A little over a year ago, I posted here an article I wrote for the Washington Post, House in a Slum? You Can't Afford It.
In it, I had this sentence: "Because housing is so expensive, about two-thirds of Mumbai's population live in slums or on the streets."
As you will see, several comments on that post questioned this assertion. In turn, to support it, I quoted various figures I had access to.
The World Bank has just published its World Development Report 2009. While releasing the report, Indermit Gill, an economist at the Bank, said: "Estimates indicate that 54 per cent of Mumbai's 16 million people now live in slums, and another quarter in degraded apartments."
That's something like three of every four, or about 12 million altogether, of the city's residents.
This raises plenty of questions, of which I will ask here just one. Given this reality, given the severe shortage of housing implicit in this, why demolish slum housing?
Your thoughts welcome.
March 14, 2009
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The Govt. must benefit from having all the priceless land to itself? I am not sure what the Govt's argument is, I guess it is on the lines of converting Mumbai into Paris or suchlike. (I remember an auto-wallah in Delhi tell me that the Givt. plans to convert Delhi into Paris!, so am guessing Mumbai can't be behind)
That there are slums seems to me is a symptom and not the problem. Beautification is surely not the solution to the problem. On the other hand, if land is too less in Mumbai to accommodate the burgeoning industry then it is best to invest in creation of cities. India seems to have too few of them. Clearing slums can do very little.
That people leave their homes to settle in slums tells me they are willing to work to earn their livelihood. That they are not allowed to do so is not understandable to me.
Now Amricans are copying us.
Living in slums is never that good. But because of what you said, demolishing the slums is not also good. But if a promised to a good and well ventilated relocation sites are ready, demolition process is okay. Why? first and foremost, you cannot live comfortably in slum areas, just look at the situation and you will know what I mean.
This is a comment off the post and is more of a request in fact.
I have been a big fan of your blog and your writings, so would consider it a privilege if you would be able to check out some of my writings.
I have published an e-book titled "Neumonia and Other Sketch Stories".
You can download a copy at www.SketchStories.com.
When you get some spare time, please do go through it and if possible (a huge bonus for me here if so) let me know your views about it.
The answer to that "why?" lies, firstly, in making an attempt towards implementation of the laws of the land, I believe.
Let us suppose that the land on which a slum colony comes up belongs to an individual or a set of individuals rather than the government. What happens then? Should that individual or set of individuals be forced to 'gift' the land away to the slum-dwellers, perhaps with free supply of electricity thrown in for good measure?
Secondly, what about town and city planning? What happens when a slum comes up at a site earmarked for something else, for instance?
I concede that the problem requires a solution that is humane, but letting a slum come up or remain anywhere that the slum-dwellers choose does not appear to be the best one.
Indermit Gill goes on to observe in the Economic Times article:
Overly restrictive land and building regulations have put unnecessary upward pressure on land and property prices, hampering the city's competitiveness, the report said.
"Height regulations hold Mumbai's buildings to only between a fifth and a tenth of the number of floors allowed in major cities in other countries," Gill said.
You're right in that demolishing slums is not going to solve the basic problem which is housing shortage induced by bad laws. While laws like ULCRA have been repealed, the problem of bad regulations still remains. It's not easy changing laws because, typically, there are groups which have interests in maintaining the status quo. In Delhi, a law aimed at changing the antiquated rent control act was held up by the traders in areas like Connaught Place who were paying a pittance as rent - the same amount as in 1948!
There are very poor people in Mumbai and other places, no doubt. We are a poor country, notwithstanding all the billionaires/millionaires. But the existence of slums to the extent it does is a disgrace. The pity is, it need not be that way. We have no one to blame here but ourselves.
Incidentally, from what happens in other countries - and perhaps you can confirm whether this is the case in Mumbai also - the people who live in slums do not do so for free. Typically, the land is taken over by goons (with bureaucratic and/or political connections) who then charge the people a "rent" for living in what is essentially public land.
So there's a double disgrace. People have to pay "rent" to live in disgraceful conditions. It reminds me of Madhu Kishwar's story of how ragpickers (another disgrace) have to pay a "fee" to the municipality workers for the "privilege" of rummaging through garbage.
I think the concrete slums being developed by various companies in cities are no better than the 'traditional slums' - only that they may not stink. Traditional slums are lot more cohesive communities.
So I think the priority should be to improve the hygienic and sanitary conditions in 'traditional slums' rather than pushing these people to the cut throat world of 'concrete slums'.
One of the fundamental problems with understanding ‘slums’, is its image of ‘filth’, dirt, nuisance and above everything, considering it as a symbol of poverty. Film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is the recent classic case in point regardless of the fact that Dharavi, which is often called as the largest slum of Asia, is strangely never called as the base of one of the largest handicraft and manufacturing industries of Mumbai. This is very strange of people that they want to call it a ‘good’ city only when it is a ‘good looking’ city. In a classic case- Olga Tellis vs. the BMC, the court gave its judgment that nobody can deny the citizens their fundamental rights for a simple reason that right to live is a fundamental right of every citizen. Therefore arguing whether slums should be demolished, is, by definition, pointless. Hence, slums will continue to exist in Mumbai and they must because Mumbai is exactly the way Mumbaikars want it to be and a large number of Mumbaikars want to live in slums. It is only me sitting nicely in my luxury house and writing a great article on my computer that costs Rs. 40,000, who can talk about slums and their problems.
The problem of housing will be solved only when steps are taken to make ‘housing’ as a fundamental right and if it doesn’t happen, then we must pity the ‘pseudo- socialistic’ government of India and pity it more if it is the Congress government because the Congress claims to establish a classless society. I don’t think that we must bother much about slums. The only people who must be feeling ashamed of themselves are Nehru and Sangh Parivar supporters because the former could never see the success of his introduction of ‘socialism’ and the latter could never eradicate the caste system of ‘Hinduism’ (Thus, a large number of population living in slums are from lower caste). Slums are clearly a product of these two complex and broad issues.
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