Slum & the city: How 'planned' Navi Mumbai lost the plot

Two striking features of Navi Mumbai, a city half-built so far, are: most of its civic leadership has come from the villages sidestepped by the city’s planning authority, City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO); and thanks to residual rights exercised by former owners of acquired lands, slums grew.

An exact estimate of lands lost to slums is not officially determined or disclosed. But it points to a flaw in the process of building the city. CIDCO monetises lands in its possession to fund infrastructure. Any erosion of land bank means infrastructure would take a hit, if not immediately, surely later.

The Census of 2001 had shown how Navi Mumbai’s municipalised part, the area under Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation, had about a third of its population living in slums, which is astonishingly high for a new, arguably planned city not even forty years old. Though cleared in 1970s, significant work started only around 1980.

 Slum & the city: How planned Navi Mumbai lost the plot

Cluttered locations. Image courtesy CIDCO

Thus, the population in the 29 villages—as distinct from the 52 in the other, southern part of the larger Navi Mumbai—and those living in the slums would account for about half of the city’s headcount. The villages, as discussed in the previous two articles on Firstpost, are themselves slumming and slummed.

Some teeming slums, as in Turbhe, predate the new city, since they started with the industrial activity intensifying and the acute drought across Maharashtra in 1972. But Turbhe, bang opposite the swank railway station, has so consolidated that it also has an active red-light zone.

In Rabale, the prime land, also right across the road where commercial property would have been prized by anyone, has a slum colony. It is a surprise that the CIDCO did not audit or prevent the slums before municipalising of the 162 sq km between Digha, Vashi, and Belapur though such huge land patches were a rich resource.

There is apparently a link between the villages and the formation of slums. When haphazard construction of additional residential space to accommodate the flood of the poor looking for a livelihood—maids to drivers to many other service providers—ran out, they encouraged slums.

The concept that though lands were no more in their titles, the original owners presume a residual right on it exists. These meant their old lands acquired for the city were easy targets to build shanties and let them out, or even sell them as demand soars. They mushroomed and spread. The CIDCO, and later the NMMC, only had a Nelson’s eye.

No one likes to openly speak about it but the choice of leaving the Navi Mumbai villages virtually unattended seems to have stemmed from the desire not to get under the skin of the original residents of what is now Navi Mumbai. That conferred a kind of freedom not healthy for a city; a city with unregulated parts is an invitation for disaster.

After having acquired all their valuable lands, leaving only the habitats behind, CIDCO may have opted for what some insiders describe was ‘benign neglect’. Acquisition had not been easy at all. The preference was "not to tangle with an already aggrieved community" which had lost a traditional asset even as it saw new towers rising and bringing in outsiders to reside in them.

Over time, some moved into such apartments.

It is in this context that the para-statal city builders’ decision to leave the villages as deliberate blind spots could be charitably viewed but it does not help. It had the task of building a new urban space instead of getting mired in the nitty-gritty of regulating the villages. Tasks outside were enormous enough, even then.

This created new pressure points in a nascent city. The planners had not bargained for and from the experience that came from this philosophy with the 29 villages now under NMMC jurisdiction, learnt nothing. It is being replicated in the yet to be municipalised southern part of Navi Mumbai, with no regrets, in other parts of Navi Mumbai.

Even today, some cases of compensation are pending though the rule of thumb policy practice was to return 12.5 per cent of land acquired to the owner and largely implemented. He or she could hold it for higher profits later as the city grew or encash it at a time of owner’s determination on the basis of compulsions.

Sumptuous returns led totally different, even flashy, lifestyles – cars, now SUVs, improved homes, and a whole lot of cash as capital. Colleges in Airoli node would show first generation but poorly motivated students on their rolls.

But interaction with the new city, with some even moving into apartments they owned following the compensation scheme and experience of involvement in gram panchayats politics, and free time gave rise to a new class of leaders, some of whom have graduated to the state legislature. But they form the bulk of the civic political leadership.

That everyone else in Navi Mumbai happens to be an outsider, either from Mumbai itself which met the purpose of the new city, of decongesting the neighbouring city, did not exactly prompt any ownership of the new urban space. Their reluctance—an initial common feature among migrants—left a gap which was readily filled by the villagers. And yet, it leaves much to be desired in the villages.

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Updated Date: May 29, 2013 17:23:06 IST