Mum­bai’s gaothans: from vil­lages to slums

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - METRO - MANOJ R NAIR

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.

manoj.nair@ hin­dus­tan­times.com

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