By Medha Patkar
& Joe Athialy
11 August, 2005
of slum-dwellers in Mumbai were at the mercy of the elements when the
Maharashtra government demolished their houses in February. An agitation,
spearheaded by the National Alliance of Peoples Movements (NAPM),
demanded their rehabilitation and forced the government to concede to
re-housing, albeit temporarily, all slum-dwellers who came to Mumbai
before 2000. Welded into this issue were other aspects: the poverty
that forced their migration into the metropolis; the right of the slum-dwellers
to urban space and the attempts by politicians, bureaucrats, industrialists
and even elite citizens groups to prettify urban space
and denude it of the poor.
NAPM leader Medha Patkar was in the forefront of the protest to turn
Mumbai into Shanghai at the cost of the citys disadvantaged. In
this interview, conducted soon after the conclusion of the agitation,
she spoke extensively on the implications of this move:
What was the crux of the issues raised by those whose slums were
demolished in Mumbai?
In Mumbai, the urban
poor are being increasingly displaced because of the urbanisation-based
development paradigm, which is pushed ahead because of the globalisation-liberalisation
policies. They want to transform Mumbai into a world-class city and
that requires building infrastructure. All this is really coming down
on the communities and slums and they are being evicted in escalated
In Mumbai, this
was done on an unprecedented scale. Slum houses were bulldozed shortly
after the Congress-NCP government was elected to power. They bulldozed
more than 75,000 houses at the first go, and if the continued demolitions
are counted, the number goes up to 90,000 houses. More than four lakh
people were affected. The people were thrown out in the open with nothing
over their heads, and their livelihood destroyed.
Unorganised as they
are, with their lifes earnings invested in their houses, they
are not just displaced but destitutionalised. Over one lakh children
were thrown out of school. Many died as a result of their living on
heaps of garbage. Pneumonia and malaria was rampant. This was clearly
a government-manufactured tsunami and it was, therefore, necessary to
The city has
grown tremendously over the years and migrations from rural areas have
increased. Do you see a pattern behind this process?
Since 1977-83, I
was working with the Mumbai slums, it was very clear that people come
from different parts of Maharashtra and not just from other states.
And the reasons are many. Some were riot-affected, some flood- and drought-affected.
Basically, not having a source of livelihood in the rural areas, the
communities they live in compel them to migrate. In the rural areas,
the complete absence of any support system by the state to help the
people sail through a crisis created by nature or unforeseen reasons
leaves no option for them than to migrate.
The rural hinterland
of the cities and the rural interior are considered to be in the pre-urbanisation
phase. The overall objective of our policies is to change the rural
areas into towns and even cities. With this being the crux of the policies,
whatever interventions the state is making, is not equipping the rural
population to be less dependent on the state or the urban areas. It
also denies them the chance of being self-reliant and towards using
their resources to fulfil their needs in a modest way. With the claim
of bringing them into the mainstream, turning them urban, their resources
are being used through the development projects for the increasing desire
of the urban areas, and not for the benefit of rural population.
No one is taking
care to strengthen the rural economy by ensuring that the rural poor
get their minimum or optimum where they are. Rather, after coming to
cities, their services are exploited to change the face of the urban
locale. Later, they are considered to be a burden on the city and are
ruthlessly shooed off. It is very peculiar that the people, who use
the services of these poor, are unable to bear their sight on their
way to work or shopping.
Do the poor who
migrate have a right over urban space?
Of course they have.
Not just the physical space, but political, economic and social space.
Real economic space would mean that they would earn enough not to have
child labour and earn enough to fulfil their basic needs. But this is
not happening. As far as the political space is considered, it is a
known fact that in the Indian democracy, the maximum votes are cast
by the poor. And these votes are drawn from the maintained vote-banks
of the poor, keeping them deprived, destitutionalised and demanding.
They are compelled to live on the promises given by the politicians.
The voting rights guaranteed by the Constitution do not mean that they
have a say in the political decisions. That applies to economic and
social decisions as well.
The land allocation
and the land use pattern in the urban areas have to be looked into.
Just as the water or power crisis cannot be dealt with unless we address
the issues of disparity of its usage, the issue of space cannot be tackled
without talking about the inequity of landholdings.
