Mumbai’s gaothans: from villages to slums
Last month, families living in 22 plots in Worli village received letters from the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA), the city’s slum clearance agency, informing them the area was to be declared a slum. Residents of the fishing village, which probably predates the founding of Mumbai, have objected to the proposal.
Why does the slum clearance body want the area to be designated a slum? This is the plan: Once an area is classified as a slum, construction firms can apply to the SRA for permission to replace the huts with multi-storey houses. In return for the free flats they construct for the former slum residents, the builders are allowed to sell larger residential and commercial units at market prices. As an incentive to construction companies, that would otherwise be reluctant to take up slum clearance projects, the government offers floor space index (FSI) — the ratio of built-up space to the area of the plot — higher than the rate in the locality.
There are no exact figures on the number of villages — or gaothans, as the residents call them — within Mumbai’s municipal boundaries. Godfrey Pimenta, a lawyer and resident of Marol village, Andheri, estimated there were once around 189 such settlements. The city’s Ready Reckoner — a guide to property prices and taxes to be paid on purchases — lists around 125. In the last few decades, after the villages faced an influx of new residents seeking cheap housing, many have degraded into congested localities filled with illegal buildings; the areas will qualify as slums by some standards. For slumdwellers in Mumbai, the hutment clearance scheme offers hopes of homes with better amenities, but many inhabitants of erstwhile villages look at the projects as a death knell to their way of life.
Take the example of Vivian D’souza, a lawyer who stays in the village that gives the suburb of Kurla its name. D’souza stays in a 1,000-square-feet twostorey house that has been modified from a single-floor house. Many residents of the village trace their origins to farming and toddy tapping castes that converted to Roman Catholicism in the 16th and 17th centuries.
If Kurla village is declared a slum, D’souza will be entitled to a 269-square-feet tenement in a multi-storey building.
Citizens like D’souza are concerned if Worli village is declared as a slum, other erstwhile villages located in prime locations and sea fronts will be up for grabs. Residents of these areas suspect that a lobby of construction firms is behind the plan to declare their gaothans as slums. “If they manage to declare Worli village a slum, the lobby will use this as a precedent to get all gaothans certified as slums,” said D’souza.
The residents agree that many former villages have now degraded, with slums sharing walls with centuryold houses constructed in local and Portuguese architectural styles; but this is not an excuse for declaring the entire locality a slum, they argue. Many of these gaothans, especially some of the better-known and relatively preserved ones, such as Khotachiwadi and Matharpakady, are representative of Mumbai’s eclectic past.
In 2008, Maharashtra’s urban development department had approved the Gaothan re-development policy which proposed extra FSI for the villages. So it is strange the government wants to declare these areas as slums. The policy was never implemented for some reasons.
There have been attempts in the past to grab gaothan land. In 2013, residents of these villages had filed documents objecting to the classifications of places such as Chuim, Marol, Shirley Rajan as slums.
This time, too, the residents of the villages are expected to fight the proposal.