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Unstated Premises of Maharashtra's Housing Policy

The government of Maharashtra recently tabled its housing policy in the state assembly. It is a document that more or less sets out current government thinking on housing issues. There are no bold new initiatives. The gloom engendered by such thinking is marginally lightened by the fact that the housing policy has been published at all, and is open to debate: perhaps the government will finally listen to what the public, in particular slum dwellers, have to say.


Unstated Premises of Maharashtra’s Housing Policy

The government of Maharashtra recently tabled its housing policy in the state assembly. It is a document that more or less sets out current government thinking on housing issues. There are no bold new initiatives. The gloom engendered by such thinking is marginally lightened by the fact that the housing policy has been published at all, and is open to debate: perhaps the government will finally listen to what the public, in particular slum dwellers, have to say.


ne of the most cautious documents of recent weeks has been the Maharashtra government’s housing policy.1 First published in draft form on November 1, 2006, after some minor revisions in response to criticism, it was finally tabled in the assembly on July 23, 2007. Debate over it has been deferred to the assembly’s winter session.

The first objective listed is, “To facilitate affordable housing in urban and rural areas, create adequate housing stock for Lower Income Group (LIG), Economically Weaker Section (EWS) and shelters for the poorest of the poor on ownership or rental basis”. This is followed by a series of laudable objectives. Much of this is wonderful, heady stuff. It is only when we get down to the specifics of exactly what actions are proposed that concerns begin to mount.

First, although a separate section is devoted to infrastructure, there is no clear recognition that this is an essential constituent of housing – that when you provide housing it is equally important that you provide additional roads, footpaths, schools, hospitals and parks to service the housing. Instead we have a repeated (and worrying) affirmation that the Floor Space Index (FSI) needs to be raised to make more efficient use of land. What is “efficient”? Does it mean that more residents should share the same amenities? Or does it mean that builders should make more profits? Because increased FSI would promote both, more profits for the builder, and more discomfort for the poorest occupants.

One of the objectives is “To deregulate housing and encourage competition and public private partnerships in financing, construction and maintenance of houses for LIGs and Weaker Sections of the Society.” This is also worrying. What will the state give away to achieve this goal? Besides helping builders, is not there another hidden objective which is to disengage government from all the day-to-day problems of housing the poor – rather like disengaging from the responsibility for law and order by anointing a Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh? Will this work for housing the poor? Instead, why not look for solutions where the poor house themselves, something that has demonstrably and repeatedly succeeded in the past?

The housing policy leaves much unsaid. So perhaps the best way to analyse it is to examine some of its underlying premises. These are mostly unstated and have to be inferred from various policy proposals and other statements emanating from time to time from the government. In the sections that follow these are called “myths”, and each is followed by an explanation of how the reality is actually very different.


Myth 1: The city grows because of unrestricted migration. We must have a cutoff date beyond which no new slum dweller will be permitted in the city. Only thus can we make the city manageable. Reality: A city requires workers across the range of income levels, from the chairman of the corporation to a dishwasher in a restaurant. Either or both could be migrants,

and each houses himself as best as he can. The city grows because new jobs are added to it. It is these jobs that attract migrants, again at all levels. The larger and more diversified the workforce the more new jobs will be attracted there – a call centre, for example, which could be anywhere, would prefer to be in Mumbai rather than Satara because of the larger talent pool to draw from. The growth of both, jobs and migrants, thus spirals on. A cut-off date for migrants is meaningless without a corresponding cut-off date for jobs. But we all want more jobs in the city. And no one wants more migrants, in particular the poor ones. Unfortunately, jobs and migrants go together. And each high-level job generates a number of lower-level jobs, and these generate even more numerous still lower-level jobs, and so ad infinitum. At least until the national population begins to decline, we must accept that the city’s growth is inevitable, both in jobs and in population at all income levels, and work out how best to cope with this.

The Dharavi Redevelopment Plan is proceeding on the basis of a cut-off date of January 1, 1995. However, there are rumours of a move to revise the cut-off date to January 1, 2000. Happily, the housing policy makes no mention of a cutoff date. Is some rethinking going on? Some recognition finally that a cut-off date makes no sense?


