Most of the slums in Mumbai are illegally occupied and gradually became legal habitats. See pans, collector lands, government lands are free passage for migrants and land sharks. Illegally occupied slums are steadily evicted by land mafias by giving them money or alternate accommodation.
What has happened is that if the slum is right in the heart of the city, it has a lot of value. In fact, Mumbai slums cost billions. This attracts all kinds of vested interests. The politicians promise money to the inhabitants, they get them registered as voters, they raise requests to regularize the ownership of land, which they occupy on humanitarian grounds.
When we talk about better standards of living it includes living in healthy neighbourhoods. Had it been a developed country, they would simply build alternative homes, move out the residents of Dharavi and bulldoze down the area to create a new township on the basis that the housing there does not conform to basic norms of housing laws.
We actually can afford to do that, without considering the billions generated by reclaiming all that real estate, but it will not stop until there are people willing to live in that mess. One day, as people get more educated and are more productive than people who live on casual labour, these slums won’t find anyone willing to live there. You will then find no resistance to reform the slums.
Land mafia often pays money to agents to move people into government lands and then declare it as residential or commercial land and take ownership.
Things are changing; it needs Indians to be better equipped with productivity so that they do not compromise with such situations.
Experts claim it is a myth that land is not available in Mumbai to house the poor–land is available but is owned by a powerful elite, which ensures that vacant land is not freed for slum dwellers. The National Commission on Urbanisation reported that 91 people in Mumbai owned 55 per cent of vacant land. This concentration of ownership, in fact, is a widely known phenomenon, accepted by government officials as well.
It is not that houses are not available in Mumbai, but these are unaffordable to the lower middle class. There are a few developers who control the Mumbai housing sector. We need to break this jinx and deregulate the housing sector.
In mid-2016, property prices in Mumbai’s business districts reached record levels, becoming, for a brief period in 2020, the most expensive real estate in the world is built in south Mumbai. Unleashed by a series of national-level industrial and monetary reforms, demand for residential and commercial property intensified among both local investors and global speculators.
Yet the increased demand was met with constrained supply — due both to geographic limitations (Mumbai is an island city with few transits linkages to the mainland) and a regulatory context posing restrictions or disincentives on certain types of development — prices rose dramatically if we look at the projects like Nijman, 2000; 2002; Bertaud, 2002). Responding to these market pressures, the local state began making certain highly valued lands available for development through a series of industrial land conversions, slum clearance schemes, and the de-reservation of certain public lands.
Construction activities in Mumbai’s island city and northern suburbs expanded, further bolstered by the growth of the finance industry, access to new sources of capital, and both funding and pressure from multilateral aid agencies. Although activity slowed somewhat after the mid-1990s peak when some speculators left and real estate prices began to ‘correct’, both prices and demand have remained high and property development has emerged as one of India’s and Mumbai’s fastest-growing industries.
With construction crews becoming a common sight throughout the city in the late 1990s, two new shopping centres then drew little attention when constructed in the Crawford Market area of South Mumbai, opposite the city’s police headquarters. The Sara and Sahara Shopping Centres opened in 2000, joining a myriad of new shopping centres and retail establishments that had appeared in the area in the previous five years.
It was soon learnt that the Sara and Sahara Shopping Centres had been built illegally by the D-Company, the city’s largest and most notorious mafia organization, on land belonging to the state government’s public works department.
As the details of the case came to light in mid-2003, it was learned that representatives of the D-Company had purchased the property from a small-scale businessman who had been illegally squatting on the public land. The D-Company then acquired the requisite building permits from the municipal building department, with the payment of hefty bribes, and constructed the buildings with few obstacles.
As more information about the D-company’s involvement in the shopping centre project surfaced, it became apparent that the mafia organization had been running a highly profitable property development business since the mid-1990s, constructing retail and residential buildings in other parts of Mumbai, as well as in Dubai and Karachi. Further investigation revealed that the D-Company was not the only criminal organization involved in such activities at the time, but that all of the city’s major organized crime groups had involved themselves in real estate and property development.
Poised on the northern edge of South Mumbai is a piece of real estate developers who would love to get their hands on. Rubbing shoulders with upmarket Bandra, Dharavi is known as Asia’s largest slum, but it’s actually much more than that–it’s a settlement in which people live and work, producing a wide array of goods and services. The government’s plan to ‘redevelop’ Dharavi is threatening a huge number of livelihoods.
Supported by an illicit nexus of politicians, bureaucrats and the police, the mafia has emerged as a central figure in Mumbai’s land development politics. The structural shifts that facilitated the criminalization of land development and the implications of mafia involvement in local politics are visible here.
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