March 07, 2005

Shark-infested seas

Excerpts from a lecture given at the Asiatic Society in Bombay by the civil engineer and urban planner Shirish Patel (Friday March 4 2005). (A few more excerpts in a future post).

I am amazed that so few people seem to have understood that it is jobs added to the city that result in added population. Fifty years ago Professor D T Lakdawala (former Head of the Department of Economics in Bombay University, and Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission during the rule of the Janata Party) calculated that for each new job in the manufacturing sector added to the city you would eventually add 13.5 residents in the city. First there is one person, taking up the manufacturing job. His family joins him, making 5 residents in all. They need services: schools, hospitals, restaurants, dhobis, panwalas. People are needed to fill these jobs, and they have their families, who also need services, and that is how you finish with 13.5 residents for every manufacturing job that is added to the city.

Of course, not everyone brings his family to Bombay. But these singles share homes with other singles. And now of course manufacturing jobs in the city have been replaced by jobs in IT or finance or call centres, where the customer being serviced is far beyond one’s immediate surroundings. Any such job would have an impact on the city similar to a manufacturing job. It would result in adding 13.5 residents to the city. That number was calculated by Prof Lakdawala fifty years ago. Now it is likely to be much higher—we have become more consumerist, we need more services, restaurants and shopping malls of a kind that never existed earlier.

So, to put it in another way, for every job which you add to the city, if the job is of a kind which deals with people beyond the immediate surroundings, you will also need to add 3 homes. If homes are not provided, or not available at a price within the economic means of the job holder, he will live where he can, illegally if has no other choice, in what the city calls a slum.


[T]here is one other force driving the growth of slums, and that is the natural increase in population. Kids born in slums outgrow their parents’ dwelling spaces and need to move into slums of their own. Unless job opportunities take them elsewhere, they will continue to want to live in Mumbai. So whatever we do, we need to anticipate and cater to and provide for a rising urban population at all income levels, including the poorest.

There is another equally compelling logic that guarantees that the numbers of the poor in the city will go on increasing. This is the fact of urbanization. The urban population in Asian countries is expected to double in the next 30 years. This parallels what has been seen in Latin America in the second half of the 20th century, where the urban population vaulted from just over 40% to over 75% during a period of simultaneous rapid population growth. The 21st century will be an urban century. For the first time in the history of the world, there will be more people living in towns than in the countryside. And it is the developing countries that will be urbanizing fastest. It is also now well established that urbanization accelerates with accelerating economic growth. So if Bombay is to become another Shanghai in terms of economic power, it will also, inevitably, attract more than its share of urban population.

Demolishing slums is cruel. It is also futile. We need a more considered and intelligent response to the problem.


[W]e need to harness all the economic forces we can for provision of rental housing, as well as ownership housing for the lower income groups. This means two changes in the law: one is a repeal of the Rent Act, or if that is not considered practical, an amendment that ensures that Rent control does not apply to any tenancies created hereafter, whether in new buildings or old. The second is a law that guarantees speedy eviction (within six months of defaulting) of anyone who does not pay his rent or his mortgage instalments. This will be the most effective way of opening up the market for low-income housing to housing finance.

It has been said repeatedly that slums are illegal, that they represent a “theft” of public lands. In a recent article an analogy was drawn of someone stealing bread from a baker’s shop. Would anyone tolerate that? But that is not a correct parallel. A more accurate analogy would be to say: “I am the captain of this ship. You are welcome to swab the decks and polish the brass and I will pay you. But you cannot live here. You have to spend the night overboard, swimming the shark-infested seas. If you’re still there tomorrow morning, make sure you report at 8 for another day’s work.”

I do not understand our insistence on the 1995 “cut-off” date. Have we had a corresponding “cut-off” for adding new jobs in Bombay after that date? If we had stopped adding new jobs after that date, then we might be justified in removing residences that come up after that date. If we go on adding jobs—and Bombay turning into Shanghai will certainly add more jobs—where are the new job-holders supposed to live? Can you show us any available housing for the low-income job holders? How is it we have 4,413 Police Constables and 81 Police Inspectors living in slums? When the British built their bungalows they built servants’ quarters in the compound for the full range of their servants. When the textile mills were set up in Bombay the employers were required to provide housing in the form of chawls for their workers. In the last 50 years what provision has been made by employers for housing the workers that they have added to the city?


For [the] poorest of the poor there is no option other than to identify Government-owned lands — whether by BMC, the State or Centre, the Port Trust, or any other Government organ — demarcate this into pathways and plots and allot these to them to live on. Water supply, sanitation and solid waste disposal must be provided as essential services. Densities will be low but this cannot be helped. The occupants should be permitted to build on these plots up to Ground and one upper, over time, as and when their finances permit. The plots should be open to mortgage and access to housing finance, like any other properties. At some future date, if the property is to taken up for redevelopment at a higher density, the owners should be able to recoup whatever they have invested, as in any other redevelopment.

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