Myth 2: Slum dwellers are illegal occupants of the land on which they are squatting. They have no right to be where they are. The land they occupy is owned by someone else and should be vacated and restored to the rightful owner. Reality: When someone creates a job in the city, what responsibility does he have to ensure that the holder of the job is decently housed, at an affordable price? When the British built bungalows they had servants’ quarters in the compound. When the textile mills were built, chawls were simultaneously built for rental purposes to the mill workers at a price they could afford. But all sense of responsibility for housing one’s workers vanished with independence. Since the bottom half of society cannot afford ownership housing,

Economic and Political Weekly August 18, 2007 and construction of rental housing has been killed by the continuation of the Rent Act, the poor have no choice but to build their own shelters where they can – on someone else’s land.

Landownership has always been a contentious issue. Our legal system is built around records on paper. Landownership changes with changes in the paper record, not otherwise. Soon after independence laws were enacted which said that anyone who had been a tenant on agricultural land could apply to became its owner, with a small compensation (fixed by government at six times the annual rent, or 200 times the annual land revenue tax) to be paid to the original owner. The paper record (commonly known as the 7/12 extract) would be altered to reflect the change in landownership. The laws allowing tenancies to be converted to ownership2 expressed an alternative principle: That he who uses the land, for long enough, is entitled to become its owner. He may have to pay a modest compensation, but once that is done the paper record must be altered to reflect the change in ownership.

Another way of looking at this is to say that all land is a kind of commons – like the forest, or a common grazing ground. From this an individual takes (or is assigned, by common social consent) a piece for himself, for his own house and vegetable garden. He defends this against all those not invited by him to enter. If he abandons it, the area reverts to the commons. If he cannot protect it, he has no right to it, whatever the paper records might say.

The state government has 81 police inspectors and 4,413 police constables living in slums. They, like other slum dwellers, have found themselves homes, illegally built on what is on paper someone else’s land, which the owners were not particularly interested in protecting. The slum houses have either been bought by the occupants or are being rented by them at prevailing market rates (incidentally, slums are the only locations in the city where a poor or middle-income person looking for rental housing can find it). Most of these homes have existed where they are for decades, and some are quite solidly built. It is not that these policemen and officers want to be in illegal housing. They have no choice. No other kind of housing is available to them, affordable within the wages they are being paid. The state government has done nothing for them by way of housing, never mind doing anything for the others that make up the 50 per cent of the city’s population that lives in slums. Should these people not, like agricultural tenants, be entitled to ownership of the space they currently occupy?

If we accept this principle that slum dwellers have a right to occupy a certain amount of area in the city, maybe not exactly where they live but somewhere in the vicinity, the housing policy should quite simply say so. Slum dwellers need clear, marketable titles, on paper, to this right. Notice that it is not quite ownership of land. Instead, it is a right to occupy a certain amount of built floor space in a particular locality. It would apply to every slum, including Dharavi. In return for this right the title holder would pay an annual lease rent, like any other landowner, compounded if necessary.


Myth 3: Slum dwellers need free housing. The 50 per cent of Mumbai’s population that lives in slums is so impoverished that nobody can afford to pay anything for housing and each such family has to be resettled in free 225 sq ft pucca multistoreyed tenements. In any case, the promise of free housing is now so deeply embedded in the slum dwellers’ imagination that there can be no question of reversing this. Reality: Nearly all slum dwellers can certainly afford to pay for the cost of construction of their housing, particularly if they are offered housing loans. The few that cannot afford this require a needbased subsidy on a family-by-family basis. What slum dwellers cannot afford is to pay for the cost of the land they are occupying, priced at current real estate rates. Within their locality, this land, if privately owned, needs to be acquired for them, in exchange perhaps for free-sale building rights in the same locality, on a basis that recognises the diminished value of the land because it is encroached. If the land is owned by government or a public authority, no compensation needs to be considered since it was government’s duty in the first place to make such land available for housing (recall that government’s own employees are living in slums).

