The Kind of Justice We Want

Yesterday, five hours of negotiation between Chief Secretary, Ratnakar Gaekwad and Medhatai Patkar, were inconclusive.

At one point, an agreement seemed to have been arrived at, on the following three points: 1) The government will accept proposals to declare as “slums” 19 settlements and any more whose paperwork could be completed and submitted in the next two days. These would be declared as slums under the Maharashtra Slums Act, 1971, after due process. Meaning that these settlements can then legitimately apply for redevelopment, and will not remain invisible and hence, open to arbitrary and violent demolition drives by the State. 2) A meeting chaired by the Chief Secretary to be convened along with NAPM members, Central Government officials and State officials on June 10, 2011, to consider the implementation of the Rajeev Gandhi Awaas Yojana in the slums of Mumbai. 3) The formation of a sub-committee to look into the irregularities in the implementation of slum redevelopment schemes. This would function under the aegis of the existing High-Powered Committee, chaired by Chief Secretary, appointed by High Court in 2005. This committee is supposed to review slum policies and recommend, amend or suggest new policies to the government of Maharashtra. However we did not agree on Point 3.

 Our demand is to institute an independent enquiry Committee involving civil society representatives, while Medhatai’s fast is on. This Committee would enquire into all complaints related to public housing projects in the areas covered by 3K projects, including the one by Shivalik Ventures at Golibar, where fraud has been proved and criminal cases filed by the residents. And until a report is submitted and action taken by the government, all slum demolitions in the city must be halted. The talks remained inconclusive since the Chief Secretary didn’t agree to commit a time period for the Committee to start work and complete the task of investigation.

Towards the end he was hostile, and kept emphasizing that he has already agreed to enough demands, and that people need to trust him (and his Government’s “aashwaasan” of change and betterment.) One of the residents present at the meeting quipped, “Then give us your promise in writing, since you might not be Chief Secretary tomorrow!” Said Medhatai Patkar, physically weak after 6 days of fasting, but her moral strength still holding strong – “The Court-appointed High Power Committee has been defunct for a long time now, having held not more than three meetings since 2005. The committee does not have representatives of civil society organizations. There are some nominees of people’s movements as per High Court directives, however, the overall composition includes a large number of government officials. There is no doubt that the current Chief Secretary is powerful enough to influence the policy-makers.

 However, we do know that the functioning of the High Powered Committee has been sabotaged in the past. So if such a committee has to play the role of investigator into cases of fraud, the modus operandi will have to be similar to SIT. This would require giving powers of Hearing to peoples’ representatives, so they can investigate and assess the large number of fraud allegations against builders. How would a Sub-Committee of the larger committee, composed of the present members, manage a mammoth, challenging task such as this? Why create further confusion and give room for arbitrary decision, when the conflict and crisis in each of the 3K slum land development cases has already reached their peak, and the sword of demolition is hanging? It is absolutely necessary to set a time limit to this enquiry, so that working-class residents of Mumbai may receive justice.” The talks hit a loggerhead yesterday, but Medhatai’s and Syed Zuber’s fasts have continued. Later in the evening, Shabana Azmi visited the dharna site and lent her support and solidarity to the movement. If you have faith in democratic movements, come to Golibar, and add your voice to ours.

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