February 27, 2005

Mumbai's 'Shanghai dream' hangs in balance (Sumeet Chatterjee)

Mumbai's 'Shanghai dream' hangs in balance (FEATURE)
By Sumeet Chatterjee, Indo-Asian News Service

Mumbai, Feb 27 (IANS) Shoving his belongings under plastic sheets and bamboo poles erected on a pavement here, Raju Tyagi shudders to think of the day when his tin-roofed shack was razed to the ground by a menacing bulldozer.

Tyagi, a migrant labourer from Bihar, is now waiting to be rehabilitated as the Maharashtra government halts the drive to demolish hutments that dot the landscape of India's bustling financial and entertainment capital.

A drive that is intended to free up space for development and make Mumbai "another Shanghai".

"Those people tore down the house where I was living for the last 11 years in just a few minutes," says a livid Tyagi.

"We want the government to give back our houses...they can't evict us from our homes like this in the name of development. I too paid a price to buy that house and I have a right to work and live in this city," he says.

With up to 60 percent of Mumbai's 16 million people living in slums ringed by towering condominiums and gleaming shopping malls, questions are being raised about the demolition drive that began December last year.

Over 90,000 hutments have been smashed to modernise this choking metropolis and reproduce the recent transformation of Shanghai, China's showpiece business city.

The Shanghai makeover was first talked about during the Maharashtra assembly elections October last year.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had then said the government would transform Mumbai into "another Shanghai" by 2010 as part of a larger plan of urban renewal, which is so far missing in most of the country's crowded and infrastructure-deficient cities.

"It's very unfortunate that the development of Mumbai, which was once India's most westernised city, has fallen prey to politics," says Narinder Nayar, chairman of Bombay First, an NGO.

"Forget about turning the city into the next Shanghai, the way things are moving the city will collapse very soon. Mumbai is decaying and nobody seems to have a clear idea what to do to stop this," he says.

The demolition of slums was stopped last week after the central government asked Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh to extend the protection to slums built till 2000.

Earlier, slums built till 1995 were protected by law, and the recent demolition drive targeted hutments that sprang up between 1995 and 2000.

According to Nayar, cleaning up illegal slums is the only way to ease pressure on the city's transport, housing and other utility services.

"Nearly 1,000 migrants come from poor states to Mumbai every day because they are told it is easy to get a job here. And once they are here, they manage to put up a hut by paying the slum mafia.

"The city's infrastructure has not grown to accommodate this influx. Nineteenth century infrastructure is supporting a city in the 21st century," says Nayar.

Mumbai's commuter trains, which link the suburbs with the main city and are considered its lifeline, carry over 700 people in one coach during peak hours.

Experts say the international norm is 200 passengers.

Despite an elaborate train service that rests only a few hours after midnight, Mumbai sees kilometre-long traffic jams on all major arterial roads.

Clearly the infrastructure hasn't been able to keep pace with the growing number of vehicles.

With the population exploding, homes are fewer and costlier than before.

The cost of real estate in Mumbai is the highest in the country, says consulting firm CB Richard Ellis.

The occupation cost, which comprises rent, local taxes and service charges, is ruling at $52.74 per square feet a year. In national capital New Delhi, it's $40.72.

Urban planners say the exorbitant real estate cost forces people even with reasonable incomes to live in slums.

"We have created a situation where the people are invited to encroach on public land. There is a nexus that nobody wants to break. As a result, the city has far exceeded its carrying capacity," says environmentalist Debi Goenka.

Arputham Jockin, president of the National Slum Dwellers' Federation, says it's wrong to blame the poor slum dwellers for the haphazard development planned by the authorities.

"The way people were evicted from their shanties and thrown out on the streets was inhuman. It doesn't happen anywhere in the world," Jockin says.

"If the slums have to be cleared, a proper rehabilitation plan should be first chalked out. Why can't the government make available large-scale low-cost houses for these people?" he asks.

Urban planners say there is enough space on the city's outskirts to construct one million low-income houses for the slum dwellers.

And let everybody who made Mumbai their home live the "Shanghai dream."

Indo-Asian News Service