The policy of in situ free housing for all slum dwellers, which the housing policy endorses, and indeed expects to extend throughout the state, is simply not financially viable except in high value localities, where the profits are sufficient to cover the cost of free resettlement. At all

Economic and Political Weekly August 18, 2007

other locations it will remain an empty promise, a mirage of a future that can never happen. It is a policy that must come to a dead end. Meanwhile, more and more free sale rights will be given away in exchange for less and less resettlement.

As for slum dwellers being unwilling to settle for anything less than free housing, has anyone asked them? The idea of free housing was never theirs. It is the votewinning brainchild of Bal Thackeray. Instead, why not offer the slum dwellers marketable titles to the floor space they currently occupy with the option of deciding their own futures? And then see how they react to the cancellation of free housing. Corollary to Myth 3: Why not free housing? It can be provided by developers in a timebound manner. All we have to do is give them extra FSI, within strictly controlled limits to ensure their profits are reasonable. Reality: The new housing stock will be dearer, making it even less affordable, thus driving still larger numbers into slums.3

Myth 4: Any scheme that gives slum dwellers marketable rights will be widely misused. Slum dwellers will sell their rights and move into another slum somewhere else. The problem of resettling slums will never end. Reality: It is a fairly simple matter these days to give everyone a uniquely numbered swipe card, complete with photograph, fingerprints and a retina scan if necessary. It is also quite straightforward to carry out a mapping exercise of where each person lives, with GIS coordinates that are precise within a few centimeters.

With a marketable title, someone may choose to sell out at his present location and move to a cheaper place. Why should anyone mind? What is gained by forcing someone to live for 10 years in the free tenement that he has just been given? With marketable rights, and recorded (and taxed) transactions, misuse can be minimised, particularly if all transactions are posted on a publicly accessible website. The answer to misuse, and corruption, is transparency.

A landlord today cannot evict slum dwellers from his property. And a slum dweller cannot access housing finance because he has no rights in the property. Everyone is neither here nor there. Why not clarify today’s muddled property rights and give each slum dweller a marketable title to be where he is? And compensate the landlord in whatever way is appropriate?


Myth 5: Those who live in old-rent apartments, and pay the rent they paid 60 years ago, and make no contribution towards maintenance of their buildings, must continue to be protected from any increase in rent and any charge for maintenance – not only they themselves but their children and their children’s children, forever. Reality: The continuation of the Rent Act stopped all construction of housing for rental in the decades after independence. It has arguably been the single most powerful factor driving the growth of slums in Mumbai, to a proportion (over 50 per cent) that is now probably the highest in India. Instead of recognising this, the housing policy takes pride in having “protected the tenurial rights of the occupants living there for generations” (p 5). This is followed (p 6) by an objective “To promote rental housing through amendments in the Rent Control Act”. So we infer that the Rent Act is basically a good thing but needs some tinkering with because really we do need some rental housing. And of course reconstruction of old-rent buildings is to continue along the old lines (p 23) despite the high court having found it damaging to the city and ruled against it.


Myth 6: Increasing the FSI, up to a limit of 4, will improve the quality of life for Mumbai’s citizens, especially the poor, and will make their homes more affordable by cutting down their share of the land price. After all, New York has FSIs of 8 and 12, so 4 for Mumbai is not at all unreasonable. Reality: More FSI means more built-up floor space on the same land area. It means more sales for the builder. It also means more flats and therefore more families living on the same land area. This means more crowding in the same streets, and more demand for the same, limited public amenities, whether these are schools and hospitals or water supply and garbage disposal. The winners and losers in this FSI game are quite clear. The builders will finish up with more money in their pockets. The citizens will finish up living in still more crowded conditions – necessarily worse off than they are today, especially in regard to traffic and moving around.

