Planning: Why slums can’t be separated from Mumbai

Reposted from ‘FirstPost’, article by Mahesh Vijapurkar

From a scattered, notional presence in Mumbai till the 1950s, slums have become so dominant a feature that they can no longer be ignored when planning for the city. Hitherto, slums were where the ‘other’ lived, deserving of platitudes, and also of patronage for political purposes. They have been the ‘outland’.

It may change, if one goes by the city’s civic body’s chairman Rahul Shewale’s admission recently that the slums “cannot be left out of the planning process”. That is what Mumbai has been doing all along, side step the slums as a habitat where fellow citizens—or humans?—lived. But even now, while welcome, it remains a glimmer of hope.

That concession, of course, has come perhaps too late, after Urban Research Design Institute (UDRI) and other serious urban habitat activists put the pressure on the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) that it cease being careless with the marking of existing land use of the city.

UDRI’s version is that when omissions in DP draft were pointed out by 22 organizations, including an assessment of such neglected or ignored areas, Shewale recently acknowledged how compressive plan for the entire city was critical, and asked them to detail their views to the civic body. But that at least marks a reformed principle of town planning.

While formulating its development plan (DP) for Mumbai’s next 20 years, the MCGM had ignored large swaths of lands occupied by slums, which has been the case with earlier to one extent or other. In the process, the city had hurt itself in ways not acknowledged or measured so far.

Public consultations and meetings with civic officials and leaders has wrested this acknowledgement that if the city was to be planned and comprehensively developed, then it ought to be taken as a whole, not just the ‘formal’—a word for the legit housing—as well as the informal, the slums, together.

Mapping of the ignored areas about which Shewale appears serious as of now does not in any manner imply a sudden change of fortunes for the slum dwellers. Frankly, they are too large a size for any, even serious, effort to make a quick difference. It would need years, even decades, to be felt.

Not all slums are serviced by the civic body; they are if only such habitats are on civic lands though this is slowly easing thanks to the intermediation of the politicians, more out of self-interest to keep the vote banks alive than a civic consideration. Not all slum clusters are entitled to free rehabilitation under slum rehousing programmes unless they predate 1995.

Even statistics on the basis of which the civic body claims certain level of services, like for instance per capita water supply, is flawed. The total water supply divided by the total population, including the unserviced slums is the per capita water made available to the city!

The slums are useful only when some builders have to be benefited and the benefactor government comes up with plans for their redevelopment. They are, as any survey would indicate, the priority, not the slums and their dwellers. The slums are only incidental or collateral beneficiaries.

From virtually no, or only nominal slums, to rapid increases in their numbers and the strength of the populations contained in them, they have grown to an alarming size. In 2001, the Census put figures on slum and non-slum populations. That was the first time some quantification.

During 1976, an effort was made to identify the slum component in some way. The findings of what is passed off as a ‘census’ is unavailable despite the best effort s of this writer. A part of it was called only a ‘survey’—as being less official—because the slums were on private lands. The 2001 alone was definitive and findings publicly known.

This census put number at 5,823,510 out of 11,914,398 persons in the headcount, which was 54.6 per cent of the city residents. Even the fact that only C Ward, despite being most overcrowded among all, was without slums. Even that did not jolt the city planners and managers. They remained in their slumber.

The subsequent census in 2011 came up with a provisional number, of 44 per cent of all households were slum dwellings. That does not necessarily mean that 44 percent of households translates to a less than 2011’s 55 percent proportion. Slum households can be extremely overcrowded, people sleeping in turns.

Mapping of the ignored areas about which Shewale appears serious as of now does not in any manner imply a sudden change of fortunes for the slum dwellers. Frankly, they are too large a size for any, even serious, effort to make a quick difference. It would need years, even decades, to be felt.

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