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BMC elections 2017: Spotlight is back on slums

All political parties are busy wooing slum-dwellers, manifestoes repeat promises not kept in the past.

Written by Arita Sarkar , Vishwas Waghmode | Mumbai |
February 7, 2017 4:50:58 am
bmc polls 2017, mumbai slums, mumbai municipal election 2017, mumbai voter issues, maharashtra civic polls 2017, sanjay gandhi national party, bombay slums, kandivli east, dharavi slums, sanjay nirupam, devendra fadnavis, shiv sena, uddhav thackeray Locals say political parties always promise better water supply, more toilets, and regular power connection, but these never materialise. Amit Chakravarty

For 28-year-old Jaideep Gaikwad, it is a sense of deja vu. For over a decade, he has seen all political parties compete hard during election time to woo voters with a plethora of promises. Gaikwad stays in Damu Nagar, a huge slum in Kandivli East, located on a slope at the mouth of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) and recognises the futility of all these. Candidates of all political parties land up in his backyard around eight to ten days before the polling day with promises that rarely deviate from the tried-and-tested “better water supply”, “more toilets”, and “regular electricity connection”. “After a party wins an election, they will never come back. Year after year, they promise that we will have running supply of water and legal electricity connections within the next few months, which ultimately never happens,” he says, with frustration evident in his tone.

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The slum-dwellers understand the pattern. A week before the elections, candidates from political parties organise meetings with a bunch of residents in several lanes. “The Independent candidates do a few door-to-door visits but the others round up a few residents in various pockets of the slum to convince them to come out and vote for their party. But none of their promises are ever fulfilled,” says another local in Damu Nagar.

While other slums have more serious concerns such as no garbage collection and lack of adequate toilets, for the residents of Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, the primary concern is to hold on to the structures they have lived in for several decades on end or have set up factories in. Abdul Malik, who lives in Dharavi and is a member of the Dharavi Businessmen’s Welfare Association, says residents and owners of commercial outlets are worried about the growing focus on illegal slums and the demolitions that have been carried out in other parts of the slum.

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“Many of the structures in Dharavi have multiple floors, with some housing factories. Once they are demolished, our future will become very uncertain. We are willing to pay taxes to the government, which are needed to legalise the structures. We will place our demand before every candidate who asks us to vote for them,” says Malik.

For the past year, political parties have often raised several issues relating to the slums to ensure that their vote bank remains intact in their respective turfs. While the Congress has been more vocal on the issue of slums, the Shiv Sena and the BJP have also not been far behind.

According to the 2011 census, close to 52.06 lakh — or 42 per cent — of a population of 1.24 crore live in slums in Mumbai. However, politicians and activists claim the number is much higher, around 60 per cent of the city’s population.

In its manifesto for the BMC polls, the Congress has promised that it will raise the legal height of slums from 14 feet now to 20 feet if voted to power. “We believe the slums are the most neglected in the city and do not have the basic amenities. Since families are growing, the slum-dwellers are raising the height. So, it will be right to increase the legal height,” said Sanjay Nirupam, president of the Mumbai Congress.

The BMC’s move to demolish slums taller than 14 feet from October was opposed by all parties, including the Sena. While Opposition leaders had alleged that this was the ruling party’s attempt to destabilise their vote bank, the Sena maintained that the structures needed to be protected on ‘humanitarian grounds’ considering the rise in population.

“Most of these hutments are 10 feet by 10 feet in size, which is barely enough to accommodate a family. These people have been living there for decades and now have families who need more space. We have suggested that the height restriction should be increased to 18 feet,” said Trushna Vishwasrao, a senior Sena corporator and BMC House leader.

Since January last year, corporators cutting across political parties have stalled a proposal to levy property tax on slums in the city. According to the civic body’s proposal, the slums would have to pay property tax between Rs 2,400 and Rs 18,000 depending on the size and type of huts. The civic body does not levy any tax on slums and was expected to generate a revenue of close to Rs 400 crore through this proposal.

The proposal, placed before the BMC law committee headed by the BJP, a ruling partner with Sena, has been met with several objections by corporators, such as the definition of slums and questions on the lump sum tax amount for huts in South Mumbai and suburbs.

“There was no clarity in the proposal. Since the slums in Mumbai are on land belonging to the revenue department, BMC, railways and other agencies, we had sought clarity on it. Also, it would be inappropriate to levy the same amount of the tax from the slums in South Mumbai and suburbs as their market value is different. So, the proposal has been pending due to lack of clarity,” says Krishna Parkar, a BJP corporator, who headed the law committee last year.

The Congress has also raised the issue of regularising all slums in the city till December 2015. “At the behest of developers, the BJP-led state government announced that it would regularise all the illegal buildings before 2015. When it comes to regularising the slums, the government shows the rule book and refuses to do it.

The slums can be illegal but not the slum-dwellers who are the citizens of the county. So, to improve the livelihood of the slum-dwellers and to get their rightful homes, the state government should promulgate an ordinance to legalise all the slums. So, the slum-dwellers will get all the basic civic amenities,” says Nirupam.

Samajwadi Party group leader and sitting corporator Rais Shaikh says there is a dire need for a more durable solution to rehabilitate the slum population. “These people have been living in slums for decades and their homes have now become permanent colonies. We cannot call them slums anymore. We have suggested that the slum hutments up to the height of 20 feet should not be demolished and the state government should come up with a lasting solution to ensure that the slum population also have access to basic amenities,” he says.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen MLA Waris Pathan blames the state government for its failure to provide such a large portion of the city’s population with basic amenities. Regularisation of slums will be a core part of the party’s poll campaign.

Explaining the rationale for political parties to target the slums, a sitting Congress corporator from the western suburbs says every corporator ward has a few slum pockets. “These pockets are the sure-shot vote banks of the corporator. Also, a large number of people from slums come out to vote than people residing in high rise buildings.

So, corporators are banking more on slums to win the elections. Since we have promised 20 feet height and regularisation of slums till 2015, we are getting a positive response from slum-dwellers and that will help us a lot,” he adds.

Following the December 2014 Bombay High Court ruling that termed water as fundamental right, the civic body last year finally approved a proposal to supply water to illegal slums, which have come up in the city after January 1, 2000. Apart from issues of steady supply of drinking water, all the political parties have also tried to address the issue of lack of adequate toilet seats across all slums.

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