Times of India, July 5,2002

Activist threatened for opposing illegal slums
By Nauzer Bharucha

Mumbai: The 69-year-old Santa Cruz activist, Navin Mithal, who has been opposing illegal slums in the Guzder Scheme locality, has been living in fear for the past few days following threats to his life. His wife also has been threatened by anti-social elements. The Mithals are taking the threats seriously in light of the recent murder of Nalla Sopara activist Navleen Kumar, for taking on the land mafia in her area.

" Last week, a mob of 25 slum-dwellers stood in front of my building and shouted slogans against us. They also hurled stones, which broke the window panes on the first floor," the sexagenarian told TNN. The Mithals' maid has been warned not to work in their house.

Recently, Mr Mithal was assaulted by unidentified persons when he tried to take photographs of some illegal shanties so that he could produce them before the court.

As chairperson of the Guzder Scheme Residents' Trust, Mr Mithal represents the residents of 281 buildings in the locality, The residents have been fighting a longdrawn battle with the authorities to have evicted thousands of unauthorised hutments, which are situated on storm-water drains.

Every monsoon, dirty water enters the ground floor flats because the large-scale encroachments prevent the BMC from cleaning the drains.

After a legal battle, the Bombay high court last October ordered the state government to immediately remove 1,364 hutments that were blocking the passage of water through the nullahs.

"The government just kept dilly-dallying by claiming that it did not have alternate land to resettle those encroachers who were eligible for rehabilitation," said advocate Raju Moray, who represents the residents of Guzder Scheme.

In March, the residents approached the court in an tempt to force the government to act. Last week, the court ordered the immediate removal of 172 hutment "The BMC had removed them once, but the occupants came back again within time," Mr. Moray said.

Assistant municipal commissioner Milind Saw; said some of the slum dwellers had been allotted ternate land in Malad. ": they have not shifted th and are apparently trying come back," he said.

On Saturday morning, H-west ward office staff once again demolished these shanties. By afternoon, evicted slum-dwellers gathered outside Mr. Mithal's building shouting slogans against him and throwing stones.

"It is a fight between law-abiding citizens and people who have taken the law into their hands," said Mr. Mithal. A detailed complaint lodged with the Santa Cruz police claims that domestic servants have been threatened with dire consequences. if they continued to work in the locality. The complaint letter also warns the law-enforcers that should any resident be harmed, the police should not plead ignorance.

" This kind of victimisation is dreadful," said Neera Punj of CitiSpace, a citizens' he association that is backing Mr Mithal's crusade.