Housing Policy

Despite Policies

Housing the poor in Urban Maharashtra

Case studies of Mumbai and Nanded

Uma Adusumilli and Prasad Shetty, Mumbai


This study was commissioned by the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, as a part of a series of studies undertaken for the Ministry of Housing and Poverty Alleviation, Government of India 

In the situation where almost all lands are highly contested property, the difficulty of getting habitat for those without land or those who do not have access to it becomes intense. Like most urban areas in India, this is the context of Urban Maharashtra and it is most extreme in the city of Mumbai.

Some poor families have access to small bits of property that was historically obtained by them when the contest over property was not so intense. They made their houses in these properties. The reference here is to the chawls of Mumbai, where typically about a hundred families live in two to four storeyed chawls. Each family of about 5 to 10 persons occupies tenements of about 80 to 120 square feet that are strung along a corridor. Amongst other things, the families also share common toilets – about 10 families per toilet. The high intensity of use and absence of maintenance have made the living condition in these chawls extremely poor as most of these are dilapidated. Though the condition of housing is grossly inadequate, these families hold on to such properties in the absence of access to anything else. Most of the other poor families live on someone else’s property. As they generally occupy space without entering into any formal contract with the ‘true’ property owner, they remain illegal. While most of these make their own houses, some rent them from other illegal occupants. Here again the condition of living remains inadequate. The reference here is to the slums and pavement dwellings of Mumbai, which housed some 50% of the city’s population in 2001.

The response of the Government to these housing conditions varied over the past 50 years, ranging from forcible eviction of slum dwellers to providing them with free houses, as well as construction of new weaker section housing schemes. These responses were executed through several programmes and projects, each having new regulatory instruments, fresh institutional frameworks, and innovative financial mechanisms. However, even after 50 years of responding, the housing condition does not seem to have improved in Maharashtra.