India’s financial centre is undergoing the greatest construction boom in the country’s history. Huge apartment buildings are being erected, scraping the sky; yet just metres from these luxury condominiums, exist Mumbai’s vast slums. A majority of Mumbai’s population resides in these jumbled shantytowns. With a series of fire incidents taking place in the slums rapidly and a huge chunk of the area being illegal with the lack of fire extinguishing facilities and also thriving with illegal food shops making it impossible for dwellers to escape during such accidents! Isn’t it high time that the government must take deliberate steps so that blighted slum areas can be regularised?
In a recent data revelation by the Maharashtra government, there have been over 49,000 incidents of fire in Mumbai in the last one decade, killing more than 600 people, however, out of which 3,151 were reported in slums. Faulty electricity systems caused 33,946 blazes while 1,116 incidents were due to gas leakage and 14,329 cases were due to other reasons.
In the wake of rising mishap, the state government’s proposed housing policy aims to make the city slum-free by 2022. The Maharashtra government is also planning to amend the slum law and provide for termination of contracts with private builders, if they don’t complete the projects of MHADA, the state housing agency, in time. While the nonparticipants in the slum scheme will be evicted if the 50 per cent of dwellers have been shifted, this move is believed to help to resolve many stalled slum redevelopment projects in the city.
Social Activist Anjali Damania called this SRA scheme a ‘bogus one’ and said that it has been done plainly to support builders and get them land parcels.
She further expressed, “Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana should have been implemented years ago but it has not happened until now. Ideally, there should be some fresh rules and regulations and it’s not just about the security, complete re-organisation is required because what is happening in case of fire is that the fire extinguishers cannot reach the interior because of the narrow lanes-there is absolutely no planning.”
MHADA will conduct a survey to ensure the eligibility of the slums that could be rehabilitated. According to the reports, slum dwellers will be allowed to choose developers for redevelopment, failing to which within a year, SRA will take bids on its own. If the private developers are unwilling for the same, then SRA will provide viability gap funding of up to 40 per cent to make redevelopment attractive. The government claims to make an attempt for redevelopment will anyhow begin within a span of three years. The slum on private land will be redeveloped jointly with MHADA or private developers within two years. In any case, if it remains to be unsuccessful, the land will be sold to the government under the land acquisition act. Experts here believe that if the government takes the rehab serious and work meticulously then Mumbaikars can hope for a slum-free city.
BJP spokesperson Avdut Wagh asserted, “Government is taking all precautions – the SRA scheme, affordable houses scheme and improvisational scheme are there. Housing Minister Prakash Mehta has recently declared that Ramabai Colony, Kamraj Nagar at Ghatkopar will be developed as a complex; the Dharavi improvement project is going on in various phases. Gradually, the government is trying to give good houses to stay to the people. Once the slums are converted into proper housing, I think the fire incidents will also reduce in number.”
He continued, “Another problem is unauthorised slums where the electric connections are unauthorised leads to short circuit, storage of gas cylinders and improper handling of gas cylinders. However, all of these are man-made, not any natural calamity.”
Under the redevelopment scheme, free houses will be constructed for eligible slum dwellers and they will also be entitled to construct houses for sale in the open market. The state government has fixed a Floor Space Index (FSI) of 4 for the project. FSI is the ratio between the built-up space to the area of land on which a building stands. However, the real estate experts believe that it will not be an easy project for the Maharashtra government to go ahead with the plan.
Shiv Sena corporator Datta Narvankar raised doubts on SRA and the government’s delay in the implementation of SRA schemes, “We are representatives of the people; we do request the government about the issues such as lack of broad roads and space issues for fire engines to enter into the slums. Now whether they will do it or not is up to the government. The media should also question why the SRA schemes are so slow in implementation?”
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government said that it would regularise tenants living illegally in transit camps and buildings redeveloped by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA). The Bombay High Court rejected the regularising of the slums. Nonetheless, the experts have expressed their concern about the seriousness of the state government in making the city slum-free.
Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam commented, “The SRA plans are taking so much time because the government has not been able to sort out the disputes between the slum dwellers and the builders. Basically, the BMC is required to create more stringent laws as far as fire safety is concerned. There are no fire safety regulations in Mumbai and the departmental officers never ask the builders or the slum dwellers to adhere to the rules. BMC must make sure that stringent rules should be made and there should be no compromise.”
It would be wrong to blame the government as they are restricted to certain limitations considering slums not being regularised. But the government and the SRA must take a serious look into the matter as to how slums can be regularised and take a lesson to value the lives of the slum dwellers as nearly over 60 per cent of the pollution resides in the slums.