MUMBAI: The realty market in Mumbai’s slums might be growing but it does not necessarily leave the city’s poor and marginalized better off. Activists and advocates say buying slum tenements is a risky proposition because of a host of reasons.
“A slumdweller who has documents to prove that he has been living on the premises since 1995 is entitled for protection under the Slum Rehabilitation Authority scheme. He can get a flat when the slum is redeveloped. But if he sells the flat to someone else, the sale has no legal validity and the new occupant is not entitled to resettlement,” says Shakil Ahmad, a lawyer and human rights activist who grew up in the slums of Mumbai and continues to live there.
Even when it comes to procuring the necessary documents for resettlement, the authorities play a cruel game with slumdwellers. A month ago, the civic body razed rows of hutments along the Dharavi pipeline even though the move went against a state ruling that prohibits slum demolitions during the monsoon. Many of those rendered homeless were found ineligible for resettlement since they did not have the required documents. And yet all of them had voted in the last election.
“It’s ironic that the same people who are not entitled for a home are eligible for a voter ID card,” says Vinod Shetty, an advocate who has worked extensively with Dharavi residents. Shetty adds that it is extremely difficult for slumdwellers to get the right documents for rehabilitation without bribing civic officials.
Since buying property in Mumbai’s slums is such a risky proposition, which brings along with it the constant spectre of demolitions, many slumdwellers are heading to distant suburbs such as Virar and Nalasopara in search of a home.
The flipside of staying so far away, of course, is the long commute to one’s place of employment. But not everyone chooses to continue with his or her earlier employment in Mumbai.
“When it comes to domestic workers or hawkers, their place of work is often fluid, and they find jobs at their new location. The problem is that, much like the middle class, those living in slums for decades build strong community networks, which are shattered when they are forced to relocate to the distant suburbs. Their regular lives and schedules too are disrupted. For instance, women who have worked out an arrangement for getting water in one area may find it difficult to do so all over again in a new location,” says a researcher who recently contributed to a book on Dharavi.