Mumbai, May 24: Displaced slum-dwellers this evening gheraoed Union finance minister P. Chidambaram at Taj Mahal Hotel, warning him that Mumbaiís World Bank-assisted development into a Shanghai cannot be achieved without factoring in the poor.
Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar, who is now championing their cause, confronted Chidambaram in dramatic style after he finished his speech at an international conference on Mumbaiís development.
Police tried to cordon off Patkar when she sought to stop the lift door from closing as Chidambaram was whisked away by the organisers. Patkar took the stairs and caught up with Chidambaram just before he drove away.
ďHe rolled down the window of his car, and heard me. I told him that he cannot talk about Mumbaiís development in air-conditioned five-star hotels, and without a dialogue with the poor. He said he will look into it and drove away,Ē Patkar said later at the Azad Maidan where she addressed hundreds of dwellers from 35 slums.
The slum-dwellers, who have been displaced by the Mumbai Urban Transport Project and the Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project, are on an indefinite agitation against the slum demolitions organised by the National Alliance of Peopleís Movements.
Patkarís dramatics happened at the International Conference on Urban Renewal organised by Bombay First, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and the Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Bombay First, a private non-profit organisation for Mumbaiís development, has supported the Vilasrao Deshmukh governmentís slum demolitions. The MMRDA is the government agency implementing the multi-crore projects.
World Bank country director Michael Carter, Bombay First chairman Narinder Nayar, his London counterpart Stephen íBrien, and Maharashtra governor S.M. Krishna were present to hear Chidambaram.
In his speech, Chidambaram made the right noises to please the powerful construction industry. He called for an overhaul of municipal governance system in cities with large populations like Mumbai and Delhi.
He pledged support for Mumbaiís projects like the Worli Sea Link project, the Nhava Sheva-Sewree sea link, and the metro rail between the eastern and western suburbs.
Chidambaram said to avail of the Rs 1650-crore central funds earmarked under the Mumbai Urban Renewal Mission, Maharashtra would have to repeal the Urban Land Ceiling Act ' a demand made repeatedly by construction magnates like Niranjan Hiranandani. He also talked about reforms in the rent control act and property tax laws.
Patkar, who is expected to contest the next elections in Maharashtra, said she would intensify her agitation against slum demolitions from tomorrow.
ďWe are completely opposed to repeal of the ULCA, and we will oppose any move to scrap it. The government must undertake construction of largescale affordable public housing for the poor, and not repeal the ULCA, but enforce it,Ē she said.
Patkarís protests had made the Democratic Front government slow down demolitions and announce protection to slums dwellers entering Mumbai till 2000.