FEATURE STORY December 28, 2012

Mumbai Resettles Slum-dwellers on an Unprecedented Scale to Improve Transport Infrastructure

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Photo Credit: World Bank


STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • To widen Mumbai’s roads and introduce faster trains, the Mumbai Urban Transport Project resettled over 100,000 people.
  • This is the World Bank’s first attempt to resettle some of the world’s poorest people in unprecedented numbers.
  • Today, this massive resettlement exercise has not only improved Mumbai’s suburban rail services and eased road congestion, but has itself become a worldwide example of improving the lives of the urban poor.

Mumbai, India: Jyothi Pujari will never forget what life was like in her one-room shack a hair’s breadth away from the railway tracks in the teeming city of Mumbai. She recalls the open drains, the stench of the common toilets, the endless bickering of neighbors, and the constant battle for water - all the wretchedness of the life at the bottom of the social and economic heap. But most of all she remembers the trains thundering by, their colossal wheels gnashing dangerously close, and her dread of an accident, of which she saw many.

Now, sitting in her new 225 square foot apartment in Mankhurd in the eastern suburb of the city, 37 year-old Jyothi recounts how the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) resettled her family and neighbors to safe permanent dwellings, dramatically changing their lives. “We feel much more secure, and can now sleep peacefully at night,” said Jyothi, with visible relief.

Resettlement on an unprecedented scale

To widen Mumbai’s roads and introduce faster trains, the project resettled over 100,000 people - including thousands of squatter families who lived in shacks along the roads and railway tracks.

“This was the World Bank’s first attempt to resettle some of the world’s poorest people in such unprecedented numbers,” said Atul Agarwal, who led the project on the World Bank’s behalf. “While resettling people anywhere is a difficult exercise, it was almost intractable in complex socio-political environment of Mumbai, one of the world’s most densely populated cities, where land is scarce and almost 95 percent of those affected did not have legal title to the land they occupied.” 

Today, this massive resettlement exercise has not only improved Mumbai’s suburban rail services - which cater to seven million passengers a day - and eased road congestion, but the process itself has become a worldwide example of improving the lives of the urban poor.

Lessons learnt have been incorporated by implementing agencies in Maharashtra state, changing the way they will undertake resettlement to make way for future infrastructure.


"While resettling people anywhere is a difficult exercise, it was almost intractable in complex socio-political environment of Mumbai, one of the world’s most densely populated cities, where land is scarce and almost 95 percent of those affected did not have legal title to the land they occupied."
Atul Agarwal
Senior Transport Specialist

With the help of the World Bank, Mumbai is revamping its transportation systems, embarking on one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in the world, resettling 100,000 residents, and building new roads and train tracks.

World Bank Group


Children now study and sleep better, and many are doing well at school

After decades of living in constant fear of eviction, the resettled slum-dwellers now legally own their own homes for the first time in their lives. What’s more, the brick and mortar apartments are a huge improvement from the makeshift shacks the people lived in before, especially during the fierce monsoon rains.

Running water and indoor plumbing are a new benefit. “One of the best things is that each family now has a toilet and bathroom of their own,” says Jyothi, emphasizing the difference the new apartments have made to the lives of women and girls.

With clean water, jaundice, typhoid, and gastrointestinal infections have reduced. “In the slum, the children used to fall ill frequently and missed school often,” she adds. “Now, they study and sleep better, and many are doing well at school. School buses also come to the neighborhood – unlike in the slum that was always forsaken.”

Importantly, the easy availability of water has brought a new sense of harmony to the community. “Earlier, people were always fighting - over water, over the toilets, over everything. Thankfully, that’s now a thing of the past.”

New livelihood opportunities have led to higher living standards

The project has also fostered a better living environment for the resettled slum-dwellers. Schools, day-care centers, and women’s centers have been established, and livelihood options expanded through skills training for the youth, and micro-credit for women. Many women have opened small shops, set up beauty parlors, or started other businesses.

“In the slum, women never ventured too far from home. But, after moving here, girls and women have started going out to work,” says Madhavi Shinde who has begun to cater hot lunches for office-goers from her new home in the Majaz resettlement colony.

In Mankhurd, Nirmala Ninave has set up a successful beauty parlor. “Now that I have earned a name, I want to take a bank loan to expand my business,” the young woman says.

The better address, together with the trappings of a more middle-class existence, has boosted the residents’ self-esteem. “When we lived in the slum no one respected us. Now, I proudly tell people where I live and they treat us differently,” says Uday Kumar, Jyothi’s auto-rickshaw driver husband. “It’s also easier to get a job. What’s more, families are getting better marriage proposals for their sons and daughters,” a sure sign of upward mobility among the communities.

With new economic opportunities, living standards have improved. “Most people now own a TV and fridge and sleep on beds instead of on the ground. And they work hard to keep up with their neighbors,” Kumar says.

Rekindling old community bonds

To ensure that the new high-rise complexes don’t turn into vertical slums, women’s groups have been established to manage the shared environment. Unschooled Jyothi - once a domestic help – leads one such group, helping people adjust to their new surroundings, encouraging women to save, and counseling wayward children. “People here have only known life in the slums. We have to work hard to make them change their ways,” she says.

To prevent the area from turning into an anonymous den of crime, alienation, and decay, the strong community bonds that existed in the slums are being rekindled. “We keep the community spirit alive by celebrating all festivals, be it Onam, Pongal, Eid, Christmas or Diwali,” explains Jyothi. The string of festivals reflects the melting pot of communities that flock to the great economic hub of Mumbai from all parts of the country to earn a living. It’s no surprise then that government schools in the area teach in 7 different languages.

The women’s groups also keep the peace by taking on drunken husbands, arbitrating in disputes, and tackling community problems. “Although adolescents are generally better behaved here than they were in the slum, I make it a point to keep a check on the neighborhood boys,” explains Jyothi.

An independent study has confirmed that the provision of formal housing to resettled families has raised their social status and improved their employability and creditworthiness. It has also given them, especially the women, a greater sense of security.

“Although this was one of the most complex urban environments in the world, the project’s resettlement process has proved to be a landmark exercise in radically improving the lives of the poor,” concluded Agarwal.



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