Repeated fires in Bandra slum raise eyebrows: Authorities smell 'conspiracy' to deter BMC demolition drive

A massive fire broke out at the Garibnagar Slum in Bandra east on Thursday and engulfed several shanties close to the railway line. It happened at around 4.20 pm when municipal officials were carrying out an anti-encroachment drive outside the busy station.

Repeated fires in Bandra slum raise eyebrows: Authorities smell conspiracy to deter BMC demolition drive

Fire brigade personnel and locals extinguishing the fire at Garib Nagar . PTI

According to a report in The Indian Express, the BMC officials who were carrying out the demolition are suspecting a ploy to thwart the drive. This was the third fire reported since 2009 and after every incident, it is reported that the shanties grew in number.

The other major fire was in 2011, when over 3,000 people were affected and the Congress government leading the state sent relief and aid materials to the affected people.

"Why does a fire break out every time the BMC goes there to clear the encroachment. It is an important point to think about. On Thursday, we had gone there with a target to clear at least 300 to 358 illegal hutments. However, due to the fire incident, we managed to clear only 70 hutments. These people run a racket where they make fake residential proofs and photo IDs. When BMC takes action, they resort to such things," The Indian Express quoted Alka Sasane, assistant commissioner of H-East ward, as saying.

She further told Hindustan Times that the BMC had sent notices to residents even in 2015. Such fires are caused by residents to stop the demolition drive, she added.

Allegations of arson are also being levied this time. A local police officer backed Sasane's claim. He told The Times of India, "it is strange that not a single casualty occurred either in 2011 or on Thursday despite cylinder blasts in this slum. And women claim to have been cooking in the same small space of around 150-200 square feet. Typically, most families managed to extricate cupboards and cots as well."

A local slum dweller has however denied these suspicions. He told The Times of India, "we have suffered one major fire in 2011 and no demolition was taken up then."

The initial cause of the fire was reported to be a series of cylinder blasts. The residents were quick to accuse the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for not removing the household stuff properly before the demolition drive. Several residents, as Hindustan Times reported, complained the civic officials didn’t stop the demolition, even though they sought time to shift their belongings.

"The BMC did not give us enough time to vacate the premises and arrived on the spot for demolition without any notice. While demolishing hutments, the bulldozer hit a gas cylinder, which led to the blast," a resident Shamsuddin Shaikh told The Asian Age.

Undeterred by the fire, the BMC has said that it will continue the demolition drive. Sasane told Mid-Day that the demolition will continue on Friday and till all the remaining structures are demolished within the deadline set by high court.

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Updated Date: Oct 27, 2017 15:42:45 IST

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