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An estimated 8-minute read

Could slum-free Mumbai become a reality?

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Is Slum Free Mumbai a reality post the Development Control & Promotion Regulations for, 2034?

Mumbai marches into the 21st century with its skyline changing continuously with sky scrapers that compete with the world’s best cities, however, a harsh reality is at bay of these tall wonders more than half of Mumbai is covered by slums.

Central Mumbai is soon going to witness the glitzy Trump Towers, a few 100 meters around the periphery will be strewn with small shanties, commonly known a slums, each more than 100 years behind our time, lacking in basic amenities. As part of an ambitious project to make Mumbai slum free and planning the City better the State Government enacted the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act, 1966 (MRTP Act). As per this the Slum Rehabilitation Authority is a Planning Authority.

In 1991, the Development Control Regulations pouplarly called the DCR was enacted which dealt with the implementation of the Development Plan for Greater Mumbai. Little is known that the planners way back in 1991 decided to ape the west to show that the percentage of green areas should match those of several leading cities of the World such as London and New York.

In a display of overzealousness, the town planners demarcated several areas encroached by slums as green areas and reserved them for recreational grounds and play grounds knowing fully well that such reservation could never be given effect to. The town planners at that time went on to reserve fully developed areas such as the Mulji Jetha Market which is over a hundred years old and has several shops and buildings standing thereon for a recreational ground. In 1998, Regulation 33 (10) came to be introduced in the Development Control Regulations for Greater Mumbai, 1991 (DCR). The said regulation introduced the concept of a Slum Rehabilitation Scheme (SRS) being implemented for constructing buildings in place of slums, with the consent of 70 per cent of the slum dwellers on a viable stretch (Clause 1.15 of Appendix 4 to the DCR 1991). In view of the aforesaid amendment to the DCR of 1991 a large number of private developers came forward to implement Slum Rehabilitation Schemes in several areas designated as “slums”.

One would have expected a substantial eradication of slums in Mumbai on account of the aforesaid enactment and regulations being brought into force, however, the situation only worsened with no real progress towards slum rehabilitation taking place and additional areas being notified as slum areas on account of the unhygienic conditions in which they were placed.

Several became the cause for failure to reduce and eradicate slums primary being the greed of slum dwellers to extract more than what was agreed - ie- a the 269 square feet of carpet area being their entitlement in the construction carried out for permanent rehabilitation of the slum dwellers.

Secondly, slum dwellers were also used as pawns by the developers for preventing the submission of schemes of their rivals or for taking over existing schemes after they became lucrative, i.e. after eviction of slum dwellers.

Thirdly, to make matters worse, politicians have always treated slums as vote banks and have encouraged the spread of slums in their constituencies

The State Government as another measure, reduced the figure from 70% to 51% for the slum dwellers whose consent was required for implementation of a Slum Rehabilitation Scheme. The incentive for a slum dweller to consent for the implementation of a scheme has also been enhanced in the form of increased area in a permanent alternate accommodation from 269 square feet to 300 square feet. However, the question arises whether the aforesaid alone will be adequate for eradicating slums in Mumbai. The answer would essentially lie in a close examination of the problems faced prior to 2018 and examining whether the same are addressed.

One factor which needs to be noted is that the most difficult and costly part of a Slum Rehabilitation Scheme is the submission of a proposal and the eviction of slum dwellers from site, after which there is great value addition to a slum scheme. The submission of a proposal requires huge expenditure to be incurred for procuring irrevocable agreements of the requisite number of slum dwellers. Thereafter, eviction of slum dwellers is another costly process as the eviction procedure is time consuming, lengthy and often gets bogged down when evictions are at an advanced stage at the instance of vultures (rival builders) waiting in the wings to grab such projects after the initial tedious part is completed. In reality it is this issue of non-co-operation of slum dwellers which is required to be addressed.

