In today’s Hindustan Times, Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan announced that the government is looking into cluster development as a way to rehabilitate Mumbai slum-dwellers. In the article Chavan expressed his fears at being able to accommodate all 14.5 lakh hutments of slumdwellers in the cluster plans, even if they manage to build housing projects as dense as 500 homes for square kilometer. At the same time, though, Chavan spoke openly about FSI land that has recently been granted to five star hotels in the coastal regulatory zone. Despite this practice being legal, it makes the housing crisis even more severe for Mumbai’s urban poor.
Chavan’s defense of the FSI hotel land transfer demonstrates that allotting land to the urban poor is not a current government priority. Chavan himself says that “the only way out, as I see it, can be cluster development,” but 500 homes for square kilometer is an ambitious goal for even the most densely populated clusters. Furthermore, while cluster development will provide shelter to those who need it this development strategy does not address the consumer needs of the urban poor; the poor need to buy food and water and also work for themselves in order to survive, but cluster development will geographically separate these people from business and market areas and make day-to-day shopping and bread-winning more difficult for them.
Clusters can be effective community layouts, but they need to be integrated with commercial areas so that families can take care of their other basic needs like food, water, and an income. The less land that the government gives to commercial developers for hotels and other elite attractions, the more land will be available to service the basic needs of the urban poor even as they live in a cluster arrangement. The government needs to look beyond what they are legally able to do in giving away land to private developers and think more critically about what is the best use of the land for the greatest number of people. If they take collective good and the urban poor into account in their decision-making process, they will find that the available land can and will stretch to accommodate the urban poor who need living space.