Moti Dongor: Victims of legalised injustice

By Prabhakar Timble
19 February 2013 05:55 IST

The flow chart of bureaucratic events from the time an advocate from Mumbai ostensibly dipped into public interest and petitioned the High Court to remove the roof sheltering over 300 families at Monte Hill, it is abundantly clear that these families would be victims of bureaucratic apathy, governmental heroism, political vendetta and media abuse.  This is a fitting example of the misuse of Public Interest Litigation (PIL). A PIL to demolish and bulldoze dwellings of over 30 years should not fall into the category of public interest. PIL was conceived to give rights to the voiceless masses with the sole object of taking their suffering seriously. I cannot visualise litigation for public causes which renders families homeless and also usurps their right to life and livelihood. I would describe this as public disinterest litigation. Probably, it is infested with private interest and political agenda.

The men, women and children residing at the Monte Hill are treated like municipal solid waste. Everybody needs them but nobody wants them. They are labelled as vote banks and interrupters of a healthy democracy.  Media refers to them as criminals, gang lords and goons.  Locals hunt them as the unwanted migrants regardless of the fact that they are residents for over 30 years. Due to the religious composition they are largely viewed with suspicion being Muslims. The law and order problem in the area cannot be denied but does not justify bulldozing of families, particularly women and children.  Every slum turns out to be a seminary of garden variety street crime but does not give us the right to label all the dwellers as criminals. Demolishing their tenements cannot reduce crime in society. Crime travels to fresh locations. Extending the same argument, every casino and licensed gambling or should I say gaming property is a den of white crime. Massage parlours, dance bars and apartments in prime exclusive properties are also centres of crimes of the “respectable”.

No direction from High Court

The general impression created is that the 300 dwellings are illegal and they need to be razed and flattened due to the orders of the High Court. This is totally contrary to facts. Shri Sanjiv Punalekar, while on a visit to Goa heard of the armed clashes at Moti Dongor and his interactions with others revealed that there are illegal structures of migrants.  Moving the Goa High Court under a PIL, Shri Punalekar prayed for direction to the government for demolition of the illegal structures. The Court disposed this petition without any orders on the assurance from the Advocate General that the government would conduct a survey and take suitable action against illegal structures, if any. This order cannot be construed as an instruction from the High Court to the government to demolish the structures.

The Supreme Court had considered the issue of pavement and slum dwellers in Olega Tellis v/s Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985) and Vayyapuri Kuppusami v/s State of Maharashtra (1986). Mr. Y. V. Chandrachud, Chief Justice took the suffering of the slum-dwellers seriously observing that the moves of the government was a disguise to calmly remove the poor and did not accept the argument advanced to portray them as anti-social elements.  It was held that eviction would deprive the slum-dwellers of their right to life and livelihood. In similar issues in the city of Madras, the Court was satisfied that the government has recognised slum-dwellers as an essential element of city life and steps have been planned for improving slums and providing alternative accommodations.

I do not think that the judiciary has taken a U-turn in such issues. If at all, the High Court fails to appreciate the rights of the depressed and the poor, it is for the government to prefer an appeal to the Supreme Court, particularly when it amounts to driving women and children homeless. It is not feasible for the government to provide budget housing for the poor and millions make their homes in the midst of filth and squalor. Rabid dogs and cats in search of hungry rats keep them company. They cook and sleep where they ease, for no conveniences are available to them. Their daughters come of age, bath under the nosy gaze of passers-by. The boys beg, menfolk snatch chains and women work as servants. Hence, it is expected that at least those who have a roof above their head should not be rendered homeless due to lawlessness by the government.  Even if it is contended that their tenements are illegal despite over 30 years of residence and occupation, demolition would not be legal and under authority of law since the action would be unfair, unjust and inequitable.  Needless to say, what is unfair and unjust cannot be legal.

Declared Slum Area

The area inhabited by the families facing the threat of demolition is notified by the Government of Goa as a slum area. The initial notification was issued in 1985 and revised in 2001 totally covering an area of 23,600 sq. metres. As a result the Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act applies which necessitates the government to provide basic amenities in the declared location. Accordingly, these tenements are provided with water and electricity, Sulabh toilets and a school building.  In 2004, the State government had instructed the local Municipality for acquisition of the land to rehabilitate the dwellers by clearance of the slum area. The true story is that there is no will to clear the area and provide security of residential accommodation. If the acquisition was to provide housing to government servants, elected representatives including former, judges including retired, freedom-fighters including children and journalists; our government would have completed the task swiftly.

I also recollect Shri Mauvin Godinho moving a private members resolution in the Goa Assembly in July 2012 to confer legal status on houses built in communidade land and to check any further growth of illegal construction in these lands. The members of the House had agreed on the cut-off date of June 2001. Shri Francis D’Souza, the Minister for Urban Development assured the House to take requisite steps to regularise the houses which otherwise are considered as “illegal”. This is another route available to provide justice to the families of Monte Hill rather than dumping them below a futureless sky.

The worst crime would be to bulldoze their homes by demonising them as criminals and thereby converting the inhuman and also illegal action of the government into heroism for having done the impossible possible.  Painting them as migrants even after their children are born and educated here is not correct. As opposed to this, we are vocal in welcoming migrants as investors in real estate and properties. Give to the poor the security of their tenement and free them to exercise their franchise without fear or favour and live a life of dignity.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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Previous Comments

If steps were taken and the problem of illegal occupation was nipped in the bud, such a situation would not have come up in the first place. The government of that day, did not feel it as improper, obviously because they could use these very folks for their own selfish gain as vote-banks. As they say governances are continuous processes and all the responsibility, including failures of the previous ones, is part and parcel of the present day government. These are not some articles that can be placed in the empty spaces to be forgotten, but the lives of palpitating humans, that cannot be treated as some trash. Ours is a vibrant democracy and a welfare state at that. It is the duty of this government to rehabilitate and accommodate these citizens, as best they can, to their proven ability, under the laws of this country. And the hard task of prosecuting the guilty, under the law, is another duty, which must be held to account.

- Ludovico, Old-Goa | 25 th February 2013 15:44

 

Goa govt has given subsidy on petrol which is used mostly by rich people in which millions of rupees is lost now it is chance for the govt to help poor people by providing shelter?

- shah imtiyaz, margao | 24 th February 2013 17:12

 

Govt should rehabilate the residence since they are staying for years. All community people live there peacefully. Even they have electricity and water connection to their house to support that they are residing there. So I request the goa govt to regularise their houses.

- shah imtiyaz, margao | 24 th February 2013 10:29

 

Mr, Timble,

How you would have acted if some 30-40 families have enchroched in your propety ?. If you feel sorry for them, then please offer them place at Assolna

- Niz Goankar, Panaji | 24 th February 2013 01:34

 

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