FSI sounds like a very simple notion: it specifies the ratio of built-up floor area to plot area, and generally applies uniformly across a locality to all private plots there. Its purpose is to control the volume of building construction in the locality – that is, the extent of floor area – and this will indirectly decide how many people will live or work in the locality. That number has to be kept within reasonable limits so as not to overcrowd the roads and footpaths that have been provided, and not to overwhelm the educational or medical facilities available within reasonable distance.

So the purpose of FSI is ultimately to control the numbers of occupants in a locality to suit the amenities available. But the determinants of FSI are different from city to city. For example, let us say that 2,000 persons per hectare is a reasonable level of crowding, whether we are in Mumbai or in New York. In Mumbai the number of occupants per apartment averages just under five – the typical family size here. In New York the average family size is 1.78. In Mumbai we provide, for poor people, tenements of a built-up area of 25 sqm, or 5 sqm per capita. In New York, typically, apartments average 65 sqm per capita, that is, a person occupies 13 times more floor space in New York than a poor person does in Mumbai. In Mumbai to accommodate 2,000 persons per hectare (a hectare is 10,000 sqm) at 5 sqm per capita we would need an FSI of 1 (2,000*5=10,000, that is, 10,000 sqm of built-up area on a one hectare plot). In New York, to house the same number of 2,000 persons per hectare we would need an FSI of 13 (2,000*65=1,30,000 sqm, that is, 13 hectares of built-up floor space on a one hectare plot). If the building footprint occupies a third of the plot (which is not uncommon), in Mumbai the 2,000 people would live in a G+2 building (three floors). In New York, the same number of people in a building with the same footprint would need a 39-storeyed building (3*13=39).

So for any given density of occupation, FSI is heavily determined by the amount of built-up area consumed per capita, and this will vary from city to city, and within a city from locality to locality, and will depend on the economic circumstances of the residents.

An FSI of 4 for the poor in Mumbai thus corresponds to an FSI of 13*4=52 in New York, that is, everyone would be living in 39*4=156-storeyed buildings. However comfortable New Yorkers may be with their tall buildings, even they would balk at

Economic and Political Weekly August 18, 2007 all living in buildings each one 50 per cent taller than the 110-storied twin towers that collapsed on September 11, 2001.

Whoever dreamt up the notion of an FSI of 4 for the poor of Mumbai has an unforgivably limited understanding of FSI. It is not the poor who need a higher FSI in Mumbai – it is the rich. They should be allowed whatever FSI they like, provided they pay through the nose for it, and provided densities in their localities are kept within the limits that can be sustained by the road network and other public amenities.4

Myth 7: Mumbai is desperately short of land area. The only way we can cope with increasing numbers is to grow vertically, that is, increase the FSI up to let us say

4. This is a low cost, painless way to grow the population numbers. By replacing lowrise slums with high-rise buildings, not only do we provide the slum dwellers with pucca buildings, we can also pack more numbers into the same land area. Reality: There is indeed no limit to how high you can stack people vertically on a plot (other than the limits imposed by

engineering on how to support the structure). The catch is that people are not dead. They are not bodies, to be put in boxes and stacked one above another. They are here in the city to do more than just spend time inside their homes. They need to get out and move around. This is not only for exercise. They need to go to work, or school, or shopping, or to visit friends, or go to the cinema or a restaurant. For this they need ground area outside their building plot. This will be consumed in providing footpaths, and roads, hospitals and schools and colleges, and parks for recreation. The more people you have in your vertically stacked plot, the more ground area you will need for them for all the amenities that support normal civic life.

The government of Maharashtra has effectively guaranteed a minimum of 5 sqm per capita inside the house (by specifying apartments of about 25 sqm built-up area as the minimum size of tenement for a family size of about five). What guarantee have they given of how much space each citizen will have outside the house? None. This is left to chance. It is not even computed for any given locality where the FSI is planned to be increased. In fact, it is the amount of available public ground area (for roads + footpaths + parks + medical and educational facilities + all other public amenities) that determines, and therefore limits, the number of people you can have in a locality.

If you look at existing localities in Mumbai’s island city (the entire area south of Mahim-Sion) among the most crowded is C Ward (the Kalbadevi-Bhuleshwar area). The road and footpath area in this ward works out to just over 3 sqm per capita. Public amenities are virtually nonexistent and come to 0.38 sqm per capita. The ward’s FSI averages 2.08.

