How two activists saved the Bandra Reclamation 24-acre open space in 1990 | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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How two activists saved the Bandra Reclamation 24-acre open space in 1990

Feb 19, 2024 11:54 AM IST

The 24.2-acre prime plot at Bandra Reclamation, which the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) is set to hand over to Adani Realty for redevelopment, has been protected for decades by the fierce civic activism of the area’s residents

MUMBAI: The 24.2-acre prime plot at Bandra Reclamation, which the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) is set to hand over to Adani Realty for redevelopment, has been protected for decades by the fierce civic activism of the area’s residents. This vacant plot is currently used as a casting yard for an infrastructure project by a government agency.

How two activists saved the Bandra Reclamation 24-acre open space in 1990
How two activists saved the Bandra Reclamation 24-acre open space in 1990

In 1990, the plot was riddled with 610 encroachments. Two veteran activists, the late Asha Rao and Neela Shinde (70) from the Bandra West Residents Association (BWRA), fought tooth and nail to save it despite facing multiple threats. They moved the Bombay high court in 1990 and managed to save the prime plot from potential land grabbers. Rao, who passed away in 2008, was the president of BWRA, and even dedicated one chapter of her book, ‘Pleasure and Perils of Social Work’ to the Bandra Reclamation case.

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Shinde told HT that the book ought to be read by people interested in saving the land from MSRDC’s current plan to commercially exploit it. “They must know how Asha Rao saved this plot from land grabbers,” she said. “I used to accompany her to the high court every day. Today, MSRDC has become the land grabber. It pains us to see that what we as citizens tried to save is being sold for commercial gain.” Incidentally, MSRDC was not in existence in 1990—in its place was the Bombay Metropolitan Regional Authority.

The saga began in 1990 when Rao read a news report in which a Bombay high court judge invited those who either questioned or supported the government’s policy of regularising encroachments on public land to apply to the court as intervenors. One petitioner had filed a case to restrain the state government from demolishing or shifting an illegal structure on another plot of public land and had questioned the court on what the government policy on illegal encroachment was. This was what prompted the judge’s appeal.

Rao decided to represent BWRA as an intervenor in the case. “While the case was going on and since it was just before the general elections, massive land grabbing started taking place within two months and 610 hutments came up,” said Shinde. “Asha Rao and the Relief Road society brought it to the notice of the court and prayed for relief from the massive proliferation of slums. Our applications were considered and orders were issued to the collector and BMC to demolish all structures of occupants who were not in the 1985 voters’ list.”

Much drama ensued after BWRA moved court against the 610 hutments. “There was a morcha against Rao and me by the Reclamation slum dwellers, who were on the streets shouting ‘Rao Bai murdabad, Shinde Bai murdabad’. We had to go to the police commissioner who asked the police to give us protection. In the courtroom, the slum dwellers used to taunt and threaten us.”

The court passed an interim order on March 7, 1990, to demolish the structures and construct a wall around the plot. The slum dwellers went in appeal to a division bench and again encroached on the road where the MSRDC office is presently located. The residents in turn agitated outside the ward office to remove the hutments with slogans of ‘Ward officer kaam karo, nahin toh kursi khaali karo’. The slum dwellers too sent a lot of letters to the judge, saying would be “cursed” for rendering them homeless. The court passed a final order for demolition on April 20,1990.

The collector, after issuing proper notices to the illegal occupants of the area, demolished the unauthorised structures. When the Reclamation promenade proposal came up, Rao and Shinde were invited by the chairman of MSRDC to his office and were told that because they had worked so hard to get the land back, they were being rewarded with the gift of a promenade for citizens.

“But now the same MSRDC is selling the land for profit even though it is against the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) and green zone regulations,” said Shinde. “All our efforts have gone down the drain.”

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