27 years on, Mumbai’s Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) has failed to deliver

Despite the schemes of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA), the dreams of making Mumbai slum free and ensuring permanent housing for all has failed.

In 1995, the Slum Redevelopment Authority (SRA) scheme was launched to provide free housing for slum dwellers. Twenty-seven years later, the scheme remains stuck in a maze of unkept promises, incomplete projects and poor slum dwellers caught up in rented houses waiting to get their own houses in Mumbai. Urban planners blame the builder-centric approach for the lack of progress on this scheme. 

Since its inception, the SRA scheme has built only 2.36 lakh houses. As of date, about 5,20,645 houses are proposed to be built and approvals have been granted to start work on 2,75,942 houses. 

The task to house 2397 slum clusters in Mumbai is huge, and its large proportion can be gauged from the fact that about 48.35% of Mumbai’s population continues to live in slums, as per the SRA. Of Mumbai’s total area of 34,000 acres, about 8333 acres ie. 24% of the habitable area continues to be occupied by slums. These include about 3620 acres of slums in private land, 2140 acres in state government land and 856 acres in land belonging to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis stated in the Maharashtra legislative assembly. 

The SRA, which was set up with a mission to make Mumbai slum-free by re-housing all the slum dwellers into buildings, was hopeful for slum dwellers. The scheme has been facing flak due to stalled, incomplete projects, people stuck in transit camps for years or left high and dry by developers with no rent or house in sight.

Former housing minister Jitendra Awhad has estimated that investments worth Rs 35,000 crore by builders are stuck in stalled SRA projects. 

Fadnavis, who currently holds the state housing portfolio, informed that 230 projects were stalled due to financial issues, slum dwellers from 59 projects were not being compensated for monthly rents by the builders, as required under the SRA, and 33 projects were held up owing to internal disputes. About 380 projects were stalled due to lack of clearances from various other departments like union ministry of defence, environment, civil aviation and even due to coastal zone regulations. 

The SRA officials say that major bottlenecks are the lack of policies regarding the redevelopment of slums on the central government land in Mumbai; about 511 acres of slum area are on central government land including 96 acres of railways land, which is not allowing rehabilitation of slums on its land. 

Read more: Voices of the women of slum resettlement in Mumbai

What is the SRA scheme?

Meant to provide free housing to slum dwellers, the idea was to use the land as a premium to get private builders to invest in houses for the poor. The builder was to provide transit camps or rent (Rs 8000 for suburban houses, Rs 10,000 per month for tenements in the town area ) for accommodation to tenants till their houses were ready.

In return, they were allowed to develop a part of the land or sell additional houses in the open market to offset his expenses and earn his profits from the project.

The developers were also granted a higher Floor Space Index (FSI), a permissible development component, with the provision of Transferable Development Rights (TDR) as an incentive to cross-subsidise the cost of rehabilitation. With TDR, a developer is able to build over FSI in projects located in different areas, thus increasing his/her profit potential.

What is the government doing about it?

Fadnavis stated that the Maharashtra government will closely coordinate with the Union government to facilitate permissions for various stalled projects. 

The Maharashtra government has launched a series of measures this year to expedite and fast-track stalled projects. The Letter of Intent (LoI) for 517 developers, who had taken permission to build projects but failed to start work on it, was terminated. Other developers were allowed to restart projects without penalty with the help of an amnesty scheme. Financial Institutional Investors (FII), whose investments are stuck in stalled SRA projects, have been allowed to enter as co-developers to get funds from the market and activate SRA projects. 

Fadnavis explained that it had become imminent for the State to introduce this scheme since many developers had fled after siphoning off huge loans taken on SRA projects, thus leaving people and the FII’s in the lurch. Such projects would have otherwise never seen the light of the day, he explained. 

an SRA building
Urban planners complain that SRA buildings lack basic facilities like sunlight, ventilation and privacy as people are cramped into congested buildings. Pic: Hepzi Anthony

History of the SRA scheme

The process of slum redevelopment in Mumbai has taken its current shape following many deliberations and changes in State policies toward slums.

The policies and changes in them were also related to how migration was viewed and it took almost two decades from the 1950s to the 1970s, to shift from viewing migrants as illegal and hence unwelcome, to a humanitarian approach and providing housing for them.

However, a major shift in policy was seen in 1971 with the Maharashtra Slum Area (Improvement, Clearance and Redevelopment) Act, 1971, better known as the Slums Act, ushering in a humanitarian approach toward slum dwellers. Accordingly, a census of slums was carried out in 1976 and the system of issuing photo passes for slums was started, granting protection to slums having them.

Slums also started officially receiving basic amenities like water supply, drainage, toilets and pathways. Thereafter slums started receiving aid from the World Bank and redevelopment was initiated in Dharavi under the Prime minister’s grant programme in 1987. The early 1990s saw the redevelopment of pre-1985 slums being allowed, with the grant of a Floor Space Index of 2.5. 

The SRA in its current form was set up in December 1995, when slum redevelopment was done using land as a resource. The basic premise was to allow builders to build high-end structures to fund houses for the slum dwellers. Developers are also expected to deposit Rs 40,000 per tenement towards the maintenance of the building since most dwellers are poor and unable to afford the building maintenance charges.

Changing policies

The policies of SRA have been regularly tweaked to keep up with the times. The eligibility cut-off date was regularly extended from 1985 to 1995 and now finally in 2000, to accommodate those who failed to qualify for the free houses. Houses built between 2000 to 2011 are also eligible to get SRA houses but not for free – they have to pay a premium for it. While ex-housing minister Jitendra Awhad proposed that the premium would be Rs 2.5 lakhs, it still awaits a policy nod. 

The size of the tenement promised has increased from 180 sq ft to 225 sq ft (in 1995) to 265 sq ft in 2009 to 300 sq ft now. Rehab tenements that could not be resold for the first 15 years since allotment can now be sold within ten years. A new proposal seeks to allow owners to resell within five years. 

The scope of the SRA kept on expanding over the years to accommodate as many slums as possible with political parties contesting each other in their election manifestos. 

The SRA thus led to the ‘slummification of Mumbai’ as urban planner P. K. Das puts it. It has led to the proliferation of slums as the promise of free houses encouraged people to build more slums. 

What led to the current status of the SRA?

“The SRA scheme was essentially always developer-centric rather than being pro-people. The aim seemed to be to hand over prime real estate without bothering to ensure that the slum dwellers got good housing. The State refused to invest in the project, always depending heavily on the developers to see the scheme through. When they are investing so much in projects like the Coastal Road, why can’t they provide the houses themselves?” says Prasad Shetty, Dean of the School of Environment and Architecture.  

P K Das, who was instrumental in developing Sangharsh Nagar, an SRA scheme for slum dwellers residing within the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), says that the SRA has now become an instrument to enable private builders to get slum land to exploit public housing for private profit. 

He argues that bundling and warehousing people into 25-30 storied, highly congested buildings (6500 people per hectare in 1300 tenements) without proper amenities like open space, light, air and privacy in one-third of the land was unjust and unfair. 

Das also alleges that the nod to allow appropriate 2/3rd of land for high-end housing, is simply a way to “appropriate valuable slum land from people” thus making the SRA a manifestation of a class-based, oppressive, discriminatory, coercive policy of the powerful State. 

“Social welfare cannot be monetised and people’s voices cannot be muzzled. Any kind of development must be people-participatory and their needs must be part of the macro planning process,” feels Das. 

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