SEVENTY-ONE years after they fled West Pakistan following Partition and made refugee camps across Maharashtra their home, relief is finally around the corner for descendants of Sindhi migrants. The state Cabinet on Tuesday converted the land tenures of all such lands from leasehold to freehold properties, clearing decks for the redevelopment of these colonies.
About 30 lakh Sindhi migrants had settled in 31 refugee camps across the state post Partition. Five such settlements, collectively occupying 280 acres, were erected in Mumbai. These include camps in Mulund and Sion Koliwada — spread over 100 acres each — being the largest. Around 60 acres is occupied by the Sindhi camp in Chembur and 10 acres each by the Thakkar Bappa Colony (also in Chembur), and the Wadia Trust Estate Refugee Camp in Kurla. A total of 5,000 families reside in these settlements, sources said.
While the state government has been overseeing the maintenance of these settlements since 1971, officials said that the low-rise settlements had outlived their age, and several of these buildings were now in derelict condition, making their redevelopment necessary.
Most of the 25 buildings in the Sion Koliwada refugee camp, for instance, have been tagged dangerous and unfit to live in. The Mumbai municipality had even threatened to pull down these buildings down last week, offering occupants alternative temporary shelters at Mahul near Chembur.
When their redevelopment plans were discussed, the government realised that it would first need to alter the tenure of such lands, which continue to vest in the Union government
Sources said the process for the land tenure conversion was first initiated in the state in 2006, but the benefit had so far been extended to settlements in the districts of Dhule and Jalgoan. On Tuesday, the Cabinet extended the same conversion model to such colonies in all the remaining districts too.
For Mumbai, officials said plans to redevelop the five colonies on the lines of the incentive redevelopment model employed for the reconstruction of the Bombay Development Department (BDD) chawls in central Mumbai is already afloat.
Once the tenure is formally mutated on land records, the plan is to move a proposal before the state Cabinet for appointment of Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) — which is also redeveloping the chawls — as the nodal agency for the urban renewal of these settlements.
The state’s housing department has directed officials to conduct a land survey and submit a report on the area, the number of occupants and the irregularities. The conversion of land tenures would also allow the original migrants to sell their apartments or plots, added officials.
“When they came here from west Pakistan, they had left behind their land holdings. The land allocated to them were always meant to be freehold properties, but for some reason, they were mutated as leased properties at that time. It is only fair that the land be freed from the clutches of the government,” an official said.