Housing woes: Mill workers to take to streets on March 1

Protesting against the long delay in building and allotting affordable homes for families of Mumbai's former millworkers, over a thousand retrenched mill employees are expected to participate in a morcha from Currey Road to Dadar on March 1. To pressurise the state government to keep its promise of finding adequate land to build houses for all 1,10,000 workers, who have filed applications for these homes, various millworkers' unions will also organise a massive protest on March 30 in Mumbai while the budget session of the state legislature is under way.

"Over 60,000 workers will gather for the March 30 protest," said Datta Iswalkar of the Girni Kamgar Sangharsh Samiti. "We have had no response from the state government to our repeated requests. After every small morcha, a delegation of union leaders is invited to meet the ministers and promises are made, but no concrete solution has emerged."

While a little over 16,000 homes are built and ready to be allotted to the millworkers, nearly 1,10,000 applications were received when the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) began to prepare for a draw of lots. Also, after Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan rolled back the decision to give these flats free of cost, a committee was formed to decide on eligibility criteria, allotment procedure and pricing of the flats but has been unable to arrive at a consensus. Paucity of land led MHADA to construct high-rise buildings for the millworkers, sending the cost per flat to about Rs 12.5 lakh. The unions have flatly refused to pay such a sum.

"One issue is that there is no word yet on the date of the lottery for those 16,800 homes. But also, we now want to press for a final solution to finding the 200 acres needed to build homes for all the millworkers. Had the government not amended the Development Control regulations, MHADA would have received enough land from the sick mills. We are demanding that the mill lands be prioritised for millworkers' housing," said Iswalkar, adding that the unions would however accept houses anywhere in the city.

Joining the chorus of various groups, including slumdwellers and some Muslim organisations who claim to have voted against the Congress-NCP combine in the recently concluded election to the BMC, the millworkers have alleged that the state has betrayed their trust by permitting such a long delay in allotting them homes. At a pre-election meeting at Azad Maidan, unionists had demanded that the government consider using the 190-odd acres owned by the National Textile Corporation mostly assets the NTC plans to use for its commercial revival and restructuring plan or the 700 to 800 acres belonging to various government agencies.

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