Can Mumbai's new Development Plan (DP) for the next 20 years, which will determine land usage policy and resource utilisation for the next two decades, be made without consulting the largest section of population in the city - the slum dwellers?
Though they constitute 70 percent of the population of the city, the city's civic body has been developing its new plan without consulting them. The DP till now has not made any provision for urban poor - not for housing, public health or education. Neither their settlements nor their workspaces have found mention in the DP being prepared.
These findings came to light in a report prepared by Yuva and Shahar Vikas Manch, on behalf of several organisations, who have been petitioning to the government for a more participatory role in preparing the DP.
As a sample, the researchers studied the impact the new DP would have on P North ward in Mumbai.
According to the report, the DP does not have a provision for the housing of urban poor. Most of the Public Housing (PH) schemes have been clustered in areas that are already woefully deprived in terms of water and sanitation - like Malvani in the western side and Pathanwadi, Appapada on the eastern side.
The coastal villages in the ward have also found no mention in the DP. In effect, this means that no resources are allocated for them. On top of that, they face the risk of demolition everyday.
Sitaram Shellar, a member of Yuva, said, "The government claims that Mumbai will become a world-class city like Shanghai. Yet 70% of its people live in slums. There must be something wrong with the DP itself."
The report also cites the abysmal condition of public healthcare services in the ward as a case for changing the DP. Aravind Unny, an architect associated with the report, said, "While doing the survey, we found out that there were only 4 BMC dispensaries, where as there should have been 48."
The ward has a population of 9,58,000 and yet it has only 10 maternity homes and just one hospital, he added.
The P North ward is not unique in this condition - proven by the infant mortality rate in M ward (East) in Mumbai, which is worse than sub-Saharan Africa. The civic body has faced severe criticism over its handling of the M ward, because of it having the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) in all of Mumbai.
The report suggests that the DP should create provisions for public housing and healthcare facilities for the urban poor and recognise the informal settlements for development. The plan should also come up for discussion with the stakeholders, the activists said.
"The DP timeframe should also be reduced to five years from the existing 20 years," Shellar said.
According to him, there should be provision for change at regular intervals as the city and its dwellers are changing fast. Which is why, the activists say that the plan must be modified now.
"As we speak, demolitions are going on in Kharodi in P North ward. If the government okays this plan, nothing can be changed for the next 2o years," Shellar said.