Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Cancer named Slum!

There shouldn't be two Indias; we need affordable housing. There are projections that by 2017, 18.78 million will be the number of those living in slums…Girija Vyas.

Girija Vyas is an Indian politician, poet and author. She was a Member of the 15th Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, from the Chittorgarh constituency and former president of National Commission for Women of India. Well she is a poet along with being a politician & on the back ground of very recent news of regularizing slums up to 2000 by our State Govt , it may seem on the face that at last the Govt has taking some steps to breech the gap between the two Indias , as Smt Vyas has mentioned! But if we see with open mind & open eyes, there are not two Indias but three Indias around us! First is the one which lives in slums, second is which lives in the sky scrapers with all the amenities at their hand & third is which can’t afford to live in these sky scrapers & is ashamed of living in slums, so trying to chase their dream of owning a home which is getting harder with each passing day!

Well this is not for the first time slums have been regulated , earlier it has been done for the slums up to 1995 & the talks were on since last many days, exactly last ten years, as whenever election comes the State Govt seems to be remembering the slums & their importance. Even a junior kinder garden kid can say the reason behind this sudden awareness of the Govt’s regarding the slums & it’s nothing but the upcoming elections & the vote banks these slums are! Unfortunate part is we always insist on slum regularizing & never slum improvement, which should be the target of any Govt. As first of all study the cause of generation & existence of the slums & then try to curtail the ever growing slums which are like a cancer not to any city but to entire society, even for those who are living in these slums. And then decide a policy which will improve the life of the slum dwellers i.e. residents in them. And all this should be done in a fixed time span with some authority which can be held responsible. Presently any slum in any city or the Metro of this State is like an orphan; no one wants to take responsibility of it.

Truth is no slum can come in existence without a piece of land on which it is standing. Obviously such lands are mostly of Govt ownership or if private then the ownership is either in dispute or the land is under some reservation, because with land rates beating gold rates, only a fool named Govt can be careless about its ownership & allow slum to get build on it or it is any private owner who don’t want to give his land for the reservation purpose for which the land has been reserved. This is a naked truth which every concerned Govt authority knows. Here one interesting thing I remember, long ago some so called dashing & Mr. Clean Minister of the Govt has announced if any new slum has been found in any city then the concerned Police officer as well Local body officer will be suspended from the service! Well very courageous statement & surely it had made headlines as well the Hon Minister must have got lots of applauds from the mob but this all shows we are a repeat run fool; means we get fooled repeatedly by such rulers & their statements. As since last ten years can we remember even one name of any such officer from any department who has been suspended from the service for generation of any new slum? And conveniently the very same Govt authorities publishes the statistics of millions of new slums which have been added in last ten years; so with these figures the entire Govt system should have been suspended by now! Well, that’s not possible so easier way is to regularize the slums!

One simple thing Govt hasn’t understood in so many years that to come up with a clear & workable policy regarding the housing which will assure a supply of affordable housing to all those who wants a good, simple home without any fancy amenities, is the only solution to this problem of slums! As no sane person willingly will go & make a slum as his home. It’s because he understand that in his budget he won’t get a home with any good reputed builder which will be legal & with all basic amenities for living if not for luxury & so finally he settles for the option of slum. So who is the main culprit behind the generation of the slum? It’s the Govt which has repeatedly failed for making provision of such homes & then the very same Govt regularize these slums which in actual are the illegal constructions with no infrastructure for living of any human beings.

And it’s going on since decades in every Metro or town of this State & yet we are turning a blind eye for the solution. Regularizing of the slums will never solve the issue of slums but it will only aggravate it. As by now every slum dweller in this State knows that come what may slums are never going to be removed but are going to be regularized ; in other terms legalized, today or tomorrow. This is very wrong message we are sending in the society. As on one hand we are indirectly giving protection to the illegal structures & on other hand it’s unjust with the builders or developers which are doing their business by following hundreds of NOC’s required to complete a so called legal housing project! Has this happened with any other industry like piracy of a movie or duplicate spare parts of automobile company then there would have been so much of shout & pressure on the Govt that any such act would have been immediately curbed down. But unfortunate neither the builders who are legally doing the business, nor the media understands this very hidden threat under the regularizing slums, to the entire housing industry. And more unfortunate is it’s the rulers are involved most of the time in making a slum & few builders who sees the short term profit in such act also joins the hand in allowing the slum cancer to grow around.

