[The Telegraph, February 27, 2005]
WHOSE CITY IS IT ANYWAY?
- ‘Present slum area not more than eight per cent of total land’
The airport cannot be extended unless the chawls are cleared. The slum-dwellers claim they developed the land — it’s theirs. Satish Nandgaonkar reports on the stand-off that has divided Mumbai
Mumbai makeover: Recent razings have left thousands of slum-dwellers homeless; Vilasrao Deshmukh (below)
Spread over 25 acres of reclaimed land, Ambujwadi looks like a patch of earth hit by a twister. Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) light blue dumpers move on it like ants on a mound. Watchmen and BMC helpers scrounge for bamboo, rooftiles, plastic sheets — taking away any material that slum-dwellers can possibly use to reconstruct their hutments. Women and children mill around trying to save what they can. “They have even sealed the bawadis (water tanks). We don’t have water to wash or drink,” says Jayashree Shinde in a tired voice.
All her life, Shinde has moved from one slum to the other. She sold jalebis, and single-handedly brought up her two sons in this slum located on the edge of Mumbai’s civilisation. Her husband, who left her when the children were small, returned three years ago only to suffer partial paralysis. Just when she thought her sons, now temporarily employed, would lift the family out of this morass, the BMC bulldozers wiped her hutment off the map.
Shinde’s hutment is one of the 10,000 dwellings razed by the BMC in Ambujwadi, though the official figure stands at 7,000. Ambujwadi — which juts into Malwani’s mangroves in the Malad suburb — is the largest of the 28 sites flattened by the bulldozers. About 90,000 hutments were demolished since December 2004 and NGOs estimate at least four lakh people are homeless now.
The levelling juggernaut — one of the largest ever of any Maharashtra government — still continues. Many homes have been erased without warning and without explanation, even though some victims allegedly furnished proof that they had been living in the area for over 20 years. Miloon Kothari, who is United Nations’ special rapporteur on adequate housing, sums up the situation: “I have witnessed many demolitions in different parts of the world. But this is one of the most brutal evictions that I have seen.”
The erasure of shanty towns is the outcome of a new economic vision for the city as envisaged by its ruling elite. It is about Mumbai metamorphosing into Shanghai by 2013. Huge infrastructure projects — metro rail links, trans-harbours, state-of-the-art flyovers, ring railways and upgraded airports — are in various stages of completion across the western megapolis.
But a crucial part of a report, ‘Vision Mumbai’, which is more or less the roadmap for transforming Mumbai into a world-class city, is about “bringing down the number of people living in the slums from the current 50-60 per cent to 10-20 per cent”. And Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh seems determined to pursue that goal. Even though many are asking the question: whose city are they really planning for?
It is a question that has divided the city on class lines. The pro-demolition lobby — the city’s builders, real estate agents and those who feel that slums hold back Mumbai’s transformation into a world-class city — wants speedier action. They believe that the city’s prime land has been encroached upon and the state has been a mute spectator so far.
Since the first slums survey in 1977, successive governments of different political shades have regularised the shanties on the eve of the elections. “The Sena-BJP government set up a 1995 cut-off date (that is, regularising slums built up to 1995), and now Congress wants to push it to 2000. Unless you stop it, Mumbai can only become Slumbai,” says Vijay Mahajan, chief executive officer of Bombay First, an independent body backed by corporate heads and Mumbai’s prominent citizens. Bombay First had roped in consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., to study and draft Mumbai’s proposed Rs 31,000-crore makeover with its Vision Mumbai 2003 report.
To illustrate the point that illegal slum-dwellers cannot hold Mumbai to ransom, Mahajan tells you the story of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) which has been fighting a long, legal battle to evict 40 slum families staying near the Santa Cruz domestic airport. “The AAI cannot extend the taxi track unless they evict these families. In the process, 2.5 million air passengers suffer, and 2,000 litres of turbine fuel is wasted. Are its legal citizens going to run this city or the illegal encroachers?” asks Mahajan.
But several NGOs and human rights groups have challenged this very concept of encroachment. Many slums came up in erstwhile marshy land with no government-sponsored infrastructure such as drinking water and electricity. Over the years, through the slum-dwellers’ efforts, these areas have grown into shanty towns — now worth crores of rupees in prime land — and are now being eyed by the real estate lobby and the land mafia.
