The Slums of Mumbai
When you fly into Mumbai and the plane is landing, the first thing that meets your eyes is a cramped spread of corrugated iron–roofed huts. They are right next to the airport runway, quietly yet powerfully reminding you that you are entering a city where nearly half of the population live in slums. As India’s economic capital and most populous city, Mumbai has a total population of 2.2 crores — 42 percent of which live in slums.
Population in slums across major cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata reflects India’s vulnerability compared to other developing economies. After China, India is expected to have the largest share of the world's population living in slums. The current Carona Virus (Covid-19) has already engulfed the world and created havoc crowded settlements of Bangladesh & Brazil and now its threat of contagion looms large in India especially Dharavi and Mumbai .
Why is Mumbai the Financial hub of India, when it is at such a high risk which could bring India’s aspiration of being a leading developing nation to grinding halt? As per 2016 economic survey, Mumbai region outlays more than 350 Billion dollars to the overall country’s collection which is more than 8% of Indian economy.
It provides 10% of employment, 30 % of income tax, 60% of custom duty, 20% of central excise tax, 40% foreign trade and 10 billion dollars in corporate tax. As financial capital of the country many prestigious institutions like BSE, RBI, NSE, Mumbai port trust, JNPT, key Financial institutions, gem & jewelry, IT, ITES, Industrial empires like Tata, Birla, Reliance etc, and also the entertainment industry being co- located in the city.
COVID -19 endemic, spreading across the world especially China, USA and Europe has made a quiet back door entry into India and is on the verge playing havoc with lives and medical services in the country. The COVID- 19 virus most affected state is Maharashtra and leading city is Mumbai with prime hot spots of Corona Virus being the slum areas including Dharavi, Koliwada Worli, South Mumbai, Madanpura, Malvani , Orlem, Byculla, Kurla to name few with population densities above 45,000 people per sq. km. These wards where most of the slums are located account for a significant share of Mumbai’s Covid-19 cases.
Mumbai city which is densely populated pose nightmarish problems for city authorities, who are struggling with containment measures in such areas. The government authorities, medical warriors, police personnel are fighting the invisible corona virus from becoming a major endemic. The country wide lockdown that was announced by PM Modi till 03 May 2020 has virtually brought the entire city of Mumbai and India’s financial capital to a grinding halt .
Unrestricted Warfare Unleashed
Military strategists Lt Col Qiao Liang and Lt Col Wang Xiangsui argue in their 1999 released book 'Unrestricted Warfare' that alternative methods have the same and even greater destructive force than military warfare.
In view of the fact that global economies are inter connected, nations can inflict grievous harm on the economies of other nations without taking any offensive action. Since last century, nations have become accustomed to blindly falling in love with endless pursuit of technologies. They elaborate their concept by "fight the fight that fits one's weapons" and "build the weapons to fit the fight" show the clear demarcation line between traditional warfare and future warfare.
This can be accomplished in future wars in number of ways other than direct military confrontation. The book notes that these alternative methods have the same and even greater destructive force than military warfare, and they have already produced serious threats of different dimension in many directions for national security. If that is their line of thinking on how to fight future warfare let us examine the new concept weapon technology and options available in such warfare:
- Single man-made stock-market crash.
- Crippling the economy of rival country.
- Computer virus invasion.
- Man-made earthquakes, Tsunamis, Weather disasters.
- New Biological and Chemical weapons (NBCs).
- Media, Rumours and Scandals.
Ecological warfare to include Covid 19 virus , a new type of weapon to inflict on unprepared nation (adversary) resulting in lockdown and financial disaster.
Mumbai, the city of dreams where the rich and the poor live in close proximity, the Covid-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on the wide disparities in living standards within the same neighborhood. Asia’s largest slums- Dharavi is spread over 2.1 square km with population exceeding 7 lakh. More than 60% of Mumbai population is migrant with large number of people influx from northern states seeking their livelihood/job. Most of the slums in Mumbai lack basic infrastructure like roads, water, electricity, hygiene and sanitation.
Most of the slums are illegal with ‘NO’ status of approval from Government and City authorized bodies. Politicians periodically provide services to slum dwellers in exchange for votes. The exchange through electoral politics brings about incremental improvement of the living conditions of slums, but does not solve the long-term problem of housing shortage. On the contrary, the exchange stabilizes existing slums and even provides incentives for the creation of new slums.
The slum dwellers contribute significantly to the local economy, so the government is having more tolerant attitude toward slums. Government response to developing slums over the years failed due to lack of resources and willpower to do it. Under the current scheme, private developers can purchase slum land from the government at a relatively low price (25% market value of the land) and redevelop the land through the incentive Floor Space Index(FSI).
Specifically, after purchasing the slum land and obtaining the consent of 70 percent of the slum dwellers in the community, the developer will clear the land and relocate the eligible slum dwellers free of cost in multi storey building tenements of 269 square feet carpet area per household. The developer can construct buildings on the rest of the slum land and sell them on the market as a free-sale component.
This model has helped the developer to sell most prominent real estate slum development projects at exorbitant cost for instance, Imperial Towers, a twin-tower luxury residential skyscraper complex in South Mumbai. This model has not helped the poor slum dwellers and has resulted in exploitation by the developers, politicians and bureaucrats.
The Way Ahead for Mumbai and Other Cities in India
Many slum dwellers in Mumbai are not officially poor who live below the poverty line, but are educated lower middle-class people who are deprived of adequate housing. The government should systematically create housing stock for low and middle-income groups. With more than 25 SRA (slum rehabilitation authority ) projects scrapped by Maharashtra Government the validity of such concepts has come under review.
The slums are now known for the billion-dollar 'informal economy' that provides many of its residents with their livelihood. The informal economy holds vital importance to the citizens of Dharavi, and its replacement with a formal system is something that could threaten their economic well-being. Serious redevelopment is required to ensure the long-term prosperity of Dharavi’s residents and Mumbai city as a whole.
According to one estimate, Dharavi has billion-dollar economy, with over 15,000 factories, which export products all over the world. Dharavi's business is illegal, untaxed and unregulated. The Government must understand that not Mumbai but all big cities of India with slums are habitat for unrestricted warfare which can be exploited by our adversaries without firing a single bullet. The authorities need to come up with new redevelopment plan which takes into consideration the interest and well being of slum dwellers and not only the vested interests of the Rich and the Mighty.
The development plan must take into consideration residential complex for slum dwellers, schools, hospitals, common areas, roads, water and electricity including industrial sheds. Such high risk areas should be well protected from becoming soft and vulnerable targets for unrestricted warfare and ‘must not’ be treated merely as a Vote Bank. If we as a nation fail to take note of such silent threat like the current Covid-19 , the day is not far off when the country’s GDP will have negative growth and bring down the country’s economy down to its knees .