August 04, 2005

Cut you off

Above all, the state government policy towards slums -- demolishing them -- is a greatly irrational one. The arbitrariness of office timings is one aspect of this.

Consider another: cut-off dates.

The current state government came to power on a promise to extend the cut-off dates for slums till 2000: meaning, slum housing built before 2000 would not be demolished, but anything built after 2000 would be. Once in office, they famously went back on that promise and said they would not extend the cut-off date beyond 1995.

Based on that, the government and municipality began tearing down huts last December: by the time the operation stopped in February, nearly 100,000 homes had been destroyed, turning half a million Bombayites out into the open. At which point, much outrage forced the government to do another turnaround: the cut-off date would indeed be extended to 2000.

If this seems capricious, remember that cut-off dates have been steadily extended, five years at a time, for 20 or more years.

If this still sees capricious, consider one more cut-off date, which applies to MUIP and MUTP. Respectively, those are the Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project and the Mumbai Urban Transport Project: major World Bank funded projects to provide the city with better ... well, infrastructure and transport.

Naturally, such projects will displace slumdwellers. But the World Bank funding requires that alternate housing for them be built before they are actually displaced. So you will find plenty of buildings have come up to house these people. Many, in fact, are on the periphery of the Mandala site.

But that apart, the World Bank also specifies a cut-off date for MUIP and MUTP. Every family that was resident before that date, and that must give up their home for either Project, will get this alternate housing. And given that the state government has been tossing between 1995 and 2000 as cut-offs for its own slum demolition programme, what is the cut-off date for MUIP- and MUTP-affected people? 1995? 2000?

Neither. Correct answer: December 31, 2004.

Slums get demolished. Some residents get alternate housing. Others do not. Who does and who does not, depends on whether the reason for the demolition is World Bank funded or not.

If that's not capricious, I don't know what is.

In Mandala, this is a very real issue. As I said, there are several buildings on the periphery of the site, built for MUIP- and MUTP-affected people. Most are complete; only some actually have people already living in them. The Mandala residents whose homes were demolished in January are not affected by either project; therefore the December 31, 2004 date doesn't apply to them, therefore they are not entitled to alternate housing.

When the big rain came, these residents, desperate for shelter, tried to move into the vacant buildings nearby. The police drove them out. Left with no choice, they began building on the very land, the very 12 x 15 spaces, they had occupied until the bulldozers came.

That's where we are today. Tomorrow, there will no doubt be some other tale to tell.

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