[The Guardian - March 1, 2005]
Poor squeezed out by Mumbai's dream plan
India's biggest city is razing its shanty towns
Randeep Ramesh in Mumbai
All that is left of 13-year-old Parvin Tamhankar's home is the red-tiled floor. Built brick by brick over the past 10 years with the money his father earned by sweeping floors in a city hospital, it was flattened in minutes by government bulldozers earlier this month.
"My brother and I have our exams in March. Now I have no books, nowhere to sit. There is no water and no electricity. I do not understand why all this had to happen," Parvin said.
His home was in a slum colony called Bhimchaya, made up of 500 "hutments", structures constructed of brick, mud and asbestos sheets, spread over a couple of acres on the edge of a dense mangrove belt. The 3,000 residents had banded together to get water connected and alleys lit by electric bulbs.
Since the beginning of the year about 90,000 huts have been demolished and an estimated 350,000 people have been left homeless, in line with the city authority's announcement of its intention to make Mumbai the "next Shanghai" by 2010. The £20bn development programme is based on a report by the consultants McKinsey.
In Vision Mumbai, McKinsey says the number of people living in slums should be reduced to about 10-20%. Mumbai is the world's eighth most expensive city for property, and more than half its population live in shanty towns, unable to afford its rents.
Minar Pimple, director of the People's Movement for Human Rights, which has been campaigning against the demolitions, said: "Half the people in the city occupy less than a tenth of its total space. Mumbai needs the labour of these slum dwellers but the city authorities do not want them living in the city."
There is little chance of rehousing the huge slum population in Mumbai quickly, experts say. The government builds only 3,000 houses a year to house relocated people .
Mr Pimple added: "We keep on hearing about urban renewal. First we would be Hong Kong, then we were going to be Singapore. Now it is Shanghai. All that happens is that the poor lose their homes without the city offering any alternative."
After Bhimchaya was razed, municipal officials promised to return with offers of alternative accommodation.
But they have only returned to check that no one is rebuilding in the slum, and families are forced to keep their belongings under tarpaulin sheets spread across bamboo poles.
Radhabhai Margunde, sitting on a muddy floor feeding her daughter, said: "In the morning when the policeman and the bulldozers came and told us get out, there were women bathing. They were not given time even to dress properly. We lost everything. We had papers to stay here. Where should I move now?"
Supporters of the demolition claim that slum-dwellers are holding back the city's forward march. Bombay First, a business lobby, points out that 40 slum families have prevented crucial expansion of Mumbai's domestic airport.
Its chief executive, Vijay Mahajan, said: "The airports authority could not 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?"
The airport authority let the bulldozers roll into the disputed spot 10 days ago. In nearby Bail Bazar its displaced residents rushed forward with papers showing that the city had given tacit approval and basic services to the "illegal" settlement.
"I paid 40,000 rupees for my home and have the papers to prove it," said Sultana Syed, a 32-year-old cleaner, waving sheets of paper as she spoke. She pointed to photocopies of voting cards, ration cards and land titles that prove residence since 1995.
"I have everything here. But the police did not listen to us. We will vote out these people who did this."
Conscious of the gathering political backlash, the Congress party president, Sonia Gandhi, intervened earlier this month. Congress and its allies run Maharashtra state, and Mrs Gandhi summoned her chief minister to New Delhi to stop the levelling.
The result was that the demolition was halted last week and protection extended to slums built before 2000. This is little comfort to those whose homes have already been bulldozed.
Many experts say that the idea of trying to replicate Shanghai's success is pointless. The Chinese city was created out of largely empty space and its population, 13m, is spread over 4,500sq km (1,373sq miles). Mumbai is an island and its 14m people occupy just 437sq km.
SS Tinaikar, who was the city's senior official in the early 90s, said: "One is a new city created largely by foreign investment and the other is an old city being redeveloped, new layers upon old layers."
The problem was really about migration, he added. The city, one of India's most economically vibrant, contributing a third of the national tax revenue, attracts 100,000 people every year from outside Maharashtra.
"A hundred thousand outsiders in search of a job and therefore in search of a house. But the houses that are built are too expensive for the poor. The result is slums.
"By demolishing slums before you build low cost public housing all that will happen is that the slum will simply slowly spring up again."