ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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CPI(M)-Significant Change

DO poor people in the city have the same rights as, say, those who write in and read these pages? Not opportunities, or privileges, but simple rights, such as being able to own the house they live in, or if not own it, at least continue to live in it with the assurance that they will not overnight be thrown on the streets without proper compensation? We know that for the poor certain rights must remain purely theoretical, because they lack the means to go to court to secure or defend these rights, and the alternative of direct political action by way of morcha or a hunger strike has its limitations. But in the matter of owning property, or even occupying it with the assurance of reasonable security of tenure, for the urban poor even the theoretical right does not exist It is denied in the most innocent way. Plots small enough for a poor man to afford are simply not allowed. The subdivision of a large plot into a series of smaller plots requires municipal permission, and the subdivision will not be permitted if the subdivisions are smaller than 500 sq yards. So all urban land is effectively placed outside the purchasing power of the urban poor. This is not all. Suppose that by some miracle of organisation a group of poor people gets together, pool its resources, and purchases a larger plot of land. The municipal building regulations now ensure that after the proper front and back and side open spaces are left, so little of the plot remains as buildable area that there is no alternative but to build vertically, a multi-storeyed construction. There are further regulations about minimum room sizes so that the cheapest building that can finally emerge is a multi-storeyed chawl construction with common lavatories and individual tenements of about 230 sq ft carpet area each. Such a construction these days costs not less than Rs 13,000 per tenement not counting the cost of land. So the entire project is effectively placed outside the reach of the urban poor. Owning urban property is thus strictly a privilege open to the middle class and the wealthy.

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