Intro Post by Namrata Kapoor
I watched Slum Dog Millionaire in New York, 6 months after I had left Mumbai. Scenes from the film invoked a strange nostalgia that I could not resist. Yet, when Jamal Malik jumped into the pile of shit to get Amitabh Bachchan’s autograph, I cringed in disappointment. I could approximate where this scene was shot as I had visited this slum a year ago. Much of what would interest urban studies researchers about this place was lost beneath the shock and awe of dirt and filth framed on-screen. The scene was shot at in a slum near a residential colony named Juhu. The slum sits within the boundary of land that belongs to the airport authority of India. Amitabh’s helicopter lands at the helipad adjacent to the slum and the crowd from the slum throngs the site to get a glimpse of their favorite star. What’s not however very obvious in the scene is that this star lives next door. The distance between the slum and his home is less than half a kilometer!
This is not an anomaly. Many slums in Mumbai sit cheek by jowl to some of the most affluent neighborhoods that have soaring property rates. This condition is broadly because of two reasons. Some slums, like Dharavi were historically slums that sat at the city’s periphery only to be engulfed by the city’s linear growth pattern. In other cases like Juhu, slivers of slum mushroomed along sewage lines to house service labor that worked in these affluent neighborhoods but could find affordable housing close to work. The distance of slum land to high value land is an important factor that defines the slum politics not only in Mumbai but perhaps in most parts of the world. But before we get into these issues, it’s important to understand how the state identifies the slum.
People in the city often use the word slum and squatter settlement (and now encroachment) interchangeably and this is thanks to a confusion created by the state. According to the Maharashtra Slum (Area Improvement, Clearance and Redevelopment) Act, 1971, a ‘Competent Authority’ (generally the Collector) is authorized to declare an area as a slum if the ‘Competent Authority’ is satisfied that :
“(The) area is or may be a source of danger to health, safety or convenience of the public of the area or of its neighborhood, by reason of the area having inadequate or no basic amenities, or being insanitary, squalid, overcrowded or otherwise or; The buildings in any area used or intended to be used for human habitation are:
- In any respect, unfit for human habitation or
- By reasons of dilapidation, overcrowding, faulty arrangement and design of such building, narrowness or faulty arrangement of streets, lack of ventilation, light or sanitation facilities or any combination of these factors, detrimental to the health”
Criteria for determining whether the buildings are unfit for human habitation include –“repairs, stability, freedom from dampness, natural light and air, provision of water supply, provision for drainage and sanitary convenience, and facilities for the disposal of waste water”. The Act directs that
– “the building shall be deemed to be unfit if ,and only if , it is so far defective in one or more of the said matters that it is not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition”.
As Prasad Shetty et al. note in their paper on “Typologies and Beyond Slum Settlement Studies in Mumbai”, if the only criteria for judging slums were inadequate infrastructure then many historic areas in the inner city of Mumbai would also fit the definition. But they are not included. Unlike the areas declared as slums, these areas have clear land tenures and that is perhaps an important determining factor considered by the competent authorities. The issue of “authorized tenure” to judge if an area must be demarked as a slum, brings it closer to the definition of a squatter settlement which as per the Oxford Dictionary is “unused or uninhabited land unlawfully occupied by a person”
Once the slum is identified by a competent authority, its eligible to undergo redevelopment through policy Development Control Regulation (DCR) 33(10) and 33(14), or what’s known as the slum redevelopment policy.The policy uses a system of FAR cross subsidy to provide the poor with free tenements measuring 225 sq feet. In exchange for every 100 sq feet of free housing built, the state allows the developer to build 75 sq feet of market rate development in the city/ 133sq feet with in the suburbs. In addition to this the land on which the slum is located is gifted to the developer free of cost! The developer also receives tax breaks on this slum redevelopment service.
Needless to say, this is a lucrative investment. But just to give an example of how lucrative it could get, in 2010, when the world was facing a global recession, DNA Mumbai reported a story of Tata Colony, located near the high-end Bandra Kurla Complex where the developer agreed to pay 60 slum dwellers 90 lakh rupees, aprox 200,000 USD for a 10×10 ft shack and still stood to make profit. (The rest of the colony members were paid around 100,000USD) .
So are these handful of slum dwellers, Mumbai’s real life Slum Dog Millionaires? Is it a win-win situation? Have we, finally found a solution to Mumbai’s “slum problem”? My next set of blog posts shall try to address some of these questions as well as the conditions under which giving private property to slum dwellers comes to be seen a common sense solution to Mumbai’s “slum problem”.