‘Slum demolitions limit growth’

Prof. Anup Malani, who is leading research on informal settlements in city, says slum-free cities are a possibility in the long run

A team of researchers is working in some of Mumbai’s most densely populated slums to understand what drives these informal settlements, how they sustain and how can they be improved. The research project, initiated by the Tata Centre for Development at the University of Chicago and International Innovation Corps, began in 2016 and has seven research sites in the city. At the helm of the project is principal investigator Prof. Anup Malani, Lee and Brena Freeman Professor of Law, University of Chicago, Law School, who was in Mumbai to visit the research sites. The Hindu spoke to him to know more about his findings and solutions to the problem.

What is the aim of this project?

We want to try to understand the economics of slums, or more precisely, understand how slums form, how they function and how to improve the livelihoods of people in slums. I am a trained economist and lawyer. Slums have a little bit of both problems. These are people living illegally so there is a legal component to the problem and there is an economic component because there is an important element of poverty involved in slums. We want to understand the dynamics that drive slums so that we can come up with better solutions.

What is the methodology of your research and which slums are you working in?

The methodology we use is interdisciplinary. We do ethnographic research, which involves field interviews of residents, politicians, landowners and other stakeholders. Along with this, we are carrying out quantitative work, which includes surveys of households, understanding their income, utilities, etc. We also do a lot of imagery with the help of drones and satellites to understand the geography and how the slums have grown. We combine all of this to paint a picture of emergence, sustenance and ultimately improvement of slums.

Our project has been on for more than two years in Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar, Delhi and Jaipur. We have recently added Hubli. In Mumbai, we have six sites where we are carrying out ethnographic research, including Kherwadi (Behrampada and Garib Nagar) in Bandra, Ambojwadi in Malad, Nehru Nagar in Juhu, Kaula Bunder in Reay Road, Milind Nagar in Powai and Sarvodaya Nagar in Bhandup. We are carrying out quantitative research at Mandala in Mankhurd.

Internationally, we are trying to understand if the dynamics that we are seeing in India are peculiar to India or similar to informal settlements in Nairobi, Rio, Sao Paulo, Manila, etc.

How can the government solve the slum problem?

Slum-free cities are possible but it will take very long. The short-term solution would be to limit demolitions. This may not be wholly applicable to Mumbai but other cities. If the slums are not demolished for 10 to 20 years, you will see tremendous growth. But when there is demolition, people are pushed backward and all their wealth is destroyed.

The long-term solution is to raise the incomes of people. Give them opportunities, flexible labour markets, make businesses grow so that the local grocery, clothing stores, etc can operate and hire more people, and generate employment. There is also a need to reduce the restrictions of formal housing development. There has to be more supply of formal housing.

But won't that lead to over concretisation of the city?

I don’t think over concretisation is a problem. It is whether or not the underlying infrastructure of Mumbai can support that many people. Mumbai is going to look like Hong Kong if it has that infrastructure. Some people don’t like the look but others find it beautiful. Mumbai has finance, entertainment and consultants, and big companies have their management offices in the city. It has the wealth.

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Printable version | Mar 24, 2020 3:14:46 PM |

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