Politics of Redevelopment

This paper is a part of an ongoing larger work titled ‘Stories of Redevelopment in Mumbai’ written as semi-fictional narratives.  They do not bear any resemblance to true people, organizations, events and places and should be treated as montages stitched together from various experiences in the city.  

THE CASE OF BHARAT NAGAR IN MUMBAI

Prasad Shetty, August 2010

1

Relocations and Reclamations

In the early 1970s, large numbers of slum dwellers were relocated to different parts of Mumbai from their original places. These relocations were either to the outskirts of the city or to places with low land values at the time of displacement or to any land available to the Government. The displaced slum dwellers were either provided houses or land pitches (where they were to build their own houses) or accommodated into transit camps to be relocated at a later stage. The relocation was implemented by the Mumbai Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), which became the landlord of all relocated families, who in turn became tenants of MHADA.

Bharat Nagar in Bandra (East) is one such site on which relocation has taken place. It is about 44 acres and divided into several plots. One large plot was used to build transit accommodation for about 1000 families, who were to be shifted to new houses later (however these were never moved). In four plots, MHADA built 1000 small (120 square feet) ground storied houses. In thirteen plots 160 square feet pitches were given to people to build their own houses. Each of these plots had about 160 pitches stacked next to each other in rows. In later years, houses were extended in the front and the rear by about 5 feet each and also floors were added above. Houses also doubled up as spaces of work where small household enterprises were undertaken by families. The ground floors of houses edging the main roads were converted into small shops and industrial units. When the colony was built, group water taps and common toilets were provided.  Later families got their houses connected to water supply as well as made toilets inside their houses. The whole colony was built along a water course called Vakola Nala, which is a part of the Mithi River.

Most families in Bharat Nagar came from a nearby settlement that served the city abattoir. These were the butcher communities specializing in meat and skin trade. The abattoir activity was stopped following the new plan of mid 1960s that proposed shifting of polluting activities outside the city. The abattoir went, but the butcher settlement remained – to be shifted to Bharat Nagar. The settlement was declared as slum after the notions of good and standard living conditions prevailed in the city following the same new plan. Many such settlements got declared as slums at the same time and were resettled in planned colonies as a part of the large scale eviction and relocation programme. After relocation, people found it difficult to feed their families as their economic networks had been severed. They started doing a variety of other activities – largely activities that were considered illegal. The old residents Nagar describe the Bharat Nagar of seventies as – ‘infested with thieves and mosquitoes in same numbers’. Bharat Nagar became an important node in Mumbai’s drug trade. Illegal liquor was also produced in Bharat Nagar. By the 80’s it had become a place inhabited by gangsters, drug traders / addicts and thieves of all kinds. The Vakola Nala along Bharat Nagar had become famous for disposing murdered bodies. People from the rest of the city avoided Bharat Nagar either because of its mess or because of fear. As the rest of the city which made the government was not interested, the government machineries also turned a blind eye towards Bharat Nagar. It was a case of bringing about exclusion through relocating people, stripping them of their livelihood and leaving them to fend for themselves.

Along with shifting of the polluting industries and relocating older settlements, the seventies also saw large scale reclamation of land for real-estate particularly for commercial activities. The marshes around Bharat Nagar were also reclaimed by the government to make land for the new business district of Bandra Kurla Complex. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) was given the task of developing the business district. It built new roads, water and sewerage lines and other infrastructure on the newly reclaimed land. An internationally renowned architect was invited to make the master plan and set the urban design guidelines for new developments. The land was divided into smaller plots primarily meant for commercial developments. The land was ready for development by the mid eighties. Large banks and industrial houses were invited to make their offices in the new business district.

By the nineties, the city economy had started changing – large industries had started shutting to be soon replaced by commercial and financial establishments. Large manufacturing industries disintegrated into smaller units located largely in slum settlements. The strong environment movement – particularly the coastal zone regulation (that prohibited development along the coast) of 1984 had restricted further reclamation. The traditional land making process changed – now land had become a limited commodity. Meanwhile commerce flourished and the old business district of the south remained inadequate to accommodate it. The demand for new land rose tremendously resulting into a great hike in land prices. MMRDA had become a significant land-lord by this time owning the newly reclaimed Bandra-Kurla Complex in the centre of the city. It stopped inviting industries and banks to settle their businesses, but rather started auctioning the land at very high prices. While each square meter of land was priced at about Rs. 5000 (100 USD) per square meter in the mid eighties, by the mid nineties the price had shot up to Rs. 1.1. lakhs per square meter (2200 USD). In 2007, a piece of land was bought for Rs. 5 lakhs per square meter (10,000 USD).  Bharat Nagar had become a part of Bandra Kurla Complex, where the MMRDA was the planning authority. The land on the other hand belonged to MHADA.

2

Offers and Deals

Ilyaas Sheikh was a young carpenter who bought a house in Plot No. 4 of Bharat Nagar in 1992. Buying a house at that time meant paying off the original owner to vacate the premises and bribing the MHADA officials to change the name in the records and rent receipts. The total cost of the house including the bribe was about Rs. 3 lakhs (1500 USD). As a carpenter, he was extremely skilled and worked for several famous architects. He had made enough money to hire a team of workers who lived in the lower floor of his house, while he occupied the upper one.

