Rich city leaders may have plenty of problems on their plate, but they can be grateful about one major issue that rarely hits their agenda: informal settlements, and how best to deal with them. Across Latin America, Africa and large parts of Asia, as migration towards cities speeds up, the expansion of slums, favelas, townships and forms of informal settlements has exploded, adding to what is already a major UN development challenge. Even though some 200 million people have been uplifted from informal settlements and into proper housing of some kind since 1990, the absolute number of slum-dwellers has continued to rise, by about the same amount, to about 828 million today.
And in cities like Mumbai, where the growth needs of the city are butting up against the space occupied by shacks, twin pressures come into play: developer’s demands for affordable land to work with; and the very human needs of these communities, in terms of how they are dealt with and provided for. As this story highlights, more than half of the upcoming real estate projects in the city are slum redevelopment schemes:
After a near two-year economic lull, slum schemes, considered the most profitable in the real estate business, have made a comeback with nearly 80 new projects sanctioned in Mumbai this year, said S.S. Zhende, chief executive, Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA), the nodal agency in Mumbai.
This would not only rehabilitate families living in almost 300,000 hutments, but also open up substantial space for residential and commercial development.
However, while development companies are bullish that they have what it needs to pull off such a job, the industry’s track record–both within India, and globally, will not calm many of the local residents’ fears. Promises are made, only to be broken down the line; political needs are prioritised, ahead of people’s rights, as most recently witnessed in Delhi in the run up to the Commonwealth Games, and so on.
Partly in a bid to overcome such concerns, the Indian government itself has decided to enter the fray, launching a Basic Services for the Urban Poor (BSUP) scheme, which it hopes to introduce to Mumbai shortly.
Sachin Ahir, minister of state for housing, said the scheme would be implemented by the Maharashtra Housing Area Development Authority (Mhada) with the consent of the BMC. “We will take up densely populated slums which no private developer is willing to touch. We will also take up those projects where 70% of slumdwellers give their consent to Mhada to implement the scheme,” he said.
The scheme is already running in other cities, where officials claim it to be a success, but it will now expand into Mumbai, home to India’s largest slum population–approximately half the city lives in such dwellings, with nearly 2,000 slums identified across the city.
In other countries, such as South Africa, frustrated residents of informal settlements have banded together to form lobbying groups, which can try to collectively negotiate and petition for appropriate action. Abahlali claims to be the largest such group in the country, with some 3,000 paid-up members (image above courtesy of Abahlali). The group itself has had a tough fight on its hands, not only with local government and other officials, but also other community groups and interests. But in the absence of other stakeholders willing to continue the fight, it’s the only option that many residents have to turn to.