Not surprisingly, there is a sustained campaign against the slums. Half-truths, such as the fear that slums will swamp the city, abound. But contrary to popular perception, only six per cent of Mumbai’s total land area (2,525 out of 43,000 hectares) is occupied by slums, as the state government’s own Afzalpurkar report (1995) shows. “Even if one assumes a 10 per cent increase, the present land occupied by the slums will not be more than eight per cent. So much for Slumbai,” says Deepika D’Souza, executive director, India Centre for Human Rights and Law.
A common thread running through the pro-demolition lobby is that slums are a heavy burden on the city’s overstretched infrastructure. The McKinsey Report says, “Slums have proliferated and congestion, pollution and water problems have skyrocketed.” However, a 2001 survey by NGO, Yuva, shows that only 5.26 per cent slum-dwellers have access to individual water taps and 62 per cent of them use public or shared toilets.
But with the campaign against slums being linked to the beautification of Mumbai, much of middle-class Mumbai has been silently supportive of the drive, a fact that the ruling combine hopes will help in countering the loss of the poorer voters.
But the razing’s impact goes beyond politics and economics. Few in the government are calculating the social and psychological trauma of the displaced. “We need to look at the impact on specific groups such as women, children and Dalits,” says Kothari.
That apart, in a city with a history of communal riots, any large-scale dislocations needs to be carefully thought out. “Especially, since we are creating separate zones for the rich and the poor. We are creating a true apartheid city,” he says.
Environmentalist Darryl D’monte, who authored the first comprehensive book on the decline of Mumbai’s textile mills, says that a survey done 20 years ago showed that a Mumbai slum-dweller moved house five times in a lifetime. He questions the skewed economics of the Mumbai makeover. “The Rs 10,000 crore to be spent on roads will benefit eight or nine per cent rich whose cars account for 60 per cent of the pollution, while public transport remains ignored. If you spend this on irrigation, it would probably stop thousands from migrating into Mumbai,” says D’monte, who believes that migrants entering Mumbai are not “pulled” by the city, but “pushed” out of the countryside.
Incidentally, Mumbai’s ongoing plastic surgery has also created strange political bedfellows. The Congress-NCP government has found an unlikely ally in the Shiv Sena. Among the political parties, only the Republican Party of India and the Left have voiced their opposition.
The real opposition on the ground has come from NGOs and social activists such as Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar and actor Shabana Azmi, president of the Nivara Hakk Suraksha Samiti. The NGOs want the Deshmukh government to stop demolitions and involve the slum-dwellers as a stakeholder in Mumbai’s proposed development plan. Says Shakeel Ahmed of the NGO, Nirbhay Bano Andolan, “You cannot have development policies only for the rich. We want the government to hold public hearings of the plan and involve the poor in the debate.”
Not everybody is considering such alternatives. South Mumbai Congress MP Milind Deora believes that the government needs to take a zero-tolerance policy towards further encroachment by implementing the Slum Encroachment Act, 2001 and punish anyone — politicians, slumlords, police, bureaucrats — who abet proliferation. “Otherwise, in 2015, you will be regularising slums to come up till 2010,” he says.
But as urban planner Chandrashekhar Prabhu points out, the cut-off deadlines become relevant only when there is a housing plan for the poor available in the formal sector. “Today, a slum-dweller has no option,” says Prabhu, a former member of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority.
The road to a Shanghai-ed Mumbai promises to be a rocky one. Funds and land are the two major worries of Deshmukh heading a cash-strapped government. His problems increased earlier this month when Congress president Sonia Gandhi told him that the party cannot renege on its election promise of regularising slums that have come up till 2000. Rehabilitation land would cost Rs 700 crore, house construction Rs 20,000 crore and Rs 4,000 crore would be required for creating infrastructure —in all, Rs 24,700 crore. But Deora is optimistic. “Once you demonstrate reforms and the will to implement them, money can be generated. The World Bank or even the Centre will give you funds when you show the reforms first,” he says.
Only, Jayashree Shinde doesn’t understand Mumbai’s macro-economics and the McKinsey Report. And she cannot comprehend that just across the mangroves and the marshes lying beyond her demolished house, the dragon of development has arrived.
• 41,900 hutments demolished between Dec. 2004 and Jan. 2005, NGO Yuva’s January survey says. Out of these 2,405 were built before 1995 and were legally authorised
• 247 police vehicles, 128 BMC vehicles and 87 bulldozers were used, says the same survey. A total of 3,989 BMC and police officials were deployed for the demolitions
• At least five per cent of Mumbai’s population lives on the roads. Around 2.5 million live in buildings officially labelled as dangerous
• Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) regional plan (1996-2011) says the city needs 85,000 housing units. There is a deficit of 45,000 units.
(With additional reporting by Avijit Ghosh in New Delhi)