Slum rehabilitation in Mumbai is in total disarray. Corrupt practices and inept institutions continue to deny stable housing, access to sanitation and quality life to a large number of slum dwellers who make up more than half of the city's population. Worse, this vast marginalised group, as recently witnessed in Sion Koliwada, lives under a cloud of fear unleashed by vested interests who want to appropriate their land. To other Indian cities, Mumbai's slum rehabilitation is not any more a role model to emulate, but an execrable experience to avoid. Two decades ago, about four million people were living in slums. The State government, realising that their earlier policies neither reduced the numbers nor substantially improved shanty settlements, adopted a new approach. It set up the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) in 1995 with an emphasis on using the slum lands as a resource. The idea was to rope in private developers and encourage them to redevelop areas by permitting more dwelling units than what the building rules allowed. The excess units were to be sold and the money so mobilised was meant to subsidise reconstruction of slum tenements. On the face of it, this approach appeared well meaning. However, on the ground, it was blatantly misused, denying the needy the benefit of owning a house even as small as 270 sq.ft.

Despite many complaints, the SRA did not carry out comprehensive surveys of slums nor prepare a well-verified list of eligible beneficiaries. Proper photo identification was not fully issued to the allottees, allowing many illegible users to benefit. The SRA, as a recent CAG report reveals, adopted improper practices that affected the performance of projects: proper evaluation of builders was not undertaken; dues were not recovered; projects were not properly monitored, resulting in poor construction and delay. The state of the flagship project — the Dharavi Redevelopment Project — is no better. Even eight years after sanctioning and spending about Rs.50 crore in planning, not even one of the five sectors earmarked for redevelopment has taken off. As a result, Mumbai has so far rehabilitated only about 15 per cent of the targeted four million slum dwellers, even as the number of people living in slums has crossed 6.5 million. The limitations of the State machinery to deliver slum tenements may justify joint ventures with private builders. But what is required is total transparency in decision-making, complete disclosure of project details, clear enunciation of specifications and deliverables, undiluted monitoring and periodic public consultation. Above all, slum rehabilitation has to take a people first approach and must benefit only the deserving.

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