Tribals Fight for Their Land as Metro Authorities Take Over Aarey

“Home for home, land for land,” say the tribals of Mumbai’s Aarey Colony as metro construction displaces thousands.

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In Mumbai’s Aarey colony, almost 10,000 tribals are fighting for their homes and farms as the conflict with the state government over the upcoming Metro line continues.

According to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) Development Plan 2034, 33 hectares in Aarey colony are earmarked for metro construction. This has resulted in the displacement of tribals from 27 villages, who had made Aarey their home for over a century now.

“We sell the fruits from these trees and earn a living but now there’s a boundary wall that separates us from them. We are tense all the time. We are scared to even go to work. What if they just come and cut down our trees? What if they take over our land in our absence?”
Asha Bhoye, Aarey Resident

While Asha ended up losing 22 trees, 40-year-old Sangeeta Gaikwad lost her home, land and even possessions as her home was razed to the ground before her eyes.

“They threw my mother’s utensils out of our home, left some at home, and ran a bulldozer over the house. Four-five metro guards held each one of us back as the demolition was taking place,” recounted Sangeeta.

Those being displaced from Aarey are being herded into 270-sq foot apartments being built under the slum rehabilitation scheme in different parts of the city. 
The SRA building in Chakala area where at least 60 tribal families who have been displaced from Aarey now live.
The SRA building in Chakala area where at least 60 tribal families who have been displaced from Aarey now live.
(Photo: The Quint/Ankita Sinha)

One could argue that since these tribals have received flats in exchange for their homes, doesn’t that even things out?

It doesn’t, because their primary concern as a community that survives on agricultural produce is that they now have no land. The tribals are now demanding ‘home for home’ and ‘land for land’ from the Mumbai Metrorail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) in a bid to sustain themselves.

“In Mumbai, you have the MUTP or Mumbai Urban Transport Policy, that deals with rehabilitation of project affected communities. Tribals are completely covered under this policy. Basically, the government is supposed to come up with an Indigenous Peoples Development Plan (IPDP). IPDP is supposed to show where this rehabilitation is going to take place. Rehabilitation has to be ‘house to house’ and ‘land to land’ for this community.”
Zaman Ali, Advocate 

Although the tribal communities of Aarey don’t possess documents of land ownership, they do have land and cultivation receipts as proof. Despite furnishing their caste certificates, the Maharashtra Government refuses to accept their status. Instead, they have been branded encroachers.

“MMRCL had conducted a survey in 2013 and assured us that they will give us homes and land in exchange. They should compensate for our losses. We don’t protest against the government’s project but if you choose development at the expense of someone else, then that’s wrong.”
Sujit Masurkar, Former Resident of Aarey 

76-year-old Lakshmi, a former resident of Aarey since the 1940s, lost her home, over an acre of land and over 500 trees to the Metro project. Today, she has her caste certificate laminated and kept at her 270-sq foot home in the hope that one day, the government will give her alternative land and she can start cultivating fruits and vegetables again.

“I had guava, mango, and banana trees. I used to sell potatoes, gourd and somehow earn my living, but here what will I do? I can’t even earn Rs 10 here. Should I eat the building walls here? Will that fill my stomach?”
Lakshmi Gaikwad, Former Resident of Aarey 
Lakshmi’s house (Left) and 500 trees (Right) were cut down for metro work. She lost over an acre of her land.
Lakshmi’s house (Left) and 500 trees (Right) were cut down for metro work. She lost over an acre of her land.
(Photo: Ankita Sinha/The Quint)

Multiple organisations and even a few tribal families have pursued legal recourse to reclaim the compensation they are entitled to.

Now, a long legal battle awaits.

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