for the last thirty years, while the residents of dharavi and other slums in mumbai were doing just that, resting in peace, the governments of mumbai, maharashtra and india were engaged in furious, energetic efforts to ensure that no one eats, shits, sits, plays, dances, paces, makes love, sleeps, reads, works, cooks, farts, breathes, lives in over 34,000 acres of land in mumbai. not in peace, at least. now, suddenly the government has decided to give up its vigil- that powerful, progressive legislation designed to protect the poor from landlords always eager to hoard land in their tijoris and smuggle it abroad or even to the afterlife, the ulcra, has been scrapped:
After deferring this major reform measure from one Assembly session to another, the Maharashtra government today finally scrapped a law that controls urban land holdings, potentially freeing up large tracts in Mumbai for housing and construction and sending shares of property firms sharply higher.the report says the chief minister admitted that 'the Act has failed to serve the purpose'. it's quite obvious to every discerning citizen in mumbai by now that the 'Act has failed', but what was the original purpose of the act anyway?
Amidst slogan-shouting by Shiv Sena members, the resolution to repeal the Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act of 1976, moved by Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, was passed by a voice vote in the state Assembly.
truth isn't reality
the 34,000 acres weren't manufactured over the last thirty years- they were there in 1976 when the act was promulgated. and one of the purposes served by the act was to keep them vacant so that land elsewhere in mumbai became costlier and costlier- definitely out of the reach of the poor, out of the reach of those living in slums such as dharavi. and also out of the reach of most of the working classes. and those from the middle and the upper classes who could still afford to pay for it, paid several times more than they would have if those 34,000 and many more acres that had simply disappeared were available for sale.
many say dharavi isn't as large as 600 acres: it's only 175 hectares, or 430 acres. which means each resident has to squeeze himself tighter than i assumed ealier- his total access to space has declined by around a third in the space of a few lines of text. that's what legislation of the kind the urban land ceiling act represents- grand, arbitrary, idealistic, myopic, progressive, repressive, noble, inane, call it what you will, depending on your ideological tilt, your favourite bollywood heroine and your lucky number- ultimately ends up doing. distorting truth and reality, dividing them, rendering both meaningless. banishing them to the murky world of rumour, speculation, gossip, fantasy (read this, this and this to get as many estimates of the area, population, population density, slums, slumdwelling population in mumbai as three different citizens of mumbai can think up).
mumbai, as the wikipedia says, occupies 603 sq.kilometres (i've read elsewhere that it is spread over only 430 sq.kms or so- as i said, you're free to choose your reality here). which converts into around 1,49,000 acres. and the population of mumbai, again according to the wikipedia, was 13.3 million in 2006. which means the residents of dharavi, who constitute around 7.5% of mumbai's population, live on around 0.29% of the total land area in mumbai!
and it's not just dharavi, according to various estimates over half of mumbai lives in slums. one estimate says about 40% of the city's population lives in 3.5% of its area. in 1976, around the time the ulcra was brought in, bombay's population was about 5.9 million. the slumdwellers numbered 2.8 million. and common sense tells you, the available 'excess' or vacant land was probably much more than 34,000 acres. enough to accomodate all of the 2.8 million slumdwellers (in 1976) in some decent housing. and also enough to accommodate all of the 3-4 million additional influx of people into the slums since then. with more than enough land to spare for parks, roads, offices etc., and for future parks, roads etc. why didn't that happen?
the road to hell
the road to hell is paved with good intentions and is also dotted with grand obsessions, egoisms and vanities. instead of disappearing, slums in mumbai multiplied since 1976. what did disappear was one-third the land mass of the city- land that you could touch, feel and see everyday but... in the new reality, it didn't exist. it didn't exist for the slumdwellers whose number more than doubled, from 2.8 million in 1976 to around 6-7 million now. it didn't exist for the lakhs of migrants who still kept coming to mumbai and dharavi grew denser. and it didn't exist for all the homeseekers who paid at least 30% more, for the available land, than they'd have if the ulcra hadn't been promulgated. and the lawyers, builders, fixers, goons, politicians, babus, policemen, gangsters grew richer protecting, invading and trading in land that belonged to anyone, and also the land that suddenly belonged to no one, that had suddenly fallen off the map of the world.
how did this state sponsored deprivation work on the collective psyche of mumbai? and how did it affect india?