One evening in 2005, he was approached by Suleman Bhai, a local real-estate agent. He offered Ilyaas Rs. 50 lakhs (100,000 USD) and asked him to vacate the house. Though the offer was tempting, Ilyaas could not respond immediately as it meant shifting business. The next day he asked around and found that his neighbours were also made similar offers. An atmosphere of pleasant uncertainty had spread in the area. While a few people had already sold their houses and were packing up to move, most of the others were in a state of confusion. Some people also decided to call Suleman Bhai and bargain for more money. There were several informal meetings throughout the day. In the evening, Suleman Bhai came again with several other men and four large cars. They parked in the open space near the toilets and opened their trunks. Inside the trunks were bundles of hundred rupee notes – each bundle Rupees 1 lakh. Ilyaas recounts there were thousands of bundles. As the crowd gathered, a man started speaking to the crowd. He said his name was Iqbal Qazi. Everyone knew Iqbal as the king-pin of the illegal liquor production. He was also arrested several times by the police, once even for murder. After the police had dismantled the liquor and drug trade in the mid nineties he had started running a bar and a restaurant. His men however continued to work for him. He told everyone that he represented a builder who wanted to buy all the houses in Bharat Nagar and redevelop the land. He further said that the builder was ready to pay Rs. 90 lakhs to anyone who would vacate before the next morning and Rs. 80 lakhs to people vacating within seven days. The others would be paid not more than Rs. 65 lakhs. More than 200 families took the money that evening and shifted by the following morning.

Ilyaas was out of those who did not take money – everything was too fast for him and he had to manage his business. In the night Suleman Bhai approached him again – this time with another proposition – he said that he would speak to Iqbal Bhai and get him 90 lakhs if he agreed by the next day. Suleman bhai also offered him temporary accommodation until Ilyaas was able to find a new house. Ilyaas said that he needed time to think and would answer by the next afternoon. Later in the night a group of neighbours led by Mehboob Bhai came to Ilyaas’s house and asked him not to sell his house . They said that if everyone is together they can bargain for more than a crore of rupees (200,000 USD). As Ilyaas was not sure of the whole thing, he thought that following Mehboob Bhai would give him some more time. When Suleman Bhai called up Ilyaas the next day, Ilyaas said that he needed more time to think. Suleman Bhai’s advisory tone suddenly changed into a threatening one – he said that he would not even get Rs. 50 lakhs if he delayed any further. A couple of days passed in the phase of uncertainty. Meanwhile Suleman Bhai and Iqbal Bhai had called up the dissenting members several times. On the third evening, when Ilyaas was returning home, he was stopped by four heavily built men. They told him that they would break his legs if he did not sell the house by the next day. Ilyaas immediately visited Mehboob Bhai and learnt that several others were threatened in the same manner. Someone in the colony had found out that the developers were the Company, DHIL and were operating through ex-gangsters and hitmen. They all approached the local police station and decided to file a complaint against DHIL. The police asked them to show proof of DHIL’s involvement. As there was no conclusive evidence, the police did not record DHIL’s name in the complaint. The police then sent everyone home stating they would take necessary action and they should call up the police if anyone was threatened or hurt.

But people were scared. They started moving around in groups. Ilyaas would always be accompanied by his employees after that incident. Some dissenting members could not take the pressure of living in fear and sold their houses. After two weeks, Ilyaas got a phone call from Iqbal Bhai. He said that Mehboob Bhai had sold his house for Rs. 1 Crore and the same offer was open to Ilyaas. By this time, Ilyaas had already gone through two weeks of living in fear. He had made up his mind to leave the area and had started looking for alternative places for himself and his employees. The timing of Iqbal Bhai’s call was apt and his offer was good. Ilyaas immediately agreed. The next day he visited Iqbal Bhai’s Office in Kherwadi Slum and signed some documents. That evening he carried hundred bundles of thousand rupee notes back home.

Ilyaas left the house next morning and shifted to his brother-in-laws house in Mankurd. By the evening of the same day, he had also arranged a rented place for his employees in the same area. After a week, he bought an apartment in Khar East (near Bharat Nagar) and started staying in it. With still a lot of money left he bought another apartment in Santacruz East and rented it. The remaining money he put in a safe deposit account. Someone advised him that he would get better returns if he invested the money into Mutual Funds. He then started inquiring about Mutual Funds and also managed to put some money into them. He also organized a room in Plot no. 13 of Bharat Nagar for his employees to rent. He soon realized that he couldn’t live in the apartment and needed to live with his employees. He decided to rent out his apartment at Khar as well and shifted to Bharat Nagar to live with his employees. Just as before, today, he occupies the upper floor, while the lower floor is rented by his employees – the only difference is that he is now two apartments richer.