What are the
preliminary findings of your survey of dishoused slum-dwellers?
Well, when we talk
of space, we need to keep in mind that it is mostly the dalits, backward
classes and minorities, the socially marginalized communities who are
in the slums. In the name of infrastructure, when the Express Highways
are made and the roads are widened, it happens at the cost of rural
infrastructure. Within the city also, the infrastructure development
is happening at the cost of the have-notsthey are not only to
give up their open spaces, but also their houses.
Unless we have a
cost-benefit analysis and socio-economic-political audit of space management,
allocation and utilisation by different sections of the population,
it is not possible to provide and reserve space for all, with right
to life and livelihood, especially the downtrodden.
How are governmental policies linked to migration and the issue of
The policies are
such that while a lawyer, businessman, or anybody with money is welcomed
to the city, accommodated within the limited resources, and is not considered
to be a burden on the city, the poor are unwelcome and are considered
to be a burden.
Wrong policies lead
to disastrous results. Take, for example, the Mumbai Urban Transport
Project (MUTP) or the Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project (MUIP), in
which, over 35,000 families are going to be affected. Though the World
Bank, which is funding the project, is insisting on better rehabilitation
for the affected, there are innumerable problems related to the surveys.
In Mumbai, 60 per
cent live in the slums. Shouldnt they have a right over 60 per
cent of the land in Mumbai? In the Mumbai Development Plan, the space
reserved for housing the dis-housed, is occupied by the rich encroachers,
who are not touched by the law. The poor are always at the receiving
Umpteen number of
policy interventions are possible. If employment needs to be provided,
then the minimum wage policy has to be changed into optimum and disparity
in the wages has to be removed. Unorganised workers need comprehensive
legislation, which would give them support for survival, including housing.
have demanded the repeal of the Urban Land Ceiling Act, you have been
demanding the strong implementation of it. Could you explain?
It is necessary
that somewhat radical laws like the Urban Land Ceiling Act should not
be withdrawn, but fully enforced. The overall city development plans
should not encourage further migration, but the priority must be given
to the rural areas. Slum communities should be allowed till affordable
housing is brought in. Illegal occupation by the rich must be removed.
More lands must be reserved for housing in proportion to the number
of people and migrants.
The policies should
reduce inequity in society. Unfortunately, they dont. Instead,
they increase or sustain the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
with the Shanghaification of Mumbai?
Except for a handful,
Shanghai is not a model for development. Some corporations came together
to form Bombay First and termed it as an NGO. No individual can become
its member, only corporate bodies can. Bombay First appointed McKinsey
& Co. to draw out a plan for Mumbai and it is termed as Vision Mumbai
Plan. That is neither accepted by the state cabinet, nor discussed in
the Assembly -- lower or upper houses. It is not made public for debate.
That Plan has the goal of changing Mumbai into Shanghai. No one really
knows what Shanghai is like and what were the processes involved in
The Shanghai dream,
as it is reflected in the Vision Mumbai Plan, is to reduce the slum
population, which is 60 per cent today to 10 per cent. But it fails
to say how. There is only one paragraph suggesting affordable housing.
The crux of the Plan is clearing, or reducing the slums, but not making
housing affordable. It recommends that the Urban Land Ceiling Act be
withdrawn. We feel that the 15,000 acres of land occupied in violation
of this Act by corporates like Nasli Wadia and Godrej and the builders
should be freed.
Does the Vision
Mumbai Plan have any vision for other residents of Mumbai?
Only the rich. The
plan recommend the withdrawal of the Coastal Zone Regulation Act. How
can that happen? If the Act is withdrawn, the fisher folk will be deprived
of their means of livelihood and the rich will come and occupy the seashores.
It would also destroy the mangroves and would disturb the ecological
balance. That would be vulgar and unjust.
The propaganda by
the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance government for the Singapore model or the
Shanghai model by the present government comes from the same insensitive,
narrow and profit- oriented mindset, which helps only the rich and the
powerful and not the poor.
Joe Athialy is an activist with Initiative, Mumbai.
© Copyright 2004 Foundation for Humanisation