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The ‘Shanghaification’ Of Mumbai

By Medha Patkar & Joe Athialy

11 August, 2005

Thousands 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 People’s 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 citizen’s 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 city’s 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 numbers.

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 life’s 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 protest.

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-nots—they 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 space?

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. Shouldn’t 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 end.

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.

While industrialists 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 don’t. Instead, they increase or sustain the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

What’s wrong 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 making it.

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











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