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Maharastra to relax rehabilitation plans of slum dwellers
The modernisation and expansion of new Mumbai airport will lead to internal displacement affecting lakhs of people. The state government seeks to mitigate this by relaxing existing norms under a scheme for free rehabilitation of slum dwellers.

MUMBAI: The state government may relax norms for free rehabilitation of slumdwellers squatting on airport land. It plans to include inhabitants of pre-2000 structures even though they may have moved in later. Slums existing prior to 2000 were declared eligible for rehabilitation.

"The rehabilitation cut-off date is January 1, 2000 at present. In the last decade, many structures have changed ownership. Nearly 60% of the pre-2000 structures are occupied by those who bought them after 2000," said guardian minister for Mumbai suburbs Naseem Khan.

Khan said the Maharashtra Slum Area (Improvement, Clearance and Redevelopment) Act, 1971 allows the protection of structures in existence prior to January 1, 1995. The current date has been allowed for vital infrastructure projects such as the Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project and the Mithi river widening project. The state government in 2009 announced that it was extending the free rehabilitation housing scheme for all slumdwellers up to January 1, 2000. However, the legality of the extension is pending before the Supreme Court. The Maharshtra government has approached the apex court seeking to withdraw an earlier undertaking it provided to the Bombay HC that it would not extend the scheme beyond 1995.

The dilemma before the government is that the Act protects the structure but not the residents if they have moved in after January 1, 2000. The modernization and expansion of the Mumbai airport will result in the largest internal displacement, affecting four lakh people. "Nearly 60% of these people have moved into these pre-2000 structures after 2000. Evicting such a large number without rehabilitation is not a feasible option," said Khan.

Neera Punj, convener, Citispace, an NGO, fighting for the city's open spaces said it was time the government explained to whose advantage such policies were being followed.

"The city's infrastructure continues to suffer, the genuine project affected people are not rehabilitated. For whom does the government keep extending the deadline?" she said.

Activists said the government acquiring land for runway extension, airport security, and operational efficiencies was understandable. "The social good may exceed the pains of displacement and the costs of rehabilitation in this case. If land is to be acquired for purposes intended for the elite, then the end use must be able to justify and pay for the cost of acquisition without subsidies or benefits from the government," said an activist.

Praful Vora, convener, Jagrut Nagrik Manch, said all rehabilitation policies were aimed at creating vote banks. "Going by past experience, the government will acquire land using taxpayers' money, and then give it to private enterprise at ridiculously subsidized rates on the pretext that commercial entities were needed but would be commercially unviable without land subsidies and concessions," he said.

Source: Times of India