On Thursday, when the Maharashtra government distributed compensation cheques of Rs 25,000 to the residents of Damu Nagar, where an entire slum settlement was gutted in a massive fire on December 7 last year, it was a case of too little, too late. Not only were several locals left empty-handed even as they complained of their burnt huts being left out of the panchanama carried out by government officials, those who got the cheques said the money was too little to compensate for the loss they had suffered.
According to official estimates, up to 50 families were not accounted for in the two-day survey conducted by Revenue officials after the fire incident. However, local activists pegged the figure at 350.
Kadubai Sonawane (80) was one among many who was left out of the government aid. “Officials came, but did not visit my hut,” she told The Hindu .
Those like Bapurao Mhaske, who was attending to his injured wife at the local civic hospital on December 8 and 9, was unaware of the panchanama that was being carried out at the slum. Some residents, who had gone to the village came back to find their homes burnt and the official survey completed. Locals alleged duplicity in panchanamas and nepotism in some cases.
Many whose houses were not surveyed had house records and names in the voter identity list. “I know a lot of old residents of Damu Nagar were not surveyed,” Rakmaji Mane, who got his cheque of Rs 25,000 said.
A total of 1,218 cheques were distributed based on panchanama slips at a function attended by Mumbai suburban guardian minister Vinod Tawde, MP Gopal Shetty local MLA Prakash Surve. Earlier, the government had given a paltry compensation of Rs 3,800, which had caused much discontent among the people. Mr Tawde and other leaders assured permanent rehabilitation to the displaced residents in the vicinity of Damu Nagar.
Official responses to those who were left without aid were contradictory. “There is little possibility that anyone was left behind in the panchanama, which was done over two days. We will still verify all the claims,” Mumbai suburban collector Shekhar Channe told The Hindu . However, after the function Mr Tawde assured the disgruntled section that panchanamas of their houses would be done within a week.
Even those who received the cheques were not satisfied with the amount. “We lost gold worth Rs 3 lakh and cash of Rs 17,000. This cheque does not remotely cover the losses, but we have to make do with what we have got,” said Babu Gupta, who got the cheque.
After the initial spurt of help that poured in from various organisations, the residents are now left to scrounge essentials. The BMC has provided a water pipeline to the area, but since the slum is at a height, the water does not reach the houses, locals complained. Lack of toilet facilities and electricity are major concerns.
“Halogen lights were made available for the first 15 days after the fire and then removed. Power theft is rampant and the rate for stolen electricity is Rs 200 to Rs 300 a month,” resident Santosh Parke said.
When the slum plunges into darkness at night, there is stone pelting from various quarters, residents alleged. Since January 9, incidents of stone throwing have been reported.
Activist Ravi Hirve said, “Constables from the local police station along with some residents have been keeping night vigils, but no one knows who is behind it. It could be some anti-social elements trying to create fear among the people to drive them away.” The police denied reports of stone pelting.
Locals complain that the relief amount is too little to cover the loss they suffered in the blaze