Recently, a fire tragedy occurred in Damu Nagar slums of Kandivali. Many residents lost their life in this incidence whereas many still have burning injuries on their body. The government has announced compensation to provide relief to victims but they are yet to disburse the money. This shows administration’s apathy towards victims. Residents along with shelters have lost faith in government, which are seeing on their attitude if you visit the place. Its winter and there is no assurance from government to provide alternate accommodation to residents. Government said it will provide houses within two months to the affected slum dwellers, but where will they stay during this period? The fire lasted only 30 minutes, but has probably changed their lives forever. The fire started out of nowhere, spread quickly, and gutted almost everything that these 2000 families had. It is indeed a miracle that only two died in the fire and no major casualties occurred. The shanties were so close that a person could barely have manoeuvred through those narrow alleys. Cooking gas cylinders exploded one after another and before they knew it, they had become much poorer than they were.
There were multiple explosions, probably triggered by LPG cylinders, in the area. However, some say builders were eyeing the land and slum dwellers were not ready to negotiate with them. So, such accident was made to happen through their agents to shatter the lives of slum residents and offer them money to vacate the place. The residents of the area are suspecting builder’s hands behind the incident. The slum area was planned to be redeveloped by SD Corporation and as a result the slum dwellers are speculating the company’s hands behind it.
There are many stories behind this blast. However, at present the most important concern is rehabilitation of victims and their future. The biggest anxiety here is that, will they get back roof on their heads? The entire slum was illegal, an encroachment on the Forest department land. The government condoned it (of course with a few officials getting their share of pie), but won’t allow them to rebuild their house, let alone offer them a rehabilitation package. Residents have been handed a Rs. 3,800 cheque per family which will at best take care of a month’s basic groceries and nothing more. However, it is not the money what they want. They have lost their homes means they have lost everything.
Leaving the government and authorities aside, Damu Nagar has received more than enough relief material for the affected. However, what seems to be giving a ray of hope to these lost victims is the altruistic help received from some charity organizations. Working steady since Monday, these self-help groups have voluntarily set up tents in order to help people with food and clothing. Around 3 main charity institutions and other small voluntary self-help groups are trying to aid around 2,000 families whose homes were burned down. They have parked their tents right at the entry of Bhim Nagar and a little ahead of the Damu Nagar bus depot since three days. However, all this help cannot beat the agony of people who are waiting to get their homes back.
There were literally hundreds of volunteers running around helping people and it was great to see that humanity is still alive here. However, there is a complete lack of coordination in the distribution of the relief material. Several organisations have set up their own tents and are working relentless, but their work would mean much more if they worked together. A tehsildar level officer who will take stock of what is available and what people need and then distribute it accordingly is sorely needed. This is possible only when a senior minister or bureaucrat comes to Damu Nagar.
Prakash Surve of Shiv Sena the local MLA said, the government will provide 3 lakhs each and BJP’s Shelar said the government would provide pukka makan within two months to the slum dwellers who lost everything in the fire. Those who have lost their kin will be compensated with Rs. 4 lakh each. Five government departments are working to help the affected persons. They have been told to submit their report within a week. Meanwhile, the situation has worsened because no one wants to trust government’s hollow promises, as survivors have taken to streets to protest against the government for offering insufficient compensation amount. Stating the gesture to be a ‘salt over their wounds’, Damu Nagar residents have started a rally, shouting slogans against the BJP-led government. Protesters have also demanded to shut all shops in the area.
A tragedy in Mumbai’s slum is not new but no government has ever tried to rehabilitate these slums to avoid capsulitis. What keeps these people moving is a promise to get their homes back. However, for those in Damu Nagar who were not victims of the fire, life seems to have stopped. Such people have shut down their shops and are on ‘bandh’ till the rest get their homes back.