FPJ Mumbai Debate: 'Injustice Is Happening With The People In Dharavi,' Says Congress' Varsha Gaikwad

FPJ Mumbai Debate: 'Injustice Is Happening With The People In Dharavi,' Says Congress' Varsha Gaikwad

Varsha Gaikwad also addressed critical issues plaguing Mumbai North Central, including traffic congestion and stalled redevelopment projects.

RUCHA KANOLKARUpdated: Wednesday, May 08, 2024, 11:26 PM IST
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Varsha Gaikwad, the Congress leader and Mumbai Congress Chief, has emerged as a prominent contender from the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition for the Mumbai North Central seat. Gaikwad, also the MLA representing Dharavi, has been a vocal advocate for addressing the region's pressing issues. However, her nomination witnessed twists and turns amid negotiations with alliance partners. On the opposing front, the Mahayuti alliance has nominated Ujjwal Nikam, the renowned public prosecutor known for his role in the successful prosecution of Ajmal Kasab and others in the 26/11 terror attack case. Notably, the BJP dropped its candidate, Poonam Mahajan, who previously secured victories in the 2014 and 2019 elections from the seat.

Gaikwad's campaign in the Mumbai North Central constituency, encompassing six assembly constituencies, including Vile Parle, Chandivali, Kurla, Kalina, Bandra East, and Bandra West, highlights her commitment to addressing local concerns.

Discussing the ongoing Dharavi Redevelopment Project, Gaikwad emphasised her support for development while expressing dissatisfaction with the tendering process. "Our opposition is primarily to the tender process," Gaikwad stated, alleging favoritism in the award of the tender. She further questioned the project's true intentions, suggesting it might extend the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) area rather than focusing on Dharavi's development.

In response to inquiries about countering her opponent, Ujjwal Nikam, Gaikwad stressed her bond with the common people and her confidence in winning their hearts. "Ujjwal Nikam is a very good lawyer in the court. I am a very good lawyer on the ground who represents the people," she affirmed, underlining her grassroots approach to politics.

Regarding Vijay Wadettiwar's controversial remarks concerning the late Hemant Karkare, Gaikwad distanced herself from his views, categorizing them as "Wadettiwar's personal opinion" without further comment.

Gaikwad also addressed critical issues plaguing Mumbai North Central, including traffic congestion and stalled redevelopment projects. Notably, she vowed to champion the rights of residents against vested interests, particularly in cases such as the Air India colony at Kalina.

Reflecting on her journey from a mathematics professor to a politician, Gaikwad emphasized her dedication to public service, particularly in education and welfare sectors. She highlighted her experience working at the municipal corporation level, underscoring her understanding of governance intricacies. In addition to her educational pursuits, Gaikwad has been actively involved in advocating for women and child welfare. Notably, during her tenure, she spearheaded the implementation of the Manodhairya Scheme, providing financial assistance to victims of rape and acid attacks, among other impactful policies.

Turning her attention to her constituency, Mumbai North Central, Gaikwad highlighted the pervasive challenges that residents have grappled with for over a decade. Expressing dismay over the lack of engagement from previous leaders, she emphasized her approach as a grassroots worker, committed to lending a compassionate ear to the grievances of each individual. Drawing from her extensive political experience, which includes ministerial roles and municipal corporation engagements, Gaikwad asserted her readiness to navigate the intricacies of policy formulation to address the multifaceted issues facing her constituents.  "For the past decade, this constituency has been devoid of leadership engagement, resulting in a loss of trust. In contrast, I have consistently engaged at the grassroots level, readily accessible to all constituents. My proactive approach, coupled with my experience as a minister and involvement in municipal-level governance, has equipped me with a nuanced understanding of policy-making and collaboration with diverse government agencies."

The presence of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport within the constituency exacerbates the already pressing issues of traffic congestion at critical junctions like Kalina, Vile Parle, and Santa Cruz. Notably, Vile Parle residents are ensnared in a bureaucratic labyrinth, with redevelopment projects stalled due to interference from airport authorities. Addressing these concerns, Gaikwad stated, "I personally visited these areas, assessing the traffic congestion and meeting with residents who have been awaiting redevelopment for over 15 years. It is imperative for the state government to enact new policies to expedite the redevelopment process. I am committed to advocating for this issue, particularly considering that many residents in these buildings are senior citizens who are unable to navigate staircases."

The Air India colony in Kalina spans across an expansive 184-acre land parcel, accommodating 350 families employed with the airline who adamantly oppose any handover. In pursuit of its expansion agenda, Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) commenced the demolition of 19 vacant buildings within the Air India colony, triggering protests from Air India employees. Subsequently, legal action was taken, contesting the demolition as unlawful.

Gaikwad said, "The resident count once stood at 1600 but has now dwindled to 350. Those remaining are facing undue pressure from the Adani group and MIAL to vacate their homes, with disruptions to water and electricity supply. Additionally, the Mother Dairy staff quarters in the Police Colony, Kurla, confront similar challenges due to the proposed construction of a mini BKC for the benefit of BJP MLA Mangalprabhat Lodha. However, we are resolved to resist this and ensure that residents' demands for open spaces and gardens are met. The state government's preference for projects aligning with developers' interests, rather than residents' needs, is concerning. I am committed to halting this trend."

Shifting focus to the broader development landscape of Mumbai, Gaikwad underscored the city's global acclaim, particularly citing the innovative Dharavi model. However, she lamented the city's setbacks in the healthcare and education sectors, urging for proactive measures to redress these deficiencies. Gaikwad further echoed the grievances of residents, particularly in areas like Bandra's Khar Danda, where access to basic amenities like water and electricity remains elusive. Critiquing the BJP-led government's failure to deliver on its promises over the past decade, Gaikwad underscored the urgent need for policy reforms that align with the aspirations of Mumbai's diverse populace. “During my visit to Bandra's Khar Danda, every woman I encountered expressed a pressing need for water — a basic necessity that remains unmet, alongside inadequate electricity supply. Despite Bandra West being perceived as an affluent area, the Koli community, Mumbai's original residents, faces these challenges in what is deemed a luxurious neighborhood. The BJP-led government has failed to deliver on promises made over the past decade. Moreover, impoverished households struggle to afford gas priced at ₹1200.”

When questioned about the Congress party's inability to initiate major projects like the Mumbai metro and other infrastructure developments, she asserted, "During the Congress's tenure, we spearheaded significant projects for the advancement of Mumbai city, including the Mumbai metro. It was outlined in our manifesto. We also strategized the construction of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar's statue. The Mumbai Trans Harbor Link, known as Atal Setu, was proposed by former Congress Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. Additionally, the Coastal Road project was put forth by Congress CM Prithviraj Chavan. The current government is merely taking credit for the initiatives of the Congress government. While they have indeed undertaken some efforts, it was originally the decisions of the Congress government. Constructing bridges of such magnitude does not occur within two years; it necessitates time to materialize such significant projects."

Emphasising recent occurrences in the Lok Sabha, she expressed, "MPs are suspended, and then bills are passed. The Parliament holds significant importance for us; it is imperative that we safeguard it along with the constitution. Despite their MPs, MLAs, and leaders openly discussing amendments to the constitution, the country's Prime Minister remains notably silent on the matter. It is incumbent upon us to step forward and resist any such changes. As a loyalist to the Congress party, my duty lies in advocating for my constituents, ensuring justice for all. I am committed to opposing policies that do not serve the interests of the people and striving to deliver justice as a Member of Parliament."

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