Elderly mill workers continue decades-long protest for houses | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Elderly mill workers continue decades-long protest for houses

BySabah Virani
Feb 15, 2024 10:40 AM IST

When asked if they would actually receive the subsidised houses in their lifetime, the elderly mill workers said they had absolutely no way to tell.

MUMBAI: Continuing their decades-long fight for housing, Mumbai’s old mill workers and their kin gathered at Azad Maidan on Wednesday to once again protest. Around 3,000 workers were present, some from the city, some from corners of the state and beyond, some even completing a 12-hour-long journey standing in the train from Telangana.

Hundreds of textile mill workers held a protest at Azad Maidan on Wednesday. (Raju Shinde/HT Photo)
Hundreds of textile mill workers held a protest at Azad Maidan on Wednesday. (Raju Shinde/HT Photo)

Of the estimated 1.5 lakh mill workers, only around 15,000 have got the subsidised houses promised to them. “Ghar aamchya hakkacha, nahi kunachya bapaacha (A house is our right, not a favour),” read a placard.

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When asked if they would actually receive the subsidised houses in their lifetime, the elderly mill workers said they had absolutely no way to tell. “We have hope, that’s why we are here. Our sweat and blood have gone into the making of this city,” said Gorakhnath Kumbhar, 62. Kumbhar, who currently lives in a Mankhurd slum, worked in Apollo Mills from 1983 to 2008.

MHADA, which is in charge of giving the subsidised housing, started the process of determining the eligibility of mill workers for housing afresh in September 2023, giving them the option to submit their documents online or offline at the MHADA office or the Sambhaji Nagar Hall in Bandra East. They were to then start the process of lotteries and distribution of houses.

While the first deadline was in November, it was extended repeatedly, standing now at February 15 and likely to be extended further. Kumbhar took the help of his brother’s son to complete the eligibility process online, but many others had to stand in line for two days to submit their documents offline. Laxman Dasrat, 64, was one of them, coming both times from Badlapur in a packed train. He worked in Matulya Mills from 1981 to 2003.

“The struggle is necessary,” said Balu Nandev Anpat, who had come all the way from Satara in a bus, which cost him 750. Anpat too had stood eight hours in line to submit his eligibility documents. He continues farming in his village and said he would do so till his death.

Some workers are still facing hurdles in the eligibility process. These are mostly those with deceased parents who did not have any documents proving their work history, and so had assumed they were out of the race.

“My father gave us his work details on his deathbed,” said Mahesh Kodumi, who had come that morning from Telangana. “Prior to that, we had submitted an eligibility form in 2017, after which we received an enrolment number. After that, there was silence. We received no message about the start of the eligibility process either, only finding out when a local leader in Telangana held a meeting.”

“I have the barest details of which mill my father worked in, his employee code, the years of service etc,” said Ramesh Godugi, 28, also from Telangana, whose father is paralysed and cannot talk. “There are three places we can go to in order to get documents. At Hindustan Mills, where my father worked from 1969 to ‘89, they gave a self-certified form of work experience to fill. The PF office did not help much. And when I went to the MHADA office, they did not let me enter or entertain me.”

Another worker, Dattaram Mahadev from Matunga, who had lost his documents and was living on the streets, had to regather his documents from various offices and was waiting to submit them.

At the end of the day, leaders from the mill workers union, Girni Kamgaar Sangharsh Samiti, met MLA Atul Save. Pravin Ghag, president, said, “Save informed us that the eligibility process has reduced the number of mill workers who are eligible for housing from 1.5 lakh to under 1 lakh, which has made the task of housing easier for them. We have been promised a meeting with CM Eknath Shinde on February 21 or 22.”

Yet, Ghag remained sceptical. “The eligibility process is a waste of time,” he said. “It is just a way to prolong the procedure without giving the workers houses while using it to reduce the number of those eligible. After the election, the government will once again throw its hands up.”

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