Invisible Cities: Part Ten: The Demolition Seige Of Sion Koliwada

June 4, 2012

This article appears in abridged form in Daily News & Analysis on the 4th of June, 2012. Photographs of the demolition drive can be viewed here.

The residents of Sion Koliwada face police brutality for opposing a redevelopment project

Twenty-five residents and activists who were peacefully protesting against the re-demolition of a home in Sion Koliwada, remained in custody and had applied for bail at Kurla Magistrate Court on Friday. The accused were then sent by the court for medical examination after allegations of police brutality. They will remain in police custody till the 5th of June, 2012.

On May 29, the police had demolished the home of Kalpesh Shivkar, arrested activist Medha Patkar and seven others, including Frank Fernandes, 16, a science student of St. Andrews college, who had gone to defend his father Nelson, when the locals tried to prevent the police from demolishing their homes.

A day later, the people deeming the demolition illegal, would begin to reconstruct the home of Kalpesh Shivkar. But late night on May 30, the locals tried to rebuild the home, and over a 100 security personnel positioned themselves in one of the re-development buildings, while the police stood across the street, claiming they are there to maintain law and order. Jai Maharashtra, a TV channel owned by Sudhakar Shetty, has been sitting with what the developer’s own supporters call ‘bouncers’, all tagged with the name ‘Sairaj’ on their uniforms. The supporters also allege that the remaining residents have simply resorted to blackmail the builder, and there have been no irregularities in the scheme.

All night the residents stayed on a dharna, while neither the police nor the private security would move. The next evening, on the Bharat bandh, the police would again enter the slum and drag away individuals as they lay down before bulldozers, and again, demolished Shivkar’s home. They arrested one activist Jameel Akhtar Sheikh, whose on slum of Ambujwadi in Malad, faced a demolition drive two days earlier, who lay down before the bulldozer, and 24 other women, including Madhuri Shivkar, a leader of the resistance at Sion Koliwada.

On Thursday night, the police not only refused to reveal to journalists what sections those arrested where booked under, but also prevented the entry of journalists into the police station to interview senior officials.  It was finally revealed that all of them were arrested for, Section 143, 147, 149, 152, 332, 353, 504, 506, while Madhuri Shivkar was also charged with Section 447 and Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code. Most charges concern rioting, unlawful assembly and ‘causing hurt to a public servant’ when almost all the residents claim they had peacefully protested.

The issue dates back to 1999, when builder Sudhakar Shetty of Sahana Builders approached the residents with plans to redevelop the land. Sudhakar Shetty who is a known aide of Baba Ramdev was raided by the Income Tax Department in September of 2011.The residents have been protesting that the builder Sahana Developers had illegally acquired their consent for the project. When he did not get the requisite 70% consent, he allegedly forged signatures on the consent forms.

After filing an RTI, it was discovered that a consent form, dated 20/7/1999, has the signature of Eknath Koli who had died in 1997. Another form has the signature of Lilabai Vishnu Patil, signed in English, even though Lilabai is actually illiterate and has only ever used thumb prints for all her official documents.

The residents had gone to the Sion police station on February 26, 2011 stating forgery in the project, yet the police had refused to file the FIR, claiming that this falls under the purview of the BMC. The matter concerning the forgery is still pending in the Kurla Magistrate Court. After Medha Patkar’s nine-day hunger strike in Golibar slums last year, the government had consented to investigate into 15 re-development schemes, including Sion Koliwada, where the residents alleged irregularities and fraud. But the government backtracked and the matter is now pending in the High Court.

Builder Sudhakar Shetty, however, maintained that he has played by the rules. Speaking to journalists, he said, ‘When the BMC demolished one hut on 30 May, locals got ladies from outside and started to rebuild. Therefore on 31 May, the BMC demolished again.’

He added, ‘Eight years ago, locals gave us 70% consent only then the proposal was passed. Until then, locals didn’t complain. When the case went to the HC, it was dismissed. We have all the necessary documents. Why didn’t the locals get relief in HC if documents were forged?’

National Alliance of People’s Movements and Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao (GBGB) Andolan condemned “this brutal move of the administration to evict the people from their decades old settlements, for no cogent public purpose, rather for the vested interests of a private real estate lobby,” the body said in a statement.

‘They keep talking about encroachers,’ said Kiran Keny, of Sion Koliwada, ‘but the government had encroached on our lands since the British times. The land on the harbour line all belong to the Kolis.’

‘This government is looting us, at least the British gave us something and left, which is the land we have right now,’ lamented Devendra Vaity, another resident.

‘Dear Chief Minister, is this rioting?’ Ask the residents of Sion Koliwada.

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 6th of June, 2012.

According to the police, the protestors had not only resorted to rioting and injuring a lady constable Kalawati Ravindra Sinha, 54, who would be admitted to Hinduja Hospital, but they also illegally rebuilt a home that the residents claim was illegally demolished.

The police also demanded police custody of the protestors till June 7 fearing they would return to protest, and return to ‘provoke’ the residents. Their only eyewitness is another police constable, while residents had video footage of the so-called riot, where every person who was arrested was picked up from the ground when they were lying down before the bulldozer.

At the police station, no one was allowed to meet the accused and even after all the protestors were sent to the Nagpada police station, no one was allowed to send them any food. Journalists were also not allowed to interview senior police officials.

The protestors remained in police custody all night and would complain before the Kurla magistrate court that their medical tests were not done properly. Allegations of abuse have been widely circulated in the Sion village, and just two days earlier a young Frank Fernandes sat in a police van with torn shirts, showing tell-tale signs of police violence.

A few of the police’s justifications for demanding police custody make an interesting indication of naked police aggression. In the first information report, they claim that if the protestors are released they would hurt the ‘peaceful environment’ in the area.

This is unfortunately only half the picture as dozens of private security ‘bouncers’ as described by the builder’s supporters, have been sitting in the building already completed by Sahana Developers, since the night of May 29. When asking the DCP whether they would be sent home, he replied, that they are the builder’s security, they are only sitting in their area, and only if they act, will the police intervene.

Another reason given is that the police constable Kalawati is in a serious condition. To blame 25 people for someone who allegedly kicked the constable in her head, and to keep them in police custody for the same is akin to revenge. The residents themselves alleged that the constable was hanging onto the van as it sped away from the village, and she had fallen down. At Hinduja Hospital where she was admitted, it had come to light that she was discharged on Sunday Morning after being described as ‘stable’.

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