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We didn’t know our home was illegal: Diva residents

PUBLISHED ON JAN 09, 2020 12:53 AM IST

ThaneThe video of policemen carrying 65-year-old Amnidevi Vishwakarma, who fainted while opposing the massive demolition drive in Diva on January 6, was one of the cases which showed the emotion of the homeless.

A resident of Sabe village, Vishwakarma looks at the rubble that was once her home and breaks down.

Her husband is bedridden and her son is out of job. Like Vishwakarma, hundreds of people in Diva who bought cheap homes are looking for shelter.

Last year’s floods in Diva highlighted the rampant illegal constructions in the area.

After the Bombay high court gave directives to demolish illegal constructions on mangrove land in Diva last year, the district authorities demolished 384 chawls and 39 commercial structures, rendering hundreds of people homeless.

Two days after the demolition drive, residents are still searching for their belonging in the debris.

Vishwakarma said, “We were assured by the developers that our homes will not be razed. We were not given prior notice of the demolition drive. On Monday, the officials said they will only demolish the shops. So when we stopped protesting, they bulldozed our homes. I pleaded with them to leave my home as my husband is bedridden, but in vain.”

Another resident Sangeeta Gupta, 35, said this was the second time in a year that they lost their house. “Our belongings and home were damaged in the floods. We spent money on repairing our home and replaced the damaged belongings.”

Most houses in the areas were submerged in the floods, with people losing their belongings, documents and valuables. “Within six months, everything was gone. We were not even given an opportunity to remove our belongings,” said Gupta.

Gupta had bought her house nine years ago for Rs3.10 lakh like other residents. Later, they got light and water connections. “The developer has given us temporary accommodation. Some of them have gone to their relatives’ place. However, this is only a temporary solution. The authorities should have demolished new constructions instead of targeting people who are living here for over a decade.”

Most residents spend the night of January 6 in the demolished houses as they had nowhere to go.

Some pay tax

The constructions which started on mangrove land in Sabe village Diva since 2007-08 targeted unsuspecting and uneducated people from the lower-middle class. Pramila Tupe, 50, a resident of the same area, said, “Nine years ago, we had bought the house for Rs3.5 lakh. The property rates across Mumbai and Thane were skyrocketing and we could not afford a home anywhere. The developer showed us a 7 by 12 extract which had names of some private land owners. There was no mention of mangrove land. We did not realise that we are being duped.”

Another resident, who did not wish to be named, said, “Around 30% of the total tax of the chawls is cleared. Tax is imposed on some of the homes while some of them are still not paying tax. The authorities should have left out people who were paying taxes from the area.”

Confusion over survey numbers, allege residents

Residents of Shanti Suman chawl in the same area alleged that the areas which were surveyed were not demolished. Maya Thorat, 25, a resident, said, “The collector department surveyed the constructions in survey number 273 and demolished our home which as per our agreement document is survey number 275. When they came, we were told that only a survey will be conducted. But, our homes were demolished.”

Residents said they were also not given a chance to show documents of their homes.

Sacchidanand Gupta, 40, lived in Samarth Krupa chawl, with his wife and four children.

“We had documents to prove that we had bought the houses and also that our survey number is different. They put up a notice on Saturday and told us to submit the documents at the Mumbra ward office. However, next day was Sunday and on Monday they bulldozed our homes. The authorities should either give us an alternative accommodation or money for a new house,” said Gupta.

MUSHROOMING CHAWLS

Till the early 2000, Diva was infamous for bootlegging as country liquor was made in the bylanes. Around 15 years ago with the increasing property rates, most middle-class population from Mumbai migrated to the newly built chawls in Diva. The bootleggers shifted from the prime locales towards the creek and were replaced by land mafias who sold illegal houses to the people.

How constructions in Sabe village came up

Constructions started coming up since 2007-08 in Sabe village which is near the dumping ground in Mumbra. The local land sharks had a major role in destroying mangrove land. The land owners got their names on property card, gave the land for development to developers. They kept the original ownership of the land with themselves. The people, who buy houses in the chawl are not given ownership, as the landowner is still the owner. A local activist said, “After demolishing illegal constructions, the owner gets the land while residents who had paid the money become homeless. When things cool down after a couple of years, the land is again allotted to developer for building houses. This is the case everywhere in Diva.”

Official speak

Adik Patil, tehsildar of Thane district, claimed that notices were served to residents. “A survey of illegal constructions was done 12 days ago and we had demarcated all illegal structures. We had also conducted a meeting eight days ago with the residents, informing them which structures will be demolished as per the court’s orders,” he said.

He said there was no confusion over survey numbers. “We had taken officials from deputy city survey office with us for the demolition. They have pointed out the constructions in the survey number 273 which we demolished. “

The court has given directives to plant mangroves after the properties are demolished. “We have given a letter to the forest department and the Thane Municipal Corporation to plant mangroves as we have finished demolition of the particular area,” he added.

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