Mumbai: NGO, residents grow forest on plot that once housed illegal shanties

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Dec 29, 2014 18:48 IST

Standing on the foot-overbridge (FoB) in Veena Nagar, Mulund (West), there are two strikingly different views on either side of the FoB that catch your eye. At phase 1 of Veena Nagar, the land adjacent to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) water pipeline is lined with shanties, while a soothing green patch sprawls along the phase 2 end of the pipeline.

This green spot too would have fallen prey to encroachments had it not been for the efforts of Hillside Residents’ Welfare Association, an NGO, and a citizen’s group, comprising residents of the area.

The NGO fought tooth-and-nail to clear the illegal construction along the 800-feet stretch of the pipeline in phase 2. “When the encroachments started to mushroom around 15 years ago, we made it a mission to ensure no illegal structure lasts beyond a day,” said Prakash Padikkal, the association’s president.

But clearing the encroachments was a tough task and required persistent efforts and a lot of patience, said Padikkal. “Fighting the problem became a daily job. Whenever we noticed any shanty or structure coming up, we would go to the spot and destroy it. The more they mushroomed, the more we destroyed. We did not allow any structure to remain there for more than a day,” he said.

Encroachments along any water pipeline can damage the pipeline. Besides, it can cause hindrances at the time when the pipeline needs to be repaired as the structures come in the way, said Jagdish Joshi, another member.

“There were times when we would receive calls informing us about encroachers during the night; sometimes, even after midnight. Even then, we would rush to the spot and pull down the shanties,” said Joshi.

The joint efforts of the NGO and residents of the area have ensured that the huge patch of land has been metamorphosed into a small forest with a thick green cover.

To undo the damage caused by such illegal construction, the residents carried out a massive tree plantation drive. “More than 700 trees were planted, and the area was fenced,” said SV Raman, another member.

Today, say residents, no one even attempts to illegally claim any piece of land in the area, and the green spot is a treat to the eye.

# A major fight
* Of its many movements, the one demanding regularisation of their properties, which made them knock on the doors of the Supreme Court, stands out

* While the BMC’s Development Plan of 1967 and 1991, which was approved by the government, had earlier marked hundreds of acres of land across Mulund, Thane, Bhandup and Mahul in the eastern suburbs for land use, in 2005, it marked the same lands as private forest land

* Getting no relief from Bombay high court, the housing societies moved the Supreme Court In January this year, the apex court removed the “private forest” tag attached to the resident’s land.

# Activities of the welfare association
* The Hillside Residents’ Welfare Association was formed 25 years ago, with five housing societies in Mulund. Today, members of 25 societies are associated with it

* Over this period of time, the association has initiated and participated in many citizen movements against issues such as frequent power cuts and lack of proper street lighting

* The association has been credited with starting an interaction programme between the civic body and residents. Every month, various NGOs meet T-ward municipal officials and discuss civic problems and solutions

* The association has also undertaken a waste management project, under which the members regularly sensitise residents about waste segregation, and wet and dry waste

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