DHIL was able to buy off about 500 tenants from four plots of Bharat Nagar spending about Rupees 450 Crores. In the following years, DHIL demolished all the houses on these plots. It also developed four apartment blocks in one corner of the site. A large commercial complex came up on the remaining land. On 13th May 2010, DNA, a local newspaper reported that DHIL got these plots declared as a slum in 2006 and also got approvals to redevelop these plots under the Slum Redevelopment Project. Under the Slum Redevelopment Project, if a land occupied by a slum is developed, then an incentive development right is provided so as to offset the cost of redevelopment. The total development on the piece of land in this case is much higher than the development possible on ordinary land without a slum. Hence getting the MHADA resettlement colony declared as a slum was highly profitable to DHIL. This was a case where housing provided by the government was declared as a slum and tenants of the government were considered slum dwellers. The irony however was, that the agencies who owned the land (MHADA), who was responsible for declaring the land as a slum and who gave the development approval operated from the same building. The newspaper also reported that while DHIL built houses to rehabilitate old tenants (now slum-dwellers) in the four apartments over a small piece of land; the remaining land was sold to another developer for Rupees 2250 Crores to develop the commercial complex. As the old tenants were already bought off, the houses that were developed to rehabilitate them (as slum dwellers) were informally sold in the open market. While the landscape of threat and fear continued, everybody – DHIL, the government employees and the tenants – seemed to have made money from the project.

3

The Resistances of Desire

In Plot no. 11, a group of tenants had come together under the leadership of Usmaan Khan a shoe trader and had refused to sell their houses. Usmaan had managed to convince them that if they could themselves redevelop the land they occupied their property would be worth much more than what DHIL was offering. Over a period of three months, all tenants had been convinced for this ‘Self-Redevelopment’ project. In 2008, they approached CRIT (Collective Research Initiatives Trust), a collective of academics from the field of architecture and planning to help them with the process. A rule in the development control regulations allowed such MHADA resettlement colonies to undergo redevelopment. According to the rule, a built-up area of two and half times of the plot area (i.e: FAR 2.5) can be developed on such a plot. A part of this built-up area is to be used to accommodate the current tenants and the remaining could be commercially exploited. The returns from such commercial exploitation are expected to pay the cost of redevelopment.

Immediately, efforts were made to obtain the Development Plan Remarks from the MMRDA (which was responsible for planning in the area). This remark outlines details of all reservations earmarked in the Development Plan. It is one of the first documents required to be collected from the Planning Authority not only to evaluate the potential of the land, but also as one of the requirements to be submitted along with the proposal. Somehow, this process that usually takes a week, took about six months. The community was quite sure that DHIL was behind the delay. But when the remarks came, the problems increased rather than resolving. The remarks ambiguously referred to a study made on the Mithi River and stated that a part of the land would be taken for the widening of the river and shifting of the road along the river. Though not specifying the amount of land that would be taken up, the remarks attached a drawing that showed more than two-third of the land reserved for the river widening and shifting of the road. CRIT along with the leaders of the community decided to hide this information from the tenants as this remark would have created havoc amongst the community because they would not have much land for their redevelopment. They decided to re-apply for the remarks after some months as they had found out from other sources in the MMRDA that the River edge was being modified marginally without much effect on their land. Again, the community alleged that the remarks were deliberately drafted ambiguously and with information that would scare the members of the community and they would consider selling their houses to DHIL.

All data regarding the community was given to CRIT by the tenants. They had requested re-housing of 160 families. Based on the available information on land and the number of houses required, CRIT worked out a preliminary feasibility where an area of 480 square feet could be provided to each tenant of Plot no. 11 and each tenant would also get a corpus of Rupees 15 lakhs. In this scheme about 30% of the plot area was left for commercial exploitation. This feasibility was agreeable to the tenants and CRIT decided to proceed with detailed surveys and project preparation.

CRIT started its survey to ascertain the characteristics of land and of the community. One of the most unexpected finding was that, while the community had reported that there are only 160 families that need to be re-housed, the survey indicated that actually there were more than 280 families and about 40 shops that occupied the land. Most members of the community had sub-let a part of their house to another family or shop on rent. Such sub-tenants and shop-keepers were occupying the houses since the past 10-15 years. If all such families and shops had to accommodated, the feasibility of the project would have changed – each family would have got not more than a 300 square feet house and a corpus of about Rupees 3 lakhs. When CRIT discussed the issue with the members of the community, they responded that the ‘orginal’ tenants of MHADA were only 160 and only they should be re-housed. The tenants were confident that they will be able to evict the sub-tenants without any problems. CRIT also posed the community with two other questions – what about the income generated by through renting of the spaces or using them as shops? And what about the evicted sub-tenants – where will they go? The members of the community answered both questions with great ease – they said that once the land would be redeveloped, the value of property would be very high, which would give them better options for selling and renting. And regarding the sub-tenants, the tenants simply said that “it was their problem to find a new place”. This was a case where a set of occupants were ready to throw another set for a larger house and greater money – and this would probably happen silently.

Several kinds of exclusions took place in Bharat Nagar during the last forty years – in the 70s and 80s, the government policy and action excluded the people; later in 2000s, people were excluded as they couldn’t participate in the highly speculative market; and more recently, a part of the community excluded others from amongst themselves.