Cong decision to protect Mumbai slums is votebank politics: Experts

A day after the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly passed an amendment to the law thereby regularising or extending protection from demolition to all shanty colonies built before January 1, 2000, experts including urban planners, former bureaucrats and activists have called it a 'political gimmick' and a poor long-term solution to the housing problem in the financial capital. Experts said the government should focus on providing low cost housing, not on the electoral gains to be made from extending the so-called "cut-off date".

On Friday, the Legislative Assembly amended the Maharashtra Slum Areas (Improvement, Clearance and Redevelopment) Act, 1971 to regularize illegal slums that come up before 2000. The government's decision, which was taken amid pressure from the elected representatives from Mumbai, is expected to benefit nearly 3.75 lakh illegal shanties in Mumbai.

An aircraft prepares to land at the airport surrounded by slums in Mumbai. Reuters

An aircraft prepares to land at the airport surrounded by slums in Mumbai. Reuters (file photo)

"It is just an election gimmick as the government is not serious about it. Though the issue has been pending since 2004, it did not do anything. In the context of the elections, they have passed the bill to use it as votebank politics," said Simpreet Singh, social activist of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andholan.

Singh added that the slum-dwellers will not get any civic amenities immediately as the model code of conduct will come into force soon.

Urban planner Pankaj Joshi of the Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI)  said it is a welcome move but the state government should have a clear policy on providing low cost housing to the urban poor. "Urban poverty is not because people chose to stay in slums but they are forced to as there is no other option. So, the government, rather than celebrating the extension of cut off date, should focus on issues like how it will create affordable housing for the poor," said Joshi.

However, former municipal commissioner DM Sukthankar said that the government should not provide free housing. "It is wrong to provide free housing to these slums which is resulting in increasing realty prices in city and the government should think over it. The government either should collect some cost price from slum dwellers or subsidize it from government's revenue," said Sukthankar.

V Ranganathan, former chief secretary who also served as municipal commissioner, slammed the state government for its double standards. "On one hand, the government is saying that nobody should encroach on the government land and action should be taken against the encroachers as per municipal laws. It also says that if officials do not take action bowing to the pressure from corporators and local politicians, the officials will be punished. On the other hand, the government is extending the cut off date and giving them benefit, it is like encouraging more slums to come up in city on government land," said Ranganathan.

He added, "If the government really wants to help slum-dwellers, they should construct the housing for poor and mak available to them."

Leena Joshi, senior consultant with a project of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences to transform the M-ward area of the city, home to dense slum pockets, said there should be no cut off date. "Unless the government provides affordable housing to the poor, having any cut off date has no meaning. In any case, there should not be any cut off date for anybody in the city. It's a free country," said Joshi.


Published Date: Mar 02, 2014 09:30 am | Updated Date: Mar 02, 2014 09:30 am