Maharashtra Assembly amends Slum Areas Act: Bill dilutes redevelopment plan, smacks of discrimination

While there is an urgent need to improve living conditions in slums and assist its dwellers with rebates under PMAY, the new Act smacks of discrimination.

Mahesh Vijapurkar December 22, 2017 11:25:30 IST
Maharashtra Assembly amends Slum Areas Act: Bill dilutes redevelopment plan, smacks of discrimination

When the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly adopted a Bill into an Act on Wednesday which extends assistance for all non-legal shanties and their dwellers to redevelop them, it did so without a debate. It could be interpreted in two ways.

The absence of any debate, without a murmur from the Opposition, implies that everyone is convinced about the need to improve the housing for the poor who teem in the slums, the biggest ones to be found in Mumbai. That's a liberal construct.

The other point of view is that no political party, whether BJP which has come out with the new law or any other party, wants to say anything likely to be seen as anti-slum rehabilitation. Slums with their slumlords are vote banks, and politicians are always pro-slum dwellers.

Maharashtra Assembly amends Slum Areas Act Bill dilutes redevelopment plan smacks of discrimination

File image of Mumbai slums next to the airport. Reuters

Whether it was the Shiv Sena-BJP government which initiated the plan in 1996 but stumbled, or later the Congress-NCP dispensation, and now the one led by the BJP, all have been pledging to rid urbanising Maharashtra of shanties. They have worked towards it, but not with the verve it deserved.

But there is a lot to say about what the new Act intends to enable, and not all of it is palatable; that is why perhaps the Opposition was tongue-tied. It took only minutes for introducing the Bill and it was quickly disposed of. It would not go to the Upper House for ratification.

The datum line – or the cut-off date for a slum to be eligible initially was 1 January, 1996. It was subsequently pushed to later dates, the last being the year 2000. Now, with the latest formulation, all the shanties that exist, even if illegal, are entitled to help. But for now, there is an informal cut off of 2011 – the Census year.

When about half of Mumbai's population lives in slums, even if only on about ten percent of its land area, the issue takes on gargantuan dimensions, especially with the continuing flow of people seeking livelihoods.

But the last six-seven years have seen newer slums emerging. In cities like Mumbai and its surrounding metropolitan region, new ones have mushroomed, with some even being put up as recently as six months ago along the boundary wall of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority office.

The informal capping to 2011 is apparently an acknowledgement of the reality that slum rehabilitation – either free or as is now contemplated for the new ones mentioned in the Act – is too liberal a portion the government has served itself on its plate.

The enactment does not enable free replacement housing, where a builder takes up the task on behalf of the cooperative of slum dwellers on a contiguous piece of land and subsidises it by building additional saleable space for the open market. This has only had a nominal impact as many builders have been squatting on the slum plots.

It has to be worked along the guidelines provided under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) 2017, which specifies that the beneficiary should not be the owner of a dwelling anywhere else in the country. This is a cumbersome task, and record fudging is the norm in the countryside. And each adult member of a family can be a beneficiary.

It was required that such schemes be on a city-wide basis so that instead of peppering the city with new paid-for homes, where the PMAY provided the subsidy, the dweller has to pay the construction costs. That ability is doubtful. Being poor, most only have the slum which is hardly their "own" and that too is not accepted for a mortgage.

While some help is required and welcome to improve one's dwelling in the informal sector, free for the pre-2000 datum slum dwellings, and assisted with rebates under PMAY, it smacks of discrimination.

Earlier, there were legal slums, that is ones that are protected and those that are not. But now, a new category has emerged: the assisted segment which is distinct from the 'free replacement' housing – so far in vogue, but inadequately executed. The processing of the former category was easier, a coop of slum dwellers allowed to decide on the developer who builds and delivers. Now, it would be on a case by case basis, which implies a scattered effort.

What happens to slums that emerge from now on – on someone's private land, and on those owned by the state, central or municipal governments and their entities like the Railways is not clear. Therefore, this is not yet the time to exult; for slum dwellers can feel secure if better housing is far on the horizon.

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