[The facts and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and have not been verified or endorsed by the project team in any way]
For more than a decade starting from 1988 till 2002, I had the opportunity to be closely connected via family to the then fledgling city of Navi Mumbai. As an experiment in large scale urban planning that started in 1970, directed and implemented by the state government, it was as yet unsurpassed in size covering 343.7 sq kms and promising to be a city for ‘the common man’. The idealism of the early CIDCO bureaucrats to build a different kind of city with a place for everyone, rich and poor, all religions and creeds and at the same time relieve Mumbai of its immense population burden seemed to be a worthwhile goal and got me interested in its development. With numerous housing projects for middle and lower income groups underway and the APM (Agricultural Produce Market) coming up, there was an air of expectancy and hope that this would be a new breakthrough in urban living in India. However, even in those early years, side by side with the growth of the city, there were two developments that signalled deep social cleavages that would make top-down plan implementation difficult and the realization of a modern egalitarian city, near impossible. One was the pre-existing local population who had not been consulted in any way during the long years of deliberation over the feasibility of mainland development. The bulk acquisition of their lands for the project led to much acrimony and slowed implementation. The acrimony persists to this day in parts of the region. The second was the inflow of migrants to work as domestics in the planned nodes, as vendors in market places and to provide other services. Although the development plan for the city had made provision for LIG and EWS housing, this was not affordable for those with low end jobs or jobs in the informal economy and soon, the hillsides overlooking the developed nodes and the sides of the Thana-Belapur railway line became the site of slums and temporary shelters (Shaw, 2004).
When my fieldwork ended in 2002, most of the major nodes had been completed or were near completion, namely, Vashi, Sanpada, Airoli, Kopakhairane, CBD-Belapur and Nerul, and the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) had been formed to govern this portion. Imperatives for the stricter marketization of land had gained intensity post liberalization and frequent upward revisions of developed land prices characterized the decade of the nineteen-nineties along with reducing attention to social housing. There were already signs that the new city was essentially for the middle and upper middle classes.
Last month, through the two-day workshop on Navi Mumbai organized by Ratoola Kundu in TISS, Mumbai, I was able to revisit Navi Mumbai and catch up with its growth trajectory since the early 2000s and see the outlines of where it is headed. The workshop was particularly interesting as it had representatives from CIDCO, the planning authority for Navi Mumbai, political representatives such as a councillor from the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation, and grassroots representatives from the unplanned areas and local organizations such as YUVA.
Over the two days, I learnt much about the present condition of Navi Mumbai. Over a million people reside there now and according to the councillor from NMMC, it is already a ‘smart city’ with high levels of basic amenities, scientific solid waste management, lots of greenery and a thriving, diversified economy based on services such as ITES and education. A CIDCO representative informed us that the days of bulk acquisition of land for town building are over and the organization is now following a ‘voluntary land development model’ with the aim of minimizing compulsory acquisition, involving land owners as participants and incentivizing land assembly. Under this model, after development, 60% of the land will be given back to owners. This is the way CIDCO plans to develop the new town of NAINA (Navi Mumbai Airport Influenced Notified Area), 560 sq. Kms in size, located south west of Navi Mumbai.
Giving some credence to the proposed approach was a presentation made by representatives of Khalapur, an emerging town and its surrounding community within the influence region of Navi Mumbai that through voluntary land pooling would like to become a smart city. The rationale of the local population is that soon the area will become more urbanized and rather than middlemen making all the profits through escalating land prices, this model will ensure perpetual benefit to owners. It will also encourage existing residents to remain where they are and there will be no displacement even for those without land. To implement such a plan, the support of the state government is needed and the representatives are currently working on finer details before taking the plan to the government.
While voluntary land pooling and local level participation in decisions on land use change are to be welcomed, they do not provide a solution to the housing requirements of the lowest 30% of income groups such as manual and low skilled workers who provide essential services to the resident population of the newly developed areas. Many are ‘naka kamgaars’ or daily wagers with precarious jobs and earnings, procured by standing daily at nakas or important crossroads. Despite the difficulties and tensions of daily job search, if their housing or shelter was assured, they would somehow manage. This was forcefully brought out by a naka kamgaar representative who has been living in a slum called Tatanagar, in Belapur. The 15 year old slum has developed over a plot of government land reserved for a library. It is periodically demolished only to spring back again as those living there have no other alternative. Residents are willing to shift to a proper place if provided with basic services.
In the workshop questions were asked of both CIDCO officials and the Navi Mumbai councillor as to why slums continue to persist and if there was a chance of Tatanagar residents ever making it to the new LIG and EWS housing CIDCO plans to build. A blame game ensued between CIDCO’s chief town planner and the councillor, of lack of co-operation and delayed action. While I listened with disappointment, it reminded me of similar arguments made two decades ago to explain the growing slums on the hillsides: “It is MIDC land, we cannot help them” or from MIDC’s side “they work in CIDCO’s nodes, CIDCO should be responsible”. The only difference was that the disinterest on the part of state representatives, whether bureaucrats or politicians, to solve the housing needs of the poor seems to have become stronger with time.
A small foothold into the dynamic economy of the larger metropolitan region via secure shelter is what is sought by daily wagers and other informal economy workers, now as then. In the naka kamgaar representative’s words: “garib loko ko bhi bikas hona chahiye” (there should also be development for poor people). It is a reminder of the fact that much still remains to be done before utopian visions conceived at the top can become a reality for people at the margins.
Shaw, Annapurna (2004). The Making of Navi Mumbai. Hyderabad: Orient Longman.