With a little over a year to go for the BMC elections, the civic body is now set to increase the permissible height of slums to 18 feet, or to ground-plus-two structures.
This is, of course, a huge — and familiar — poll sop to slum dwellers: In 2011, just a year before the previous civic polls, slums were allowed to rise from ground-floor structures to 14 feet, with the addition of another storey after corporators pushed a similar proposal through.
This paper had carried a front-page report yesterday, after sources across political parties said the proposal would likely sail through without opposition. According to the 2011 census, over 60 per cent of Mumbai’s population live in slums — a giant vote bank — so the sudden concern for slum dwellers is hardly surprising. However, this is simply a band-aid solution to tackle the lack of affordable housing in Mumbai.
We do not see the same aggression when tackling affordable housing schemes and projects. We want to see policymakers demonstrate the same will to push through numerous Slum Rehabilitation Area (SRA) initiatives that need their attention.
The BMC’s vertical solution to accommodate growing slum populations will only create new problems for the city. When increasing the height of the structures, there is always the danger that some will go beyond the permissible limit. Already, there are several shanties above the 14-foot limit. Difficult as it is to keep track of each and every slum, it is likely that the new 18-foot limit will also be flouted similarly.
And one wonders what will happen in the next BMC election after 2017? By then, will the slums have reached three or four storeys? One day, will we have a slum skyscraper in Mumbai? Ridiculous as this sounds, that is where these vertical sops are leading. Instead, the authorities must make other housing options available to the underprivileged, although, in the present circumstances, one knows it’s a tall order (pun intended).