A Bridge Too Far

There is lit­tle hope for 60 per­cent of Mum­bai’s pop­u­la­tion that lives in slums.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Zee­nia Shaukat The writer works for the Pak­istan In­sti­tute of Labour Ed­u­ca­tion and Re­search.

The quest to in­te­grate with a glob­al­ized world has led to pro­found changes in South Asia, mainly in In­dia, that sees it­self as the leader of the fu­ture global eco­nomic, fi­nan­cial and cul­tural or­der in the re­gion. The im­pact of these changes on people’s lives, liveli­hoods and so­cial de­vel­op­ment in Mum­bai are worth ex­am­in­ing.

The 445.86 sq km city of over 17 mil­lion (De­mographia World Ur­ban Ar­eas) is ge­o­graph­i­cally a penin­sula in struc­ture, sur­rounded by wa­ter from three sides. Mum­bai started out as a man­u­fac­tur­ing city run­ning on the back of a strong cot­ton tex­tile in­dus­try. As au­to­ma­tion and strikes shooed away in­vest­ment from the sec­tor in the 1970s and 1980s, the dis­placed work­ers of the tex­tile in­dus­try moved to other in­for­mal sec­tors. At the same time, fi­nance, in­sur­ance, real es­tate and cul­tural in­dus­tries emerged as pow­er­ful businesses in the city.

These changes gave rise to two classes: one that was di­rectly en­gaged with the city’s for­mal sec­tors, i.e. the pow­er­ful elite and the mid­dle class, and an­other marginal­ized class that in­cluded the orig­i­nal cit­i­zens of Mum­bai, mi­grant work­ers and mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties such as Dal­its and Mus­lims. The lat­ter helped run the city’s ma­chin­ery and pro­vided cheap la­bor to the grow­ing mid­dle-class pop­u­la­tion.

How­ever, this class re­mains de­prived of the fruits of Mum­bai’s emer­gence as a pow­er­ful ac­tor in the global or­der. This seg­ment, com­pris­ing 60 per­cent of Mum­bai’s pop­u­la­tion, is housed in large swathes of slums, work­ing mostly in la­bor-in­ten­sive units, strug­gling for recog­ni­tion, rights and ac­cess to ba­sic ser­vices.

The sim­plis­ti­cally pre­sented story of Mum­bai be­comes far more com­plex if the city’s re­cent his­tory of or­ga­nized crime, the boom in con­sumerism and the deeply en­trenched eth­nic and class fault lines are taken into ac­count. All these have had their con­se­quences, most pro­foundly ev­i­dent in the ten­sion be­tween the as­pi­ra­tions for the fu­ture of the city, nur­tured mainly by the busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal elite as well as the mid­dle class. There is also the re­al­ity of Mum­bai as the sec­ond-most densely pop­u­lated city in the world, at 32,300 people per square kilo­me­ter Mum­bai fol­lows Dhaka which is the most densely pop­u­lated city in the world at 44,000 people per square kilo­me­ter ( De­mographia World Ur­ban Ar­eas).

Way back in 2004, as a part of his state elec­tion rhetoric, the Congress’ prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date, Man­mo­han Singh promised to “trans­form Mum­bai in the next five years in such a man­ner that people would for­get about Shang­hai…” His govern­ment had it easy af­ter the elec­tions and there was the ‘Vi­sion Mum­bai Plan’ ready for adop­tion. Ini­ti­ated in 2001 by a multi­na­tional com­pany, McKin­sey In­ter­na­tional, the plan re­sponded to the call of an NGO, Mum­bai First, for evolv­ing a roadmap for the city’s de­vel­op­ment.

The NGO was in­ci­den­tally backed by in­dus­tri­al­ists, builders, politi­cians and bu­reau­crats. With the premise of turn­ing the me­trop­o­lis into a liv­able and ef­fi­cient place, the plan fo­cused on six key ar­eas: eco­nomic growth, trans­porta­tion, hous­ing and other in­fra­struc­ture (to en­sure safe wa­ter, san­i­ta­tion, health fa­cil­i­ties and re­duc­tion in pol­lu­tion), fi­nanc­ing of projects and gov­er­nance.

The cost of the plan was more than just the ear­marked Rs. 31, 000 crores. The so­cial cost in­cluded sac­ri­fice on the part of the so-called encroachers of govern­ment land or slums, who were asked to va­cate the property in or­der to make way for the projects en­vis­aged in the plan. As a part of the move, in early De­cem­ber 2004, the Bri­han­mum­bai Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion (BMC) was given the task of de­mol­ish­ing slums de­vel­oped on the state land af­ter 1995.

The slum dwellers were re­ha­bil­i­tated at the pe­riph­ery of the city, un­der the Slum Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Schemes. How­ever, they re­sisted the move, in­sist­ing that they were be­ing pushed up to 40km away from the city cen­tre with no ac­cess to ba­sic ser­vices of ed­u­ca­tion, health­care and em­ploy­ment. They de­manded that they be ac­cepted as equal cit­i­zens of the city and have hous­ing as a ba­sic right. The slum de­mo­li­tion drive gave way to an or­ga­nized strug­gle that grad­u­ated into

a pow­er­ful move­ment called the ‘Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao An­dolan’.

The GBGBA started in around 2004 and worked for those slums that were de­mol­ished fol­low­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Vi­sion Mum­bai Plan. The An­dolan is a self-agency of slum dwellers and work­ers of un­rec­og­nized sec­tors, based on the agenda of “de­vel­op­ment with jus­tice and eq­uity.” It de­mands le­gal recog­ni­tion of the right to ad­e­quate liv­ing and con­di­tions of liveli­hood in the city.

