Some anniversaries pass by without a fuss. The completion of 2015 marked 20 years of the city’s slum redevelopment programme that was supposed to make Mumbai slum-free. During the year, the government led by CM Devendra Fadnavis proposed a new housing policy in which one of the stated aims was, ironically, “to achieve slum-free Mumbai by 2022”.
The government that set up the original programme and the Slum Redevelopment Authority (SRA) was a variant of the present one. In it, the Shiv Sena called the shots while THE has ensured that he, more than the BJP, is in command now. Indeed, previous governments of the Congress and NCP had been content to speak politically correct language on making Mumbai slum-free by prioritising affordable housing. They never did.
The conviction which a bevy of successive chief ministers, who have been urban development ministers too by convention, showed in their words never really translated into concrete policy or action on the ground. Affordable housing remained a dream. Urban development experts, independent think-tanks, corporate-funded policy groups that have had the ears of successive chief ministers, all unfailingly stressed on the importance of affordable housing if Mumbai must be made free of slums. But homes in Mumbai continue to be unaffordable. In the last 20 years that SRA has been at work, only about 10% of the city’s slums were redeveloped, according to official data. Moreover, the SRA itself became a contentious body often appearing to take the side of powerful builders against slum dwellers, and was charged with corrupt practices. So it was hardly a surprise that the government allowed the twentieth anniversary of slum redevelopment programme to pass by quietly. Just how imbalanced the city’s housing market is can be seen in these data sets. Nearly half of Mumbai’s 12.4 million people lived in slums while about a lakh of flats lay unsold in end-2015. But an astounding 70% of this inventory was priced at Rs1 cr or above when the average annual household income of a Mumbaiite was approximately Rs7.5L, according to real estate consulting firms.
The fundamental flaw, of course, is that the housing market and relevant policies have been determined not by governments but by a clutch of powerful real estate developers. Their aim was never to make Mumbai slum-free or offer affordable housing to millions. It was the government’s responsibility to do so – or force developers to fall in line. Successive governments did not show the nerve required.
Fadnavis had raised hopes of going beyond the rhetoric on affordable housing. He was young and ambitious, he had marked out Mumbai as his karmabhoomi, he seemed willing to take on entrenched interests and, most of all, he appeared capable of staving off pressures from the real estate lobby. In his 15 months in office, Fadnavis has got major and difficult infrastructure projects off the ground, even constituting a “war room” a year ago with handpicked bureaucrats and technocrats to facilitate these projects. But in these, housing, especially mass and affordable housing, has not been a priority. The ill-advised coastal road that will serve a fraction of the city’s population has received far more attention than the affordable housing project that could take millions out of badly-serviced and unhygienic slums, and lakhs of others off the city’s streets. The High Court had rapped the government last year for not even providing night shelters, let alone proper inexpensive houses. Indeed, Fadnavis has not shown the courage to change the contours of Mumbai’s real estate equation. The bitter truth is that housing is not likely to be affordable anytime soon nor will Mumbai be slum-free.