Why in last fifteen years not a single ward member or a MLS or an MP has been summoned for a new slum in his area? Neither didn’t they have raised voice in public against the same nor have put pressure on the administration to remove the slums which are newly made & mushrooming every day under the nose of local body! It’s saddening that we have been independent now more than sixty years & still crores of population has to a hell named slum as their home. As those who haven’t seen a real slum should visit any nearby slum & try living there for few hours if not a day & then we will understand what kind of a life a slum dweller has to live! No water, no drainage arrangement, rain water mixed with sewage flowing freely around, garbage spread everywhere, hanging open electric wires is a threat all time for short circuit, in summer the tin sheets get hot like anything & fire is a constant threat! It’s not a life it’s a punishment which the resident has to bare every day! These are very few factual conditions I have named & by regularizing a slum our Govt indirectly is regularizing all these punishments to the people living in a slum. And that’s why I repeatedly put forward my point is if we can’t curtail a slum at least try to improve the standard of life there & not just regularize the same.

And then comes the issue of third India which presently is homeless i.e. they haven’t yet settled in slum but very soon either they will get in a slum or opt for another type of slums i.e. illegal buildings which in a way are concretized form of a slum. All the buildings which are built without taking any permission & with no safety rules followed are like slums only. The difference is these are vertical slums & more risky as when they fall down they take lives of hundreds of innocent people at a time. But they are in a way form of slum only. Like the issue going in & around Pimpari Chinchwad, where millions of buildings has been declared as illegal. Like slums have been regularized today, tomorrow on the same line these buildings will also be regularized. As our rulers don’t understand that’s its development which should be at the helm & not votes. Unfortunately in our State it seems to be Development for Votes & not vice versa; till then slum named cancer will keep on eating every city & town & that’s the biggest curse to our society.

Here one more aspect is there as by the norms of Environment, any development above 2 lacs sq ft area needs to obtain Environment Clearance i.e. EC, for the impact of such development on the surrounding environment as well infrastructure. Now regularizing of the slums means indirectly we are approving the development of these slums legally, so why Environment Clearance criteria isn’t applicable to this development? & if yes then is Govt in position to obtain it? This is beauty of Govt, as they thinks they are untouchable when it comes to any such law following, as had it been any private development there are hundreds of laws & noc’s but when Govt does it then its conveniently neglected under the name of public interest decision!
Population is one thing which is one of the most neglected yet true virus behind the slum faced cancer. As land is same & our population is growing, so how & where are we going to accommodate this ever growing population is the main question. The simplest answer by the rulers is in form of the slums; though no one will openly acknowledge it, yet the acts of the Govt says so!  Population control seems to be nowhere on the agenda of any Govt & if it is then why slums are growing along with the population residing in them?

It’s high time that every single person in the society should raise his voice against slums & not against the slum dwellers; & shake the Govt to improve the slums & not just regularize them. At the same time urge Govt to see that there won’t be need of the slums as then only we can live as One India or else the day won’t be long that the very beloved country of ours will fall in pieces under the pressure of handling these three India’s at a time! The building industry has to react on this & introspect our own way of business. As it’s up to us to deliver the homes to every single person of this country & fight our way with Govt if there are hitches in doing so. As just saying that Govt don’t support us will put us in same line with the Govt, when it comes to take on the responsibility. Remember if this industry has given us fame & money then it’s our time to pay back to the industry & with ever growing slums in the city we won’t be ever called our self as developers but the destroyers will be the name given to us by the society, mind it friends!
Lastly, there was one more news on the front page, on the very same day when slum regularization news was there. This news was about a lavish palatial residence of one of prominent minister from the State Govt. Nothing wrong in having residence of our own choice & one can spend any amount as per his capacity in this country for ones residence. But when millions of people are living in hell like conditions in thousands of slums, does it morally acceptable for someone representing Govt to live so lavish individually, whose job is to make lives of people living in slums comfortable? Actually this thought should be in minds of each of us as there only lays the way to one India!

Sanjay Deshpande

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