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

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Deadly Housing

Only illegal and substandard housing in cities like Mumbai is "affordable".

The tremors caused by the collapse of a seven-storey building in the township of Mumbra, north of Mumbai, on 4 April are still being felt. The manner in which the structure collapsed within minutes was as shocking as the unacceptable loss of life – over 70 men, women and children killed and more than 60 injured. But the real scandal of that collapse was the fact that a building this size was constructed in a few months, without permission and reeking of illegality on every count. Preliminary investigations have already revealed the extent to which officials all along the line were bribed to look the other way while the builders callously lured desperate poor people to occupy the semi-constructed and dangerous structure.

Buried beneath the rubble of that Mumbra building lies the sordid tale of so-called “affordable” urban housing, not just in Mumbai but elsewhere in the country. For decades, the reality in all our cities is one that policymakers have chosen to studiously ignore – that there are millions of people who have work but nowhere to live. When these homeless people are forced to occupy vacant pieces of land, they are promptly condemned as “illegal”. Yet nothing is done to prevent this so-called illegality by ensuring that there is alternative housing available, until the land appreciates in price. Then demolition squads get to work even as those who had a roof over their heads are pushed off the land and rendered homeless. In Mumbai, such slum removals are not news any more. Hunger fasts, protests and resistance by slum-dwellers trying to protect their homes and their lives do not interest a media that is increasingly being funded by the one business flourishing in the city, the building industry.

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