A slum-free Mumbai, anyone? Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis re-kindled the decades-old debate on Monday about slums in the city when he directed the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) to initiate the process of law to acquire thousands of acres of private land that house slum tenements. His focus was on five trusts across the city that have been unwilling to undertake the rehabilitation of slums set up on them.
Fadnavis, the man in a hurry, has asked that the process be completed in three months. It could stretch to years, given that l and acquisition at t he best of times tends to be a complex and long drawn out affair, marked by legal complications.
In this case, the owners are unlikely to give up without a court battle. A determined government can certainly expedite the process, but the issue goes well beyond these five trusts and the slums on their land.
For a start, the government could speed up slum rehabilitation on more than 200 plots that are currently in possession of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation ( BMC) and the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada).
Then, a government committed to honest rehabilitation of slum dwellers need not look beyond the Rajiv Awas Yojana, a centrally sponsored pro g ramme. With the country’s largest percentage of slums — 35% and counting — Mumbai’s authorities should have grabbed it.
If implemented, it would have created a large bank of affordable housing for the underprivileged and, importantly, it would have dis-incentivised slums. But successive governments did not facilitate the programme, mainly because it leaves little or no room for private developers to skim the cream off a slum plot.
Most of all, Fadnavis should have turned the lens on the SRA and its flawed rehabilitation scheme. Only 13% of the projects sanctioned by the SRA have been successfully completed since it was set up 18 years ago. Both builders and slum dwellers have a host of complaints about the provisions of the scheme and the roadblocks in its implementation.
Stories of corruption in the SRA are legendary. It is repeatedly ranked high in the list of corrupt government departments. Slum rehabilitation has mostly meant generous windfalls for real estate developers, who constructed ultra-plush homes on the free sale part of the land and forced erstwhile slum dwellers into a vertical slum-like existence instead of their horizontal sprawl giving the city slum-scrapers.
One in every two Mumbaiites lives in a slum, but slums in Mumbai occupy less than 10% of the city’s land. The sprawl tends to leave an impression that they take up “(such) huge parts of Mumbai”, as a well-regarded woman in the city’s soiree set remarked at a recent private gathering but nothing could be farther from the truth.
According to BMC data, nearly half of the city’s slums are on private land such as the ones that Fadnavis targeted. Mumbai was seized of the slum issue way back in 1975, when slums were first regularised.
It cannot be anybody’s case that the slum sprawl should continue, but the best prescriptions to make the city slum-free ignore the most basic reality: slums are a symbol of the failed housing policies, which did not create affordable housing and flawed land-use rules that benefitted a few. Also, slum dwellings cannot come up without some degree of administrative connivance and political patronage.
Chief ministers of the Congress could not or did not wish to disturb the cosy equations that lead to slum proliferation. The Bharatiya Janata Party promised us better. Fadnavis could have used the opportunity to restructure the slum redevelopment pro g ramme itself, giving Mumbai its best chance to create a new model of affordable housing with basic amenities.
It called for a broad and bold overhaul. Instead, he seems content to tinker around without disturbing the existing slum redevelopment scheme which the late bureaucrat SS Tinaikar had remarked was “of the builder, for the builder and by the builder”.