In Maharashtra, some fasts spread more pang than others

While minister rushed to Aurangabad to break ex-deputy CM Munde’s fast only a day later, state mum on Medha Patkar’s fast to highlight slum dwellers’ plight even a week on

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Puja Bhattacharjee | April 11, 2013



While Medha Patkar’s indefinite fast to protest against the demolition of slums in Mumbai entered its seventh day on April 10, the Prithviraj Chavan government in Maharashtra has till date resolutely avoided engaging in a dialogue with the protestors.

But proving that some fasts are politically more painful than others, Maharashtra minister Patangrao Kadam flew to Aurangabad on Tuesday to request senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde to break his fast only a day after the MP began his protest. In fact, Kadam had a special helipad made for his chopper to land, wasting gallons of water — Munde ironically began his fast on Monday to demand immediate relief for the state’s drought-affected people.

People associated with Patkar’s protest allege that slum dwellers have been fighting for their rights since 2004, when a large number of shanties were razed in Mumbai by the then Vilasrao Deshmukh government to modernise the metropolis.  

According to members of the national alliance of people’s movement (NAPM), private builders who are authorised by the slum rehabilitation authority (SRA) to redevelop slum land exploit the dwellers through fraud, forgery and extortion. “The chief minister had agreed to implement the Rajiv awas yojana in the slums of Mumbai instead of SRA. But the slums are being bulldozed even today,” NAPM member Seela Mahapatra claimed.

Ajay Maken, the union housing and urban poverty alleviation minister, had earlier written to the Maharashtra chief minister, asking him to stop demolition until the poor can be rehabilitated under the Rajiv awas yojana (RAY), Mahapatra said. “When we asked the CM why he was not paying heed to his own minister, he said ‘Who is Ajay Maken to decide on my state? How can I give houses under RAY when there is no land?’” she added.

According to another NAPM member, Sumit Wajale, Medha Patkar’s health has deteriorated considerably and her supporters are worried. “Gopinath Munde was requested to withdraw his fast only a day later. Medha-tai has been fasting for a week now, yet no one seems to care,” he said.

He alleged that chief minister Chavan is under “huge pressure” from the builder lobby to remove the slums and free the land for real estate projects. “Probably that is why he is refraining from initiating a dialogue (with Patkar and NAPM)," Wajale added.

The national human rights commission (NHRC) has meanwhile issued notices to Maharashtra’s chief secretary and the DGP seeking their response on the issues within two weeks.

The protest against slum demolition started off with the residents of Golibar and has now been joined by people from various slums in Mumbai, who have been fighting for their rights for a long time, Mahapatra said. “We want housing rights for the poor. Besides, civic amenities like water, toilets, drains and roads should be provided to all slums,” she said

Besides Patkar and Madhuri Shivkar, who joined the fast on April 6, the slum dwellers are holding 24-hour relay fasts.

“We have informed the collector of our demands. He has promised to forward it to the higher authorities,” Wajale said.

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