In or­der to ad­vance the cause, the move­ment has en­gaged the state on mul­ti­ple lev­els, some­times em­ploy­ing cre­ative tools and at other times, launch­ing ag­i­ta­tion drives, all fo­cus­ing on the one-point agenda of the right to hous­ing for the slum dwellers. It has achieved im­por­tant mile­stones that make ideal case stud­ies for sim­i­lar move­ments in other parts of the world.

For in­stance, in 2008, the An­dolan un­earthed a ma­jor scam re­gard­ing the govern­ment leas­ing out land to in­flu­en­tial par­ties at a pal­try rate of 40 paisas per acre for an 80-year lease to build lux­u­ri­ous apart­ments and ameni­ties. Af­ter launch­ing a protest, the An­dolan of­fered to pay 100 times more and de­posited a check of Rs.2, 000 for the 50-acre land with the Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter, who had to sheep­ishly ac­cept it on be­half of the chief min­is­ter of Mahrash­tra.

In other in­stances, the GBGB An­dolan vig­or­ously used In­dia’s Right to In­for­ma­tion (RTI) Act to ex­pose the mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of pub­lic as­sets to shame the govern­ment that was dol­ing out land to the pow­er­ful elite at the ex­pense of the poor. The RTI ac­tivist Sim­preet Singh played a leading role here.

In 2008, the An­dolan launched a book­let car­ry­ing a list of land scam ex­poses. These in­cluded the Adarsh scheme, a tower meant for the wid­ows of soldiers who died in the Kargil war. It was usurped by bu­reau­crats, politi­cians and de­fense per­son­nel who had ab­so­lutely no role in the war. An­other land scam, the Ocean of Jus­tice, was a hous­ing com­plex for High Court judges built on land orig­i­nally meant for the home­less. The ugly al­liance of bu­reau­crats, ju­di­ciary and de­fense per­son­nel along with In­dia’s no­to­ri­ously cor­rupt politi­cians pre­sented new lows that the state had stooped to and the An­dolan was de­ter­mined to counter.

Street pol­i­tics has also been an im­por­tant tool de­ployed by the An­dolan. With Mum­bai’s Azad Maidan be­ing a cen­tre point for most of its street ac­tion, the An­dolan mo­bi­lized thou­sands of slum dwellers for con­ven­tions and protests. These ag­i­ta­tions re­sulted in many pow­er­ful con­fronta­tions against the govern­ment that even­tu­ally re­lented to the de­mands made by the slum dwellers.

In Jan­uary 2013, the An­dolan marked the New Year by launch­ing a re­lay fast and a long march for the right to dig­ni­fied hous­ing. The move­ment went on for ten days fol­low­ing a strong march by thou­sands to Mantralaya, the ad­min­is­tra­tive head­quar­ters of the state govern­ment of Ma­ha­rash­tra. The govern­ment even­tu­ally agreed to the spe­cific de­mand of the slum dwellers for hold­ing in­quiries into the dis­puted schemes of the Slum Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Author­ity and also ac­cepted their ap­pli­ca­tions for the Ra­jiv Awas Yo­jana, a govern­ment scheme on for­mal­iz­ing slums and fa­cil­i­tat­ing ac­cess to ba­sic ameni­ties.

The strength of the GBGB An­dolan is its people. The move­ment has the sup­port of for­mer bu­reau­crats, mem­bers of the ju­di­ciary, ex­perts on ur­ban plan­ning and so­cial ac­tivists. How­ever, it draws its power from the deep in­volve­ment and com­mit­ment of the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. The lat­ter do not merely con­trib­ute to street ag­i­ta­tion and par­tic­i­pate in en­gage­ment with the state, whether it is about re­act­ing over poli­cies/laws and plans on hous­ing or sign­ing up for ex­ist­ing state schemes on shel­ter such as the Ra­jiv Awas Yo­jana.

They also mon­i­tor the state’s per­for­mance on hous­ing ser­vices, mak­ing use of the RTI and com­bin­ing it with le­gal ac­tion where nec­es­sary. They have a de­cent web­site too that documents the strug­gle and up­dates lat­est de­vel­op­ments in their cause. The move­ment’s strat­egy to com­bine mass mo­bi­liza­tion with proac­tive pol­i­tics and use of the ac­tivists and ex­perts as­so­ci­ated with the An­dolan to em­ploy avail­able con­sti­tu­tional and le­gal mech­a­nisms to fur­ther the cause of hous­ing for all has yielded many pos­i­tive out­comes.

The three ma­jor me­trop­o­lis of South Asia - Mum­bai, Karachi and Dhaka - are faced with sim­i­lar chal­lenges of ex­pand­ing economies and limited ser­vice de­liv­ery ca­pac­i­ties of the state, re­sult­ing in the ex­clu­sion of the non-elite. These cities are also listed as the most pop­u­lous in the world and are ex­posed to cli­mate change threats due to their ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to re­cent es­ti­mates, Karachi has 1.2 mil­lion house­holds liv­ing in katchi abadis while the slums in Dhaka ac­com­mo­date 3.5 mil­lion people. These make up around half of the pop­u­la­tion of these cities. With the three cities strongly con­nected with the global fi­nan­cial and pro­duc­tion net­works, the lack of po­lit­i­cal will of their re­spec­tive gov­ern­ments to pro­vide dig­ni­fied hous­ing and ba­sic ameni­ties to the ma­jor­ity of their pop­u­la­tions points to the flawed foun­da­tions of their as­pi­ra­tions to be seen as fu­ture lead­ers of the world econ­omy.

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