|New high-rise buildings constructed by communities at the Mankhurd relocation site in north-eastern Mumbai.|
In the 1990s people riding on the Mumbai railway system could reach their fingers out of the rail cars and touch the slums. Slums encroached on the rail lines all up and down the tracks, with some people making their dwellings just a few feet from the trains whizzing by. People living on the side of the railway needed to constantly cross the tracks for daily activities like visiting the markets, walking to school, defecating, or gathering water. Day to day countless people were hit and crushed dead by the trains. Train drivers suffered psychological trauma from killing so many innocent people, even though they drove at only 15 km/hr to avoid as many killings as possible.
One Mahila Milan member, Sulakshana Parab, explained how she lived on a small 6×13 plot on the side of the railway in Tata Nagar, Govandi, with no water, electricity, or toilet access. She would spend her days in constant fear that trains might kill her husband, children, or neighbors while they were out of the house.
Something had to be done, and the Mumbai Urban Transportation Project (MUTP) was the response. MUTP required that 10m of space be cleared and protected by high walls on either side of every rail line. This would enable trains to run safely along the tracks at 45 km/hr, allowing three times as many trains to run through the city each day and one third of the prior commuting time for all those dependent on rail to get to work. With nobody living along the rail lines, many fewer deaths-by-train would occur and train drivers could do their job without killing innocent civilians.
In order for the MUTP dream to become a reality, the city would have to relocate some 20,000 people away from the railroad track. But where could they move? The World Bank agreed to fund the project on the condition that the people living on the side of the railways get relocated and rehabilitated to a safe and permanent location.
Even before relocation was announced, some rail-side communities had began forming into federations to protect women in the community who faced danger of rape and assault when were forced to defecate on the rail tracks because of a lack of proper sanitation facilities. Upon hearing about a possible relocation for all rail-dwellers, federations rallied to organize themselves for the proposed move. First they made plain table surveys and maps and numbered every house in their neighborhoods. Then they assigned individuals in the community to represent every block of twenty households, and registered each of these households so that they could prove the existence of their rail-side homes to the governments. Every Sunday for eight years members of the federation went out to survey lands throughout the city in hopes of finding suitable lands for relocation.
In addition to embarking on these many surveys and enumerations, federations initiated their own savings programs. At first most families could not scrape together 100 rupees of savings, but after participating in well-structured and reliable savings programs implemented by the federation families reached the point of having 15,000-17,000 rupees each stored away in their individual housing savings: enough to construct a new home. The savings programs also enabled people to take out loans in emergency situations or to start their own businesses. With strong savings rail-dwellers became confident that they would be capable of building and funding their own homes if they could acquire a suitable plot of land. Some communities hosted housing exhibitions with model homes made out of cardboard, saris, or cement and other real construction materials to introduce the community-at-large to the various designs that were being considered for the new homes.
Originally the government had planned to temporarily resettle the rail-dwellers in Mankhurd in northeastern Mumbai. The government was not sure who owned the land in Mankhurd, but the federations knew that the land was available because of the extensive surveys they had carried out over eight years. Families began to relocate to Mankhurd, and soon after they settled in there the World Bank adopted a policy that governments undertaking relocation had to provide new shelter for families before their current homes could be demolished. Because the Indian government had not lived up to this demand, the once-temporary Mankhurd land was ruled to become a permanent relocation site for the rail-dwellers.
In total 20,000 people were relocated away from the rail-side under MUTP, and 17,000 of them were assisted in the relocation and rehabilitation process through the work of SPARC, NSDF, and Mahila Milan. In the new Mankhurd relocation site, children are safer since they can play outside without the threat of speeding trains. “Here the kids’ lives and our lives are saved,” Sulakshana Parab remarked. She was relocated from the rail-side to a new apartment in Mankhurd Building 98 and speaks highly of her new home.
The federation in Mankhurd now takes the form of a “Central Committee” of 17 buildings, each of which has its own leader. The Central Committee has done much work to clean the sewage connection and ensure that it stays functional, and they also work on improving the general cleanliness and garbage management of the Mankhurd neighborhood.
|Families relocated to Mankhurd enjoy the |
spaciousness and safety of their new home.
When people lived along the railway tracks the threat of trains was petrifying and nobody wanted their sons or daughters to marry into the rail community out of fear that eventual grandchildren would grow up in unsafe conditions. Once the families moved to a permanent and safe location, this mentality changed. Formal buildings made the rail-dwellers formal and acceptable citizens.
When instituted correctly relocation and rehabilitation can be a huge opportunity for families to uplift their living situation, safety, and employment. The key is that communities themselves must provide the energy and momentum to move the relocation process forward, and they must drive the process from its inception. The poor know what kind of solutions will actually address and overcome their problems, and they are capable of making these solutions come to life through proper organization and collaboration.