Now if we were to raise the FSI in the locality to 4, with no change in the proportion of road area to total locality area, this would not matter if each existing resident simply occupied double his existing amount of floor space. We could go higher, like New York, and the extra floor space would have no impact on the crowding in the streets, which would remain unchanged because neither the street area nor the population numbers would have changed. But if the numbers of people were to increase (as they would if the additional floor space were to be sold to

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Economic and Political Weekly August 18, 2007

new residents) then the crowding in the streets would proportionately increase. It is hard to imagine crowding in urban streets which is double what it already is in C Ward. And it is absurd to deliberately invite such overcrowding by ignoring the consequences of a raised FSI.

The worst crowding in Tokyo is in its Nakano-ku area (19,854 per sq km); in New York in its Stuyvesant Town area (28,008 per sq km); in Hong Kong in its Kwun Tong area (55,077 per sq km); and in Shanghai in its Nanshi area (56,785 per sq km). Mumbai’s C Ward beats them all, at 95,100 per sq km.

From these examples it should be obvious that whatever you do with FSI, you cannot expect to house more than 1,00,000 persons per sq km, in squalid conditions that will be similar to C Ward. If your numbers exceed this, you have to look for more land – from salt pans, from the Port Trust, or from building railway bridges (not motor car bridges) to the mainland, or by any other means. Packing in more people vertically on the same land area will not work beyond this point because the streets will become too crowded for people to function.

The housing policy demonstrates no clear awareness of the context of housing. Housing is not just buildings on a plot. To service the houses we need roads, footpaths, parks, schools and hospitals. None of these happen of their own accord. No publicprivate partnership will produce them, and certainly not if the requirement is not written into the agreement. The housing people, if they are aware of the problem, at least in the housing policy have not expressed how important it is, when playing about with FSI and TDR, to integrate the work on urban layouts, roads and amenities with the construction of housing.

Myth 8: The government of Maharashtra has successfully demonstrated that its slum rehabilitation policy works. This provides free housing to slum dwellers in pucca buildings in-situ (that is, on the same site where the slum is), with more buildings added on the same site whose sale to new incoming residents finances the entire project. Everyone is assumed to be happy: the slum dweller with his pucca building and marketable title to his flat, which he has secured with zero financial contribution on his part; the incoming new resident, with his flat in a prime location; and the builder with his profit. There is no

reason why the same policy cannot be extended to Dharavi, and through the auctioning process, the government can share some of the builder’s profits. Reality: If we study the world’s most crowded localities, we come to the conclusion that we need a minimum common public area for roads and footpaths, schools, hospitals and other amenities, of not less than 5 sqm per capita.

Now the population in Dharavi, according to government’s own figures, is 56,000 families, or 2,80,000 persons to be resettled in an area of 144 hectares. At 5 sqm per capita we will need 2,80,000*5 sqm =112 hectares just for the public spaces, leaving 32 hectares to build on. Assuming resettlement at a 25 sqm apartment for a family of 5, this means an FSI of 56,000*25/ 320,000 sqm =4.375 just to re-house those already living in Dharavi. With a cap on FSI of 4, as proposed by the state government, where is there room to house anything for free sale? How can Dharavi’s residents get free housing, forget about making additional profits?

The point is that the policy of free resettlement of slum dwellers in situ cannot work where the numbers of slum dwellers on the plot is already so large that the plot cannot hold any more. Or, to put it in another way, the slum’s densities are already in excess of the worst densities existing in any built-up area anywhere in the world. Reconstruction cannot improve these numbers. And to plan a reconstruction with a further infusion of new population (whose purchases of flats in Dharavi will finance everything) shows that what have not been understood at all are the consequences of crowding: beyond some point immobility is guaranteed.

