By Prajakta Karnik Mumbai, Apr 26 (PTI) As coronavirus situation spirals, slum dwellings in Mumbai, where more than half of the city's 12 million population live in crammed space and unhygienic conditions, seem to be posing a daunting challenge in efforts to curb infections.
Known as the 'City of Dreams', Mumbai is home to the largest number of billionaires as well as Asia's largest slum Dharavi -- one of the coronavirus hotspots. While area-wise it measures just about 2.4 square kilometres (sq kms), Dharavi alone has more than one million people.
Tata Group Chairman Emeritus Ratan Tata's remarks, earlier this week, that developers and architects are treating slums as residue' of the city and that was one of the reasons for the rapid spread of the pandemic highlighted the current situation.
These so-called planners and builders should be ashamed of themselves for forcing a large majority of the people to live in sub-human conditions, he had said.
The megacity has reported 4,870 coronavirus cases and 191 deaths.
The octogenarian industrialist, also a long time resident of Mumbai, had lambasted realtors for neglecting the poor and creating vertical slums for big gains from high value housing that come up in the areas where slums stood once.
Lack of proper planning, flouting of norms, land cartelisation and rising property prices, are among the factors, that have contributed to the present situation of large number of people living in slums, experts opined.
The Maharashtra government and local authorities are taking measures to contain the spread of coronavirus infections and are appealing the citizens to stay home.
However, with rooms measuring barely 100-200 sq ft housing 8-10 people in slums, and scores of families sharing common toilets and water taps, the possibility of coronavirus cases going up is always high, they added.
'Blame it on policy paralysis and unending aspirations of both politicians as well as developers' community for the city not becoming slum-free. And today, these slums have turned into a haven for coronavirus,' MMRDA (Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority) former chief town planner V K Pathak told PTI.
Further, he said housing policies that were developed by the competent authorities did not solve the issues of 'public housing' but were construed as policies for real estate development.
'Nearly 65-70 per cent of Mumbai's population stays in slums. Policies like the Urban Land Ceiling Act, free housing for slum dwellers and extension of cut off dates for regularising slums led to land cartelisation and increasing property rates,' Pathak said.
Over the years, Mumbai has witnessed a large influx of migrants in search of jobs. They settled in clusters by building small hutments as they could not afford to buy homes and those areas later became illegal slums.
'Affordable housing and slum elimination are two surprisingly conflicting issues. We're trying to remove slums from seemingly unsuitable living conditions by relocating them to other locations which are 20-30 miles away and where there are no jobs for these uprooted people,' Ratan Tata said earlier this week.
In 1995, as part of his pre-election promises, late Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray floated the idea of 'free housing' for slum dwellers.
When the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance came to power the same year, their government launched the slum rehabilitation scheme.
Under the scheme, slums were proposed to be replaced with 'pukka' houses on the same plot of land, construction of which was to be cross-funded by a 'free sale component'. The latter was aimed at attracting investments from home buyers from slightly affluent financial background.
However, the scheme could not address the problems in its entirety and slums kept proliferating across the city.
Real estate developers' body Naredco's National President Niranjan Hiranandani also acknowledged that proper urban planning has 'not' been done.
'One acknowledges that the situation has been one where proper urban planning has not been done. The need to ensure fiscal viability of real estate projects creates a situation where over the years, we have seen real estate development happen in ways that weren't examples of 'sustainable living' or in sync with the environment.
According to him, a mix of acute scarcity of open spaces, restrictions on vertical growth and difficulties relating to slum rehabilitation policy confounds Mumbai's planned development.
An expert in real estate regulations, who did not wish to be identified, said faulty Floor Space Index (FSI) norms have also led to haphazard development in the city and skewed property prices.
FSI is a development tool that defines the extent to which construction is permitted on a plot. For long, the permissible FSI for residential development in the island city has been 1.33 and it is 1 in the suburbs.
In 2019, then state government led by BJP's Devendra Fadnavis increased the FSI for slum rehabilitation projects across the city to 4 from the earlier 3.
The index is based on a ratio between the area of a covered floor or the built up area to the area of that plot on which a building stands.
The new development plan 2034 for Mumbai has proposed to increase the FSI to 2.7.
'While the developers used this as a tool to build costly aspirational homes, local authorities used it as a means to generate revenues. In between, the interest of the public was ignored,' the expert quoted above said.
Over the past several years, Maharashtra government has been planning to redevelop the most congested areas in the city like Dharavi and Kamathipura.
The ambitious Dharavi redevelopment plan, which was conceptualised more than a decade ago in 2004, has not found takers yet as developers have found the proposal 'financially unviable'.
'Haphazard and in some instances, unplanned development just enhances the difficulty quotient. The slum proliferation challenge begins with open spaces reserved by authorities for future development or kept vacant as no development zones.
'Given the constant pressure from new migrants looking for homes, it opens up the pathway to proliferation of slums. This is a problem not unique only to Mumbai, but certainly more acute as compared to other cities,' Hiranandani said. PTI PSK RAM RAM