If Mumbai is not to be Slumbai...

Shanties to homes: New rules may only add to the existing challenges instead of solving them

Divya Malcolm | December 5, 2018


#slum   #Mumbai slum   #Dharavi   #urban development   #Slum Rehabilitation Authority   #SRA  
Photo: SDI
Photo: SDI

To solve the problem of urban slums in the city of Mumbai, substantial amendments were made to the Development Control Regulations (DCRs) for Greater Mumbai, 1991. In 1997 a separate Annexure was notified under DCR 33 (10) to deal exclusively with slum redevelopment schemes.  
 
Several schemes have been approved since the 1990s under DCR 33 (10) by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) which was set up in 1995. In nutshell, 70 percent of eligible slum dwellers could get together, form a co-operative housing society, appoint a developer, move out of their slums into new rehabilitated (rehab) tenements – but along with a covenant not to sell their new homes for a period of 10 years. The developer, in turn, could get a high floor space index (FSI) of upto to 4 of the gross plot area which he could utilize to construct the free sale component where the money is. 
 
During the process the SRA wears many hats. It prepares the list of eligible slum dwellers, screens the developer, sanctions building plans, and implements the scheme. It is not a silent spectator.
 
The aforesaid DCRs, 1991 were revised by the Maharashtra government on May 8, 2018. In their new avatar DCRs have been rechristened as Development Control and Promotion Regulations (DCPRs) 2034. But, in essence, both the DCR 33 (10) and DCPR 33 (10) continue to be the same.     
 
The carpet area of the rehab tenement is fixed at 25 sq mtr (enhanced from the earlier 20.90 sq mtr). However, neither DCRs nor DCPRs are just about four concrete RCC walls. In a slum redevelopment, the developer is also bound to provide amenities such as crèche, welfare centre, library, gymnasium, common hall and office for the slum society. In a bid to ensure gender equality, ownership documents of the new house are issued in the joint names of the spouses. 
 
Like any other scheme, slum projects have their own set of controversies. Originally the cut-off date for being an eligible slum dweller was January 1, 1985. Only those slum dwellers whose names appeared on the electoral rolls prior to the said date were entitled to the benefits held out to slum dwellers. It was extended to January 1, 1995 followed by January 1, 2000. Yet another extension  to December 31, 2000 is proposed. It’s a fine example of vote bank politics. Under the applicable laws, illegible slum dwellers can be removed  through legal police force. For the city this is a double whammy of sorts. On the one hand such extensions incentivise squatting on private properties, while on the other hand a slum in one part gives way to another in some other part. Of the private lands, trust properties are easily and frequently encroached upon. 
 
Typically, a notification under Section 4 of The Maharashtra Slum Area (Improvement, Clearance and Redevelopment) Act, 1971 declaring a land as a slum, sets the ball rolling. In another space, the owners would have fought such a notification tooth and nail. However, the higher FSI has seen many shrewd businessmen welcome such a move. 
 
Sadly, the above mentioned special regulations for redevelopment of slums have become the very cause of the urban sprawl that they  were meant to arrest. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are other equally serious concerns that plague slum projects; the obvious ones are discussed below. 
Since the free sale component is pegged to the rehab component, artificial inflation of slum numbers has seen quite a few developers face investigation from the Economic Offences Wing. Responsible corporate and institutional finance steer clear of slum projects until the occupancy certificate for the rehab component is in place. A letter of intent (LOI) is a preliminary construction approval issued by the SRA. It sets out the road-map of the entire construction. Typically, there is a lapse of five to seven years between the issue of the first LOI and funding from organized avenues. It anyone’s guess who’s play it is till then.  
 
Slumlords (colloquially called Imla Maliks) are a spine-chilling institution and a stark, vicious reality of every slum. Protection money is not the only racket. First they put up illegal constructions, let them out, and over time become slumlords. Law enforcement can only do that much. Nothing stops them from getting themselves elected as the managing committee of the slum society. Indeed, the problem of most builders is that invariably they find themselves dealing with a myriad  slum societies over the same parcel of land; some having as few members as 10 (the minimum prescribed under the Maharashtra Co-operative Societies Act, 1960). Naturally, each society has its own vested agenda and a favoured developer. Competing interests partly account for the above mentioned five-seven years of lapse. 
 
Honore De Balzac could not have been more correct when he said “behind every great fortune there is crime.” 
 
The tussles and infighting clogged the writ jurisdiction of the Bombay high court to such an extent that a special high-powered committee was set up to look into these disputes. These can range from unauthorized use of FSI, substitution of the old developer by a new one, often on account of inexplicable delay, to issues as paltry as transit accommodation to slum dwellers being provided across the street instead of in-situ. The litigation is laced with champerty and maintenance that is forbidden in Indian legal system. 
 
The 10-year covenant is observed more by way non-compliance than compliance. Third parties are inducted in early stages. Inspectors possibly can’t object to possession of the new tenements by occupants claiming to be relatives, guests of the original slum dweller. Not always are these entirely the brain child of the original slum dwellers. 
 
DCR 2034 hardly addresses any of these issues. On the contrary, they may add to them. The highlights, so far, talk about FSI exceeding 4. The threshold for consent to a slum rehab project is proposed to be reduced to 51 percent from the current 70 percent of eligible slum dwellers. The commencement certificate for the sale component shall be issued in a phase-wise manner. A tenement density of 650 per hectare as against the extant 500 appears to be in the works. 
 
The emergence of new slums by the same population shifting from one part to another can be checked through Aadhaar linkages even if another extension of the cut-off to December 31, 2000 is inevitable. Housing For All 2022 should not be limited to the economically weaker section, or middle income groups. The ones at the very bottom of the pyramid must be placed first. Through public-private participation, the government can provide rental housing. What goes by way of protection money to Imla Malliks would be better spent as rent towards government houses. With Public Premises Eviction Act, 1971 in its favour, the possibility of such state-owned accommodation being misused is largely mitigated. The extant Public Premises Eviction Act, 1971 can be strengthened with better infrastructure and more benches. Their role, hitherto limited to protecting the properties of public sector banks, LIC, port trusts etc., can be enlarged to bring about social stability. 
 
Extermination of slums should, in a welfare state, cannot be left entirely to private enterprise. Nelson Mandela’s words sum up the situation the best, “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.” 

Malcolm is a principal associate with Kochhar & Co. The views expressed are her own.

(The article appears in December 15, 2018 edition)

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