A policy that works in some situations will not necessarily work in all situations. Given Dharavi’s current densities, the present proposals are unworkable. Since Government is not stupid, we have to conclude that it has some secret plans, not to be shared with the public, for how to get rid of some of Dharavi’s residents, to bring their number down to fit within workable densities, attractive to buyers.


Myth 9: The Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP) is a proven success. It can be the model for other large redevelopment projects throughout the state. Reality: The housing policy wants a “comprehensive approach on the lines of the

Dharavi Redevelopment Project to achieve economic upliftment and empowerment of slum dwellers” (p 17). This is downright dishonest. The Dharavi plans, so far as they exist, are silent on the issue of how the residents’ economic activities are to be accommodated in the redevelopment. And empowerment of slum dwellers? The modified regulations do not require the DRP to have the consent of a single slum dweller in Dharavi, let alone 70 per cent (which until now has been the norm for all slum redevelopment schemes).


Myth 10: Green spaces are a luxury Mumbai cannot afford. Reality: London’s mayor, Ken Livingstone, in February 2004 published a ‘Spatial Development Strategy for Greater London’,5 the first such plan in three decades. The objective is “...the creation of a fairer, safer, greener city in which (London’s citizens) can all fulfill their potential.” Mumbaikars need to ask themselves, and understand, why the emphasis on greenness?

Enrique Peñelosa, former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, says:

The importance of pedestrian public spaces

cannot be measured, but most other im

portant things in life cannot be measured

either: Friendship, beauty, love and loyalty

are examples. Parks and other pedestrian

places are essential to a city’s happiness.


At first it may seem that in Third World

cities with so many unmet needs parks

would be a frivolity. On the contrary, where

citizens lack so much in terms of amenities

and consumption, it is quicker and more

effective to distribute quality of life through

public goods such as parks, than to in

crease incomes or improve individual

income distribution. It is impossible to

provide citizens certain individual con

sumer goods and services such as cars,

computers, or trips to Paris. But it is pos

sible to give them excellent schools, librar

ies, sidewalks and parks.


Parks are meeting places. Large parks integrate very different people, from different sectors and incomes. Neighbourhood parks integrate communities and thus contribute significantly to the area’s security.

In Mumbai we also need to ask ourselves, what makes an international city attractive? When we talk glibly of making Mumbai an international finance centre, or emulating Shanghai, have we understood

Economic and Political Weekly August 18, 2007 that in order to do that we have to make the city a happy place for all its citizens, and attractive to live in for young professionals? That means not only housing and offices, free-flowing traffic and fast public transport, it also means theatre and dance, restaurants across the full range of prices, sports, festivals, and parks and promenades which you share with a wide cross section of income groups.


The housing policy’s fundamental vision is “more of the same”. There will be more FSI for builders, but without a corresponding insistence on urban layouts or area planning, so we can expect that the city will get more and more dysfunctional, crowded beyond levels seen anywhere else in the world. Although changing the Rent Act is mentioned, there is no hint as to what direction the changes will take, or when they will happen. Free housing for all slum dwellers will continue, in exchange for increased builders’ profits. Slum schemes over 40 hectares will be modelled on Dharavi, which means no consent of the slum dwellers will be required – other than this, it is not clear what the Dharavi model actually is, or where it actually take the people of Dharavi.

Far from inspiring any kind of hope, the housing policy has turned out to be a status quo document that makes dispiriting reading. We know Mumbai faces a bleak future. This confirms it. But there is one hopeful aspect. This is that the housing policy has been published at all, and is open to debate. The government’s thought process on this issue has been organised and put on display. Perhaps the reactions of the public, in particular slum dwellers, may be able to steer the city towards a less blighted future.




1 2 The Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Lands

Act, 1948. 3 I am indebted to Vidyadhar K Phatak for this

corollary. 4 For a detailed discussion of FSI and related

issues see Shirish B Patel, Alpa Sheth and Neha

Panchal, ‘Urban Layouts, Densities and the

Quality of Urban Life’, Economic and Political

Weekly, June 30, 2007. 5 ‘The London Plan: A Summary’, Greater

London Authority, February 2004,

Economic and Political Weekly August 18, 2007

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