Sunday, May 16, 2010

Catholics protest land acquisition in Mumbai

Some 80,000 families, several of them Catholics, are on a warpath against plans to acquire their lands for expansion of Mumbai airport saying the move would displace them and adversely affect their livelihood.
Residents want to be rehabilitated under the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy 2007 (NRRP), which protects the interests of displaced people whose livelihood is adversely affected by land acquisition.
Most vociferous among the 80,000 families are 7,000 original property-owning inhabitants, with 400 families belonging to the East Indian community, the local Christians.
“We are not encroachers,” emphasizes Nicholas Almeida, ex-municipal corporator and now a leader of the protest, reported
“We did not come from outside to set up hutments here. We are sons of the soil living on ancestral property but we have been ignored all along,” he said.
The East Indian community was first recognised in 1896 when they, converted to Christianity by the Portuguese 400 years ago, did not wish the British colonial government to confuse them with Goans, Mangaloreans and other Christian settlers in the region.
They decided to call themselves East Indians so as to impress upon the British they were the earliest local Christians and should therefore be given preference in employment.
East Indians in Sahar village were mainly engaged in agriculture and had to give up their land when the British government decided to build an airport here during the Second World War.
“We readily gave up the land but got no compensation,” said Alan Boothello, 70, who once owned chunks of land here.
Another East Indian, Melville Gonsalves, they oppose the acquisition because unlike during the war time, this time the land is taken merely for commercial purposes to build luxury hotels by private parties.
Father Alwyn D’Souza of Sahar’s Our Lady of Health Church assists them. “We are advising residents not to repair, buy or sell their properties and keep all their documents in order. Many say they have been hearing of acquisition since the 1940s. But we tell them that this time it is real.”

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