Three decades after the debilitating strike that struck at the very fabric of the Mumbai textile industry, 6,925 of the 1.5 lakh retrenched mill workers finally got their coveted houses in Mumbai on Thursday.
Constructed by the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development (MHADA) on a portion of the defunct mills and sold through a draw of lots on Thursday, the 225 sq ft apartments meant much more than a roof over their heads for many. For Sai Nikam, who lives in a slum in Kalachowkie, the joy was all about getting an exclusive toilet and a bathroom for his family. For Manoj Pulekar, whose father, brother and sister worked at the Simplex mill in Saat Rasta, it was the culmination of a long struggle. For Narendra Dalvi, it was a homecoming of sorts as he has now got a house in the same mill where his deceased father once toiled before being forced to shift to Virar after losing his job in 1998.
Of the total 1.5 lakh workers from 58 erstwhile mills, merely 43,099 from 19 mills could be a part of the lottery process as only the owners of these mills have surrendered MHADA’s share of land. The mill plots, spread over 600 acres in Girangaon, were leased to the mill owners more than a century ago at a negligible sum. After the mills were declared sick in the years following the textile strike, the state government paved way for sale of the land, which today houses super-luxury residences, commercial complexes and malls.
“Most workers came to Mumbai from rural areas of Maharashtra. After the industry shut shop, those from Western Maharashtra regions, such as Pune, Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur, Solapur and Ahmednagar, mostly shifted base to their village and took up farming. Those from the Konkan region stayed on due to lack of similar livelihood options in their villages,” said Rajan Dalvi from the Girni Kamgar Sangharsh Samiti.
For 25-year-old Amol Dhas getting a house in Kurla was realisation of a dream his father Eknath Dhas, a retrenched worker from Swan mill in Kurla, strove for till his last breath. His father had died in a bus accident in 2008 on his way back home after attending a workers’ union meeting on housing. “After Swan mill shut down in 1999, my father was forced to work as a watchman while my mother started working as a domestic help,” said Amol who lives in a chawl in Kurla. Pushed to penury and with five sisters to support, Amol dropped out of school after Class VIII and started selling T-shirts. Like Amol, around 6,820 of those who applied for a house were descendants of workers who have died after waiting for the dream home that was promised to them by the state government a decade ago.
MHADA officials said the heavily subsidised price of Rs 7.5 lakh for each house was arrived at following consultation with the 19 trade unions. “It is a no-profit deal for MHADA, which has spent Rs 600 crore on construction alone,” said Housing Principal Secretary Gautam Chatterjee. He added that as for the one lakh plus workers, who have been left out of Thursday’s lottery, a state government committee is exploring various alternatives, such as housing in MMRDA’s rental housing projects.
Over 2,000 policemen had to be deployed in and around the venue of the lottery at Rangasharda in Bandra as thousands of members from Shiv Sena-led workers’ union poured into the streets demanding that the houses be provided free of cost.
However Sai Nikam, who spent 15 years winding yarn balls at Indu mill 3, said: “It is a matter of pride to be able to afford a house in Mumbai with my hard-earned money. Being a part of the very textile workers’ community that has laid the foundation of the country’s financial capital, I do not want to give in to the lure of free housing that has made a mess of this city today.”