Construction boom spells doom for some Mumbai street dwellers

Construction boom spells doom for some Mumbai street dwellers
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First Published: Tue, Apr 17 2007. 12 37 AM IST
Updated: Tue, Apr 17 2007. 12 37 AM IST
Mahbubnagar, Andhra Pradesh: On Saturday nights, when Mumbai’s party set lets its hair down and dances the night away, 830km away in one of India’s poorest regions, fear overwhelms Ramalu Pindi. He is terrified that revellers in a fast car will run him over.
“On other days I am fine, but on Saturday nights even before I close my eyes I can hear a fast car with loud music in the background. Then it changes into the screaming of familiar voices,” Pindi said from his two-room home at his dust-blown native village of Kollampalli in Andhra Pradesh’s Mahbubnagar district.
A thin, hesitant man, Pindi was maimed when Alistair Pereira lost control of his Toyota Corolla on Bandra’s Carter Road on the night of 12 November 2006. Seven homeless workers died and eight were injured. They were sleeping on a pavement that they had just relaid with modern tiles.
All the victims were Pindi’s friends and family. He had known them since he was a child. He had migrated with them, as thousands of young folk have done in this dirt-poor area, to Mumbai for six months every year for the past 18 years. Six of the seven who died are from Mahbubnagar, where, anecdotally, about 40% of the population joins the great, faceless migration to Mumbai. They live either in slums or on pavements and power the metropolis’ construction boom—building roads, apartment blocks, flyovers, railways and other infrastructure as India’s financial capital attempts to reinvent itself. Over the last two years, Mumbai’s construction industry has seen fivefold growth, developers said. More than 80,000 flats, 40 flyovers and various other urban infrastructure projects worth more than Rs10,000 crore, funded by the Centre, the World Bank and other agencies, are under construction. There are more than 4,00,000 construction workers in Mumbai, according to a rough government estimate, but it is never enough.
“Developers have been complaining that the construction companies cannot meet the demand created in the new development boom,” said Pranay Vakil, chairman of Knight Frank Property Consultants.
Pindi does not know that Pereira, 21, was sentenced on 13 April to six months in jail and fined Rs5 lakh. Pereira now has a month to appeal that sessions court ruling with the Bombay high court, though he was present in the Sewri sessions court when the trial was on. Pindi does not know of the public outcry against the flawed police investigation, of the legal debates on television, of the police decision to appeal the verdict. His right side is paralysed. He cannot work. He has medical bills to repay. He has five children, between the ages of three and 13—and a wife who is furious at hearing Pereira was convicted for drunk driving, not for culpable homicide. The police failed to produce translators for Telugu-speaking witnesses, one officer failed to confirm the accident report because he did have his spectacles, and the judge accused the police of “shoddy investigation”.
“Those rich fellows have got away with murder,” she said. “I have to take care of my husband. He’s like a child now since he cannot even bathe on his own. I have five children. Should I work or sit at home and look after them? Those who killed are rich, so they can bribe and get away with murder.” Kollampalli’s drunk-driving victims did collectively get Rs60,000 from Carter Road residents and Rs30,000 from their contractor. All the money has been spent on repaying loans taken for marriages, funerals and medical bills.
Meanwhile, two other survivors in Kollampalli, both old women, share lonely, uncertain lives after losing their sons and daughters-in-law.
Papaamma (65) lives a few metres from Pindi in a similar hovel. Her son, Raju, is dead. Daughter-in-law Lachamma was five-month pregnant when Pereira’s car killed her.
Papaamma does odd jobs in the fields and in return gets lunch, not money. “I am too old to work in the fields so nobody wants to employ me,” she said. Her assets are a dozen steel vessels. She cannot afford electricity, so while the other houses are brightly lit, Papaamma’s is engulfed in darkness. There is no soot on the chullah. It has not been used in months.
Then there’s Enkamma, of indeterminate age, who lost her son Timmana Lodha, daughter-in-law Mariamma Timmanna and grand-daughter Kavita Timmanna.
Enkamma has to care for her challenged 11-year-old grandson, Ashappa Gaji. He cannot walk, talk or eat on his own. Enkamma has one hope in life now—that her grandson does not have a long life.
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First Published: Tue, Apr 17 2007. 12 37 AM IST