Pavement Dwellers

The homeless, we argue are an inseparable component in urban centres like Mumbai, and their contribution in making the city have to be recognized, and we therefore will refer to them as the “city-makers”, who contribute to their cities with cheap labour – on which our urban centres prosper. Yet, our city and state refuses to accept such facts and refuses to recognize their numbers in the city. And therefore it is not surprising that the Mumbai, with almost 1.5 lakh homeless city-makers are not counted in the DP process and thereby will be left without any plausible share in the city’s development plan for 2014-2034.

Right now, there is not even a conclusive survey that can at least determine the number of homeless city-makers in the city. There are varying figures. The 2001 Census of India states there were 38,000 homeless people in Mumbai. The number is likely to be a gross underestimation, as the enumeration is not carried out in proper manner as observed during the 2011 where 35,408 homeless were recorded and in the 2012 survey a very sceptical figure of 17,380 homeless were recorded in the city. It is estimated that there are at least 1.5 lakh homeless city-makers who do not have a roof over their heads and struggle for their daily bread, and they remain criminalized and marginalized by the state and the society alike.

Major issues
Monsoons in Mumbai, like the winters in Delhi look ominous for the poor on the streets. The eviction drives of the homeless are a usual practice and recently, in last week of June, there were two reported deaths of homeless women, who died due to exposure to rain for many days after their plastic tents, were removed by the police and BMC. This is not an untoward incident, but a common-place occurrence in the city. It is estimated that every monsoons at least 160-170 homeless residents die of in Mumbai for want of shelters and healthcare.

It is also glaring that in spite of such repeated occurrences the state has shied away from being responsible for the fate of the working poor in city. And the city right now has no specific policy that caters to the lack of a housing shelter for the homeless city-makers, which creates a number of insecure conditions and thus deprives them of the right to life in the city. It is at this juncture, that we hope that the BMC and the state take concrete steps to address the issues of homeless city-maker residents in the coming DP.

After our preliminary study of the Existing Land Use (ELU) survey in various wards our suggestion to the MCGM was to firstly map the homeless as a different category in the ELU maps (as a different layer/ or a category). This map and the preliminary survey can be employed as the stepping stone to map and locate the possible homeless shelters that the city is in dire need of. And to side step the huge number of homeless in the survey and consequent DP vision process will be detrimental for the city-makers. It is also request that the BMC clearly mentions and states the existing number of homeless city-makers and the various facilities for them in the Existing Situation Analysis (ESA) as it is imperative to ensure that more than 1 lakh poor city-makers get acknowledged in the documents leading to the final DP.
 The Supreme Court in 2010 had