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Why is Maharashtra India's slum capital?

Its urbanized economy has historically attracted migrants, breeding slums. But lack of planning & red tape has made matters worse.

Nikhil Inamdar  |  Mumbai 

Mumbai cinderella story

The NSSO report on urban slums doesn’t do much to swell the Maharashtrian pride. The state, one of India’s fastest growing historically is home to 7,723 of the country’s 33,510 slums or 23% of all slum habitations in the country, making it home to the largest number of slums in India. The number in percentage terms (29%) is even higher if one accounts for non-notified slums. What’s more the average size of the slum also happens to be the biggest in Maharashtra (433 households compared to 263 households per slum pan India) and the state also has the distinction of having the highest number (38%) of slum households of urban India.

Separate data hasn’t been put out by NSSO for Mumbai standalone, but the 2001 census pegged 5.93 million or half of Mumbai’s population lived in 1959 slum settlements in the maximum city. Private estimates with access to more recent data peg that number at a much higher 7 million and 3000 settlements respectively making Mumbai alone home to roughly 9% of India’s slums.

What has given the state (and its capital) this dubious distinction?

“It’s because we are among the few states that actually bother to notify slums. Other states do not do that rigorously” says K S Akode – Director, Town Planning & Valuation Department – Government of Maharashtra.

That could, if at all, be only a part of the reason say experts. Historically, Maharashtra has always had very high proliferation of slum dwellings as a result of the influx of migrant labour from poorer states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, owing to its urbanized, industrial economy. Mumbai’s very high slum population also results in figures for the overall state getting awkwardly tilted. Remove Mumbai from Maharashtra and the state is pretty much on par with West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, but still fares much worse than other advanced states like Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Ironically, Maharashtra has amongst the most progressive laws on slums which have become a reference point for many other acts being drafted in the rest of the country say experts. Eviction of slum dwellers is prohibited in the state, unless alternative accommodation is provided to the ousted. The state, has enacted at least a dozen policies and programs to look into the issue of slum rehabilitation, but a lot of these have been hijacked by the corrupt nexus of builders-politicians and bureaucrats, rendering them ineffective.

“In the case of the SRA or Slum Rehabilitation Authority for instance, there is complete dependence on big developers for redevelopment of slums. Incentives are dependent on the number of dwellings, so builders inflate numbers; politicians declare non-slum areas as slum areas. The approval process is also hijacked and it is impossible for honest vendors to get their plans approved if you don’t grease palms” says Prasad Shetty - co-founder of Collective Research Initiatives Trust – an urban research collective. In fact the two decade old scheme, formulated in 1995 to rehabilitate slum dwellers in Mumbai is still stuck in red tape.

Shetty also cites the example of Hyderabad to make a point on how incapability of planning and non-innovative thinking has resulted in the swelling of slum settlements in Maharashtra. Hyderabad has a very old and large settlement of recyclers as dense and thickly populated as Dharavi. But back in the day the Nizams ensured there was infrastructure to sustain the population, built wider roads and made the area habitable.

“Dharavi too can be made liveable by repair and restoration and de-classified as a slum, but we focus only on big builder led redevelopment and that ultimately leads us to nowhere.”

Abhay Pethe, Professor in Urban Economics at Mumbai University also blames the non-functioning of land markets and artificially inflated real estate prices particularly in Mumbai and other urban clusters for the state having seen such a large mushrooming of slums.

“If a house is not affordable, informal solutions will have to come up” says Pethe who also believes the temperate climate of Maharashtra makes it easier for labour coming in search of livelihoods to adapt to and survive in slums easily. “Sadly though, contrary to the old adage that railroads, slums and industry reveal a growing economy, we now have all the slums, but no industry” he adds.

It’s clearly a confluence of factors then that makes Maharashtra India’s slum capital. While its urbanized economy has historically attracted migrants, breeding settlements, lack of planning, red tape and weak enforcement of laws has only made matters worse.

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First Published: Thu, December 26 2013. 17:46 IST