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article imageOp-Ed: Slum clearance in India- At a price, paid by the people living in them

By Paul Wallis     Jun 7, 2008 in World
Just add some greed to any situation, and you can get a human disaster. India’s poor are living on prime real estate, and “May the gods help those who can’t help themselves” seems to be the result.
Prosperity has brought developers, and developers have brought more misery.
The New York Times gives an example of how the development boom is affecting Mumbai’s poor:
The slum is the focus of a looming showdown as municipal authorities and developers seek to raze it to the ground and replace it with office towers, luxury apartments and shopping malls.
Families that can prove they have lived in Dharavi since 1995 would be entitled to a free apartment in the same area, but the new dwellings would be tiny, just 225 square feet or 20 square meters, about the size of a living room. Not surprisingly, many prefer to stay where they are.
"Why should I move into such a small place with my family?" said Kajuri, a father of seven, who has lived in Dharavi for over three decades.
Easy to see that all this generosity is based on good mathematics, and presumably sticking the kids to the walls.
Now the reason for such altruism:
The land on which his nearly 700 square feet shanty stands could be worth at least 100 million rupees in Mumbai's soaring real estate market.
"It used to be just marsh and bushes," said Girish Poojary, a guide who shows groups of curious tourists around Dharavi.
"Now builders from all over the world are coming because there's big money here. There's a domestic airport and business parks nearby, so land is very expensive."
Bids to redevelop the roughly two-square-km (0.8 sq mile) warren of brick and corrugated iron rooms into a high-rise housing and commercial complex are due to close by around mid-year.
The project is expected to take at least seven years to complete and could eventually be worth up to $10 billion in property sales.
Dharavi is, ironically, a successful slum, one of the biggest in the world, a sort of industrial-era Detroit of the shanty towns. There are thousands of single room factories and cottage industries:
The most polluting and biggest of the slum's myriad industries -- leather tanneries and potteries -- will also be banned, wiping out much of an economy that slum charities say is worth $1 billion a year and carries about 4,500 businesses.
Many residents believe they will have no place in a new middle-class neighborhood, and will probably sell their new tenements. Prices have quadrupled in many areas since India eased rules on foreign investment in the property industry in 2005.
"This place will be full of rich people, it's all about money," said Shakatali Chaudhury, 49, his teeth soaked red as he chewed betel nut. "We can't even walk around in such an area," said the father of six, who earns 150 rupees a day making soap.
That 150 rupees wouldn’t be enough for a down payment on a hamburger. So as you can see these people are financially on the cusp of anything which could possibly considered a human existence.
The living conditions are equally luxurious:
A maze of dark passages, where televised Bollywood musicals blend with wafts of spices, opens on to an open rubbish tip that doubles as a children's play area, and brick buildings that house communal squat toilets -- one for every 1,500 people.
Or, put a little less elegantly, roughly medieval conditions during wars and plagues, in the West.
Political corruption, that essential element in creating real squalor, and a modest expected return to the developers of about 40 or 50% on these big projects, aren’t helping create time and space for consideration of the poor.
So, displacing people is once again the answer to everything. Expect to see glitzy brochures, emphasizing the progress that India is making to equal the rest of the world’s mediocrity in dealing with human problems.
Isn’t that sweet?
No mention of job creation, no discussion of social issues, just a few blueprints and somebody’s sales pitch. These are the economics of a perspective which just doesn’t see anything but short term gain. The only reason that the poor have been offered these pigeon lofts as alternative accommodation is that “acrimony” is something they’re trying to avoid.
Sound familiar?
This is how development policies are created. It’s the world’s standard practice for development: “Build now, clean up the human mess afterwards.”
It’s been rampant in China, and when the barrios are finally cleared in Latin America, this is how it will be done.
So the world endures yet another avoidable social scar, and some clown gets a penthouse with a view of the squalor.
May I mention:
How did the human race persuade itself that development was some sort of sacred cow?
Because that's the way it's treated, anywhere on Earth.
However oppressive, whatever it does to the population, there are no human rights required to be considered, at any point in the development process.
Only zoning, that reliable mixture of expedient and excrement, can block development.
Time to rewrite that Charter, methinks.
More about India, Slums, Development