Yesterday there was a huge fire in an illegal slum colony in a northern suburb of Mumbai called Kandivali. Over 2000 shanties were burnt, fortunately there were only two casualties. The strange fact was that these were all illegal settlements, many of them owned by local politicians, who have even gone to the extent of further dividing a small 10 X 10 feet hutment into two just to get two names on the list so that when there is a slum rehabilitation project they will be eligible for two concrete and cement flats or apartments in a tower meant to rehabilitate the slum dwellers.
This is an extract from the TOI: “How do we go on now? “was the question on most lips at Kandivli’s Damu Nagar where around 2,000 hutments were destroyed in a blaze on Monday afternoon. Two people died and 11 were injured after a massive fire in the slum, which officials said spread after cylinders in the shanties exploded. Its cause is yet to be determined.
“The fire started around noon, probably due to a cylinder blast in one home, and then spread quickly. There were several explosions as many residents had LPG cylinders” said additional commissioner, north region, Fatehsinh Patil. Local corporator Ajanta Yadav said the fire could have started after a woman tried to set herself ablaze during a fight with her husband.
As the slum is on the slope of a hill, fire-fighters broke a brick wall at the bottom of the slope to lay down large pipes that could carry water uphill. It was impossible for engines to drive up to the narrow clusters of hutments. Many people initially ran up the hill to save themselves, but once the fire was doused began the search for missing relatives, especially children due to return from school at the time. Rinku Gupta, who was in Damu Nagar for a meeting on Monday, said he counted 27 explosions while trying to run for his life.
Sutte, like many of Damu Nagar’s older residents, had paid Rs 7,000 to the forest department which owns the land. “The department conducted a survey of Damu Nagar two decades ago and offered to relocate us to Chandivli for a one-time payment. We paid but only a few have been relocated so far” said Subhash Wavhal, a resident.
N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forests, said families could not be shifted out of Damu Nagar as the rehab homes are yet to be made available to the forest department. Over 33,000 families had paid to be shifted out of the area, but many were yet to pay. Till date, 12,000 families from Sanjay Gandhi National Park have been rehabilitated at Chandivli. Vasudevan said they would make an estimate of the families who were eligible and affected by the blast.
Unfortunately, despite all these tragedies, it seems that greed has blinded the Corporators of Mumbai so much that they are all set to pass this absolutely absurd order: The BMC is all set to increase the permissible height of slums from 14 feet to 18 feet. The civic house will discuss “the desirability of giving permission to slums prior to 1995 to increase height” when it meets on December 14. The new permissible ceiling will almost double the number of shanties in each slum pocket. This means that there will be even more crowding and congestion in these slums, putting to risk even more lives. When will our greedy politicians ever learn? http://www.mid-day.com/articles/bmc-to-increase-legal-height-of-slums-to-18-feet-before-civic-polls/16750178. The BMC elections are just over 12 months away. Interestingly, the current height of 14 feet was set after corporators pushed a similar proposal through under the same circumstances in 2011 — one year before the previous BMC election.
Another concern is that the decision will only end up aiding developers. Activists said increasing the height will enable builders to appropriate FSI to build more high-rises. Amit Maru, a slum rehabilitation activist, said builders will use the density of these slums to get more FSI for sale component flats when redeveloping the shanties. “Right now under redevelopment, only the person who stays on the ground floor of a shanty gets a home,” said Maru. “But if the upper floors are legalised, then the builder will show density, will get higher FSI and other incentives to construct taller buildings for sale. Also, the BMC should clarify how many people will benefit when a slum is redeveloped. Is it going to be only the people on the ground floor, as it is currently, or will those in the higher floors also get a redeveloped flat?”