But ensure good housing for all first
In the past few months, the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation has undertaken a massive demolition drive. Illegal encroachments, slums and -- also for a change -- well-established hotels and restaurants have been targeted. It has been long since anything like this has actually taken place without the intervention of the usual suspects: non-governmental organisations and vote hunters.
Enough has been written on the right to housing being a fundamental one. But we shouldn't also ignore another basic axiom: one's rights shouldn't be secured by the violation of others. A very important fundamental right is the right to property -- not just private possession but whatever belongs to us all and has to be used for 'common' good. This is not for politicians to squander at will. However, year-after-year, and mostly around elections, politicians make generous promises to 'regularise' encroachments, without any constitutional mandate.
Even today in Mumbai, one unit can employ a graduate full time for a paltry monthly wage of Rs two or three thousand. Slums make this possible. They ensure availability of cheap labour thus subverting the entire economic equation between remuneration and the cost of living. If these subhuman hovels weren't tolerated, employers would perforce raise wages of their employees.
At the same time, the higher cost of living in the metros would encourage a lot of small- and medium-scale enterprise to move to other cities. Let us not forget that illegal settlements are also important production centres. In Mumbai for instance, much leather, rubber, plastic and fashion manufacturing takes place in large slums. These activities are enough to establish and sustain small towns elsewhere, under better conditions. This will create decentralised employment opportunities and address the root cause of city-bound migration. Formalising such production will also contribute large sums, presently out of bounds to the state exchequer.
Rohit Shinkre is a Mumbai-based architect
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