Slumming it out

The Chavan-led Democratic Front government has completed a year in office. In course of its maiden year, the problem of slum rehabilitation has cropped up again and again. A large part of the confusion stems from the proposal to legalise and redevelop slums built between the years 1995 and 2000. Over the past year, the government has been facing intense pressure to rehabilitate these slums.

If one remembers correctly, this is because the Congress had made bold promises to the slum dwelling populace in course of its campaign for the 2009 general elections to the State Assembly. Now, as the BMC election approaches, Congress MLAs and MPs from the city are eager to deliver on their promise, and have been putting increasing pressure on their head honchos to pass a resolution that will allow them to appease their expectant supporters. 

The figures are alarming: according to the Hydraulic Department of the BMC, there are 15,789 slums. Of these, 2,103 were erected between 1995 and 2000, and have been promised rehabilitation. Moreover, no such proposal is likely to be passed, as it would be in clear violation of the state government's earlier promise made to the Supreme Court, wherein it had registered an affidavit stating that it would not legalise any slums. So for slum dwellers who may have pinned their redevelopment aspirations on the incumbent government, disappointment looms large.

The Shiv Sena has its own bag of tricks. Recently, Executive Chief Uddhav Thackeray held a meeting with a delegation from the Akhil Pipeline Samiti, who represented slum dwellers living in shanties that have come up illegally along the pipelines in the Bhandup constituency. The meeting was facilitated by a Sena corporator. At the meeting, these representatives pleaded with Thackeray to pull strings and prevent the BMC from demolishing their illegal shanties. They also requested to be accommodated into the 'slum rehabilitation package.' Thackeray in return promised the delegation that he would look into the ongoing demolition and make arrangements for their rehabilitation.

Neither the Congress two years back, nor the Sena today, has whatsoever any basis for making such promises, as slum rehabilitation is a contentious and complex process discouraged by court order. Then why do these parties repeatedly make such unrealisable claims, right before elections ?

You can find your answer in the fact that 78% of the city's population lives in slums: needless to say, this is a powerful and coveted vote bank - one that every political party wants to woo and wield power over. No wonder the slum issue has cropped up again, right before the 2012 BMC polls, with both Shiv Sena and Congress moving for the power over the corporation.

Just like the Congress' tall claims made before the last state assembly elections, Thackeray's recent promise to residents of the Akhil Pipeline Samiti was obviously made keeping the party's interest in mind, with the civic elections just some months away.

No matter what promises these parties make, the ground reality suggests the sheer difficulties in redeveloping any of the slums, in violation of the Maharashtra Slum Act.  The BMC has been rapped by the High Court for not checking the growth of slums along water pipelines.

Taking cognisance of a petition made by a city-based NGO recently, the High Court had also pulled up the civic administration for compromising the safety of Mumbai citizens.

Both the Congress-led DF government and the Sena seems to be spurred by the desperate desire to win votes from the slum pockets. They seem to have no qualms compromising the development and beautification prospects of the metropolis. A large chunk of these slum dwellers belong to the middle and upper middle classes, who, ironically, show the least initiative to vote on the day of polls.

The bottom line is that the city has absolutely no remaining open spaces in which to rehabilitate the 2,000 slums built before 2000. And if you give them an inch, they will take an ell. The numbers could multiply, as soon as a few slum dwellers achieve legalisation for their shanties.

The rehabilitated slums at Mankhurd, facilitated by the SRA, leave a lot to be desired. Complaints have been pouring in over the poor quality of construction and absence of basic amenities. No political party has shown any inclination to tackle the issue. In fact, not a single structure constructed under the SRA or the rehabilitation plan for project-affected persons (PAPs) can be shown as an ideal one. The malaise is so deep-set that hardly any discussion at any forum has ever taken place on the SRA schemes. The weak Opposition always seems to be giving the DF government the benefit of doubt.

The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY

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