Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Anarchy of development in the city of Mumbai

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Today is the first of several days we will spend at KRVIA, the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture in the north of Mumbai, as we have final lectures from different architect-urbanists, compile all our fieldwork and begin preparing our findings and proposals. We had a fascinating talk from P.K. Das in the morning, an architect-activist working in the city for several decades, giving us his unfiltered reading of Mumbai as the market place in neoliberal globalisation. With the liberalisation of India’s markets and finance sector and a rolling back of the state in the early 1990s, the government, in line with such thinking, stopped planning for the city’s development and became a facilitator. There is thus no land reserved for the urban poor in the city, and with significant housing shortages and land pressure there are 2,500 slums that occupy 8% of the land area of Mumbai. Over half the population of the city resides in these areas illegally, while 82% of Mumbaikers live in one room homes. Unbelievable.

We had an interesting and very different perspective on the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) policy (1995) as a mechanism providing a framework to slum the city for the future: alongside the “free” houses given to slum dwellers who can prove their residence since a certain date, the policy contains no regulations on proximities of buildings, open spaces or services that need to be provided to rehabilitated slum dwellers. The organisation that P.K. Das works with, Nivara Hakk Samiti (Shelter Rights Protection), is actively fighting against this SRA approach, integrating social infrastructure into the projects they have been involved in, working with communities both before and after the rehabilitation process.

Their rights based approach to housing stands in stark contrast to that of SPARC, and has given us a very thought provoking approach to social change and housing rights, and the bigger picture of how the urban poor can most effectively claim their right to the city – one confronting and challenging the system versus one working within to try to change it. Versus is perhaps not a good word, I do not see these as black and white options, there are many shades in between and strategies to adapt in different contexts and stuations. I do wonder though, when trying to work in the system for social justice in such a contested context and process as in Dharavi, do you draw the line at some point, and if so, how and where?

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