PUCL, July 2005

Making Mumbai into Shangai

The case of the Mumbai slum demolitions
-- By Dr. Pushkar Raj

Mumbai-demolition Photo album - Click here

Democracy is about people. People are its pillar with certain fundamental rights like the right to life, livelihood, liberty, equality, privacy and many others that can ensure human security as a fundamental holistic value as an objective that every State worth its salt must strive for. The governments do it by promoting development, development that is people centric. Besides, the modern democratic governments are obliged to be responsible and accountable to the people with whose support they rule.

In this context the Mumbai demolitions that took place, in the end of the last year and early this year became a significant commentary on the Indian state. Here lies an example of a state that prides in being democratic and just but acts just opposite to the detriment of the basic civil rights, liberties and interests of its citizens that it is bound to preserve and protect under the law of the land. More so it does so by taking a U turn on the commitments made in its election manifesto that precede government change-over in an election driven democratic procedure.

The demolitions that took place in Mumbai rendering thousands of people homeless must be viewed in light of universal modern discourse of citizen centric governance and development in line with the accepted democratic values. The underlying inspiration, in the words of Maharastra's new Chief Minister, 'to `turn Mumbai into another Shangai', dream is development. Development sans people? The government needs land for development. Up to three million people stand to be rendered homeless if all the shanties built after 1995 are actually demolished as has been announced. And if all the hutments of Mumbai were effaced from the city how much land would the government get for its dream Shanghi project? Merely 10 percent. More than half of Mumbai's inhabitants live in slums and pavement dwellings covering just about 10 percent of the land. They work in small-scale industries, construction sites and households, as skilled and unskilled labor, hawkers, and watchmen. Many come from marginalized groups such as nomadic tribes, scheduled tribes and castes.

These people come to Mumbai for reasons beyond their control-for sheer survival. Famine in countryside, displacement due to development projects, diminishing returns from agriculture or landlessness, all these factors drive thousands of people to seek livelihood in the big city. They usually come and settle near some large mash and for a considerable long period they invest their money in reclaiming the mash so that they can put up a shanty. The process may take months and years when finally a basti comes into existence. And once the land is clean, solid and habitable it becomes the envy of builders and the government and other authorities who order them to evict and carry out the forceful demolitions without providing any alternate accommodation rendering them homeless. Cut off from their country side roots and links, rendered homeless and jobless in Mumbai these millions are the real 'no where people' of modern India towards whom a welfare state fails in its prime obligation.


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