A passport headshot of her granddaughter Samiksha, her muddied blue jacket and a packet of medicines. That is all Padmini Ramesh Sabde (50) managed to salvage from her now demolished home of over two decades after rummaging through the debris at Powai’s Jai Bhim Nagar, where the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) razed over 500 shanties as part of its anti- encroachment drive.

On Thursday, a demolition drive launched by the civic body took a violent turn with as many as 35 people, including 20 police officials injured, after an alleged incident of stone pelting and clashes between the residents and municipal personnel. As many as 57 people have been detained, said police.

Citing directives from the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), civic officials said the structures were being removed since they were built illegally. According to BMC, the slum dwellers had been issued a notice on June 1, asking them to vacate the premises within a course of 48 hours. When the officials arrived a week later on Thursday, after a brief negotiation and protests, the residents allegedly hurled stones at the authorities and the police responded with lathicharge.

“We were inside the house when they came to demolish our homes. We were heckled and even though we requested them to let us remove our personal items, they did not pay heed. Now, we have incurred huge losses. We had received the letter to vacate on June 3 but before we could do anything, this happened,” said Padmini, sitting under the shade of the tree which she has nurtured since she moved into the Jai Bhim Nagar slum colony in 2000.

“We have been living here since decades. The BMC notice asked us to vacate in 48 hours. How can we leave on such a short notice when this is the only home that we have known for years?,” echoed another.

Festive offer

With the onset of monsoon on the cards, several activists also pointed to the government resolution which states that no unauthorized construction must be demolished during monsoons between June 1 and September 30, adding that the Thursday drive was a gross violation of the state resolution.

Sanjana Krishnan from Jan Haq Sangharsh Samiti said, “Despite the GR, which clearly states that no demolition drive on either private or government property can be carried out between June 1 and September 30, the BMC razed the structures. This was an illegal act as the government has violated the state’s own orders.”

Responding to questions, a senior civic official said, “While the GR is valid, the demolition drive was undertaken by the BMC on the basis of court orders.” According to other civic officials, the demolition had been delayed as the Model Code of Conduct was in force.

Like Padmini, a day after on Friday, the homeless residents returned to the demolition site in a belated attempt to recover some of their belongings. However, with nearly 100-150 police personnel still deployed at the site on Friday, residents alleged that they were not being allowed to enter the site and collect their belongings.

“I was in Nanded, my hometown, when I found out that our homes were razed. Now all our belongings including my baby’s birth certificate are buried inside and nobody is allowing us to recover even the important documents,” said Shobha Bharde, echoing the sentiments of many others.

After the fracas, while some dwellers sought refuge at their relative’s houses, most spent their night on the streets and built makeshift homes along the pathway leading up to their erstwhile basti. Many others are planning to leave the city altogether.

A native of Nanded, Arvind Choure, who has been living at Jai Bhim Nagar since early 2000s told Express, “My family of eight spent the night on the streets. I worked as a driver but now I am jobless. Furthermore, with the high rents in the city and with no option in sight, I am now contemplating returning back to Nanded.”

Meanwhile, a senior official from BMC said, “Now that the drive has concluded, the BMC will now take possession of the land and hand it over to the owners.”