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Home > South Asia Labour Activists Library > India: When the Bulldozers Came | Liza Weinstein

India: When the Bulldozers Came | Liza Weinstein

7 December 2013

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The Indian Express, 6 December 2013

When the bulldozers come

by Liza Weinstein

The impending demolition of the Campa Cola complex is an opportunity to ask why illegal housing is the norm in Mumbai, for the middle class and the poor.

With last month’s Supreme Court order and the impending eviction of 96 families from Worli’s Campa Cola housing complex, Mumbai’s rampant building code violations and nefarious construction practices are back in the national spotlight. The conversation has centred on the need for stricter code enforcement and tit-for-tat squabbles over who knew what when. Less central has been an acknowledgement of the underlying structures of power, inequality and governance that make illegal housing the norm in Mumbai — a situation understood all too well by the urban poor.

This time, the middle class was scrambling to regularise their homes and keep the bulldozers at bay. And because it was this population, living in tony Worli, and not the poor pavement dwellers and slum residents who more typically fight these fights, the city and the nation took notice.

Most people shook their heads over corruption and lax enforcement, and many expressed sympathy for the families that will lose their homes in the next six months. After all, these are the homes in which they made their lives and raised their children, and on which many of them spent their life-savings. And while the sympathy is usually less forthcoming when the homes are shabbier and the residents are poorer, this loss of home and wealth occurs nearly daily in Mumbai, each time a hutment is demolished or an unauthorised dwelling is cleared from a footpath. The Campa Cola incident is an opportunity to reflect on this broader situation and ask why a majority of Mumbai’s nearly 14 million residents are forced to live outside the often invisible lines of legality and under the near-constant threat of legal action and eviction.

It is often said that Mumbai’s deepest and most intractable problem is housing. A bounty of jobs and entrepreneurial fervour bring people to the city, but its lack of housing keeps them in a suspended state of insecurity. While some private housing was constructed in the city’s early industrial period and some chawls were built by factory owners, improvement trusts and development departments over the years, supply has never kept pace with demand. Instead, Mumbai’s housing needs have typically been met by wilful ignorance. Municipal authorities have turned a blind eye to illegal housing and have failed to enforce anti-squatting laws and building codes because there was simply nowhere else for the city’s workers to live. Bribes, hafta payments, and vote-bank politics helped smooth the process, but the situation persisted and illegal housing became the norm because the city, and particularly its industrial elites and business houses, profited from the cheap labour and services provided by Mumbai’s under-housed masses.

Meanwhile, a series of generally well-intentioned regulations and populist policies were introduced to address Mumbai’s inadequate and uneven supply of housing. The litany of regulations enacted — including floor space indices (FSI), rent control, land ceilings, cross-subsidisation schemes and both fixed and floating transferable development rights (TDR) — were premised on helping the city’s poor and working-class citizens access housing. But these objectives have rarely been met and the intended beneficiaries have rarely been the ones to see the windfalls. More commonly, these regulations have provided an opaque veil for manipulation, corruption and profit by builders, politicians, bureaucrats and even (on a much smaller scale) for the residents of middle-class housing complexes able to purchase slightly less expensive but ultimately illegal flats.

The incentives to manipulate the regulations and blatantly flout laws have only increased in the 30 years since the Campa Cola complex was built. As land prices have risen and speculators have descended on the city, FSI violations and TDR scams have become the norm. The enabling structures are well in place, with longstanding acceptance and widespread complicity in unauthorised construction, a regulatory context that incentivises corruption, and a culture of non-enforcement, reinforced by judicial delays. Meanwhile, the city’s exorbitant land prices and shrinking supply of developable land ensure that these practices will continue.

This time, middle-class residents got caught in the net of selective enforcement. But it’s usually the poor who suffer during these get-tough campaigns. Unlike the middle-class residents of Campa Cola who have the luxury to live legally, although at a higher premium, most Mumbaikars have no choice but to traverse the lines of informality and illegality and make their homes inside the tangle of impossible rules and regulations.

These problems are structural and deeply entrenched and thus not easily solved. Just as clearing slums will never make Mumbai slum free, demolishing the unauthorised flats at Campa Cola will not address the underlying structures that have produced this situation. As long as the incentives are in place and inequality remains severe, most Mumbaikars will continue to live illegally, and simply hope that the bulldozers never arrive.

Weinstein, assistant professor of Sociology at Northeastern University, is author of the forthcoming book, ’The Durable Slum: Dharavi and the Right to Stay Put in Globalising Mumbai’


The above article from Indian Express is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use