Mumbai: Sion-Koliwada Punjabi colony refugees protest HC eviction order

Mumbai: Putting up a fight against the administration, the residents of Punjabi colony in Sion-Koliwada on Sunday protested the High Court order asking them to vacate their buildings by October 31 on the pretext of the structure being dilapidated and the residents are staying in the building at their own risk. The bone of contention, claim the residents, is that they have been denied the right for redevelopment and offered no alternative plan or rent once they vacate. The High Court order stated that they had to vacate the building as they have been declared dangerous. Since 2008, claim the residents, that they approached the State government for redevelopment, however, there has been no action from their side.

Jitendra Vyas, Bank Manager working with Punjab and Maharashtra Co-operative Bank Ltd and resident of Building no. 18, said, “We are ready to vacate the buildings, but the state revenue department is still not giving us the No Objection Certificate (NOCs) to get the redevelopment done by hiring a private builder. The government has been lingering on the issue for several years. They should give us an alternative.”

“Even the slums have a redevelopment policy in place, but we don’t. We have even approached the chief minister of the state, but still to no avail. We only get empty assurances from the leaders we had approached that our matter will be resolved and we would have a redevelopment policy in place. But there has been no action so far. We feel like refugees in our own country,” Vyas added.

The 13-acre plot situated in the heart of the city, Sion-Koliwada, comprises 25 buildings built in 1957, and houses 1,200 families who had crossed border seeking refuge during the partition. All houses belong to the middle and lower-middle class families where most of the men work as taxi drivers. Jagdeep Malhotra, Resident of Building no. 5, stated how the residents are not able to cough up legal fees, let alone relocate with no assurance of redevelopment from the state. He added, “Besides, we have been paying taxes and bills. They should consider this and allow us an alternative plan according to the eligibility of 650 carpet area. Although the conveyance deed clearly states that the property, structure with land, has been sold to us for Rs. 5,380 back in those days which makes us the freehold owners from the day one. But we are still struggling to get our names included on the property card.”

Countering their claim of ownership, Keshav Ubale, assistant municipal commissioner of the F-north Ward, said, “Till recently, the property belongs to the central government not the refugees to seek compensation. The conveyance deed states that they own only the portion of the land allotted to them not the entire plot. They never maintained the premises and conducted no structural audit. The residents have been delaying to vacate the buildings at their own risk.”

Anand Jondhale, advocate representing the residents, said how the residents were tossed around from one state department to another for getting their names included, which is yet to be done. “The property card has the name of President of India. We have filed several writ petitions on this issue but there is no action from the side of the government. They want to grab this land for free because of its prime location without giving any compensation. There is a vested interest of some big landshark in securing this plot,” he claimed.

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