacuate and move to transit camps while their buildings are repaired.
But residents are reluctant to shift. Since the buildings are in South Mumbai, shifting to transit camps in the distant suburbs is a major problem. Also, MHADA’s track record is not inspiring — residents of dilapidated buildings have been languishing in transit camps for years.
“If we shift to transit camps, we will never be able to return to our homes,” said Jayshree Malkani, a resident of Maru Bhavan at Kalbadevi, which was declared dangerous.
However, Minister of State for Housing Sachin Ahir said residents have nothing to fear. “MHADA has changed. We will ensure there is no injustice.”
Another factor is lack of trust between landlords and tenants. “The landlord is living comfortably while we suffer. He neither allows us to repair the building nor redevelop it,” said Jasuben Thakkar, another resident of Maru Bhavan.