The Slum Act makes a provision for eviction of slum dwellers under Sections 33 and 38 thereof which allow the authorities specified therein to pass orders and implement them. However, the said process is not only time consuming but fraught with political interference as well as interference on account of other factors working towards stalling the implementation of schemes i.e. rival builders who would be interested in taking over the schemes at this advanced stage. There was an amendment to the Slum Act on 19th June 2012 which resulted in the introduction of Section 33 A which provides for disentitling a non-co-operative slum dweller from getting any permanent alternate accommodation in the scheme. The aforesaid section was introduced by the legislature with the intention of imposing a deterrent for non-co-operation on the part of a slum dweller to join a scheme or vacate the structure occupied. However, the legislature has unfortunately restricted the applicability of Section 33 A only till the stage of the structure being in existence and the same would not apply to slum dwellers creating impediments to a scheme even after eviction. Moreover, the aforesaid section is fraught with innumerable technical requirements to be complied with not only by the Competent Authority but also by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority prior to the implementation of the aforesaid section for disentitling a slum dweller from getting a permanent structure in the rehabilitation area of a slum scheme. The procedure specified in section 33 A requires the Competent Authority to issue various written communications to the non-co-operative slum dweller putting him to notice of the consequences of his actions and also to cause the Slum Rehabilitation Authority to thereafter pass the necessary Order of disentitlement. The said procedure ought to have been simplified by authorising the Slum Rehabilitation Authority alone to issue the requisite notice to the non-co-operative slum dweller and taking the requisite action for non-compliance. Moreover, a timeframe ought to have been specified for the completion of the procedure set out in section 33 A of the Slum Act for speedy implementation of slum schemes. In order to ensure that section 33 A remains a deterrent, the same should have provided for its applicability to all stages of a scheme and its use should not have been restricted to a stage only prior to demolition of a structure.

Another important issue which requires immediate attention is the scope of Section 13 (2) of the Slum Act which provides for removal of a developer and appointment of another developer for implementing a Slum Scheme. It is unfortunate that there are a large number of entities who pose as developers for implementing a slum rehabilitation scheme but they have never completed any projects. Such entities are only traders in schemes. For the aforesaid purpose, the Slum Rehabilitation Authority requires to make the qualification criteria of a developer more stringent by insisting on previous experience commensurate with the size of a scheme. However, it must be noted that not every entity which submits a proposal and takes a scheme to a point which can realise value for the purpose of trading scheme requires to be debarred. Major corporates such as L&T Ltd. and Piramal Realty to mention a few have a presence in slum rehabilitation projects without ever having submitted any proposal to the Slum Rehabilitation Authority for implementing a slum scheme. The presence of large corporates is beneficial to schemes and is possible only because of such traders (glorified as developers) submitting schemes, incurring the initial expenditure thereof which cannot be accounted for by such corporates and facilitating the grant of approvals which is also a costly procedure and invariably entails payment of unaccounted monies dependant on the area covered by a scheme and its location. A trader in a slum scheme is at times necessary and indispensable. However, the scope of section 13 (2) is also required to be enlarged. At present a developer can be changed under section 13 (2) only on two grounds, i.e. (i) delay in implementation of a scheme; and (ii) construction beyond the slum boundary (Susme Builders V/s. CEO SRA decided by the Supreme Court on 9th April 2018). The scope of the aforesaid section needs to be substantially expanded to include several other grounds to ensure that there is quick weeding out of non-performing developers.

Last but not the least Courts play an important part in the interpretation of various regulations and the same would be beneficial only if attention is paid to the ground realities involved in implementation of a scheme. Mere implementation of the regulations as they stand without regard to the situation prevalent at site would lead to long term damage. A single impractical judgement could cause immense damage to the general implementation of schemes as the same would have to be followed by various authorities regardless of the situation at ground level. Moreover, Courts must bear in mind that the stalling of a slum rehabilitation scheme is disastrous not only for a developer but also slum dwellers. Adjudication of a slum rehabilitation project by a Court is not akin to a commercial litigation or any other litigation where temporary quick fix reliefs can be granted and the final decision can be left pending for years.

It is only a concentrated effort by Legislature, the Slum Rehabilitation and the Courts which can give a ray of hope to this City of a slum free Mumbai.

Chirag Balsara is an advocate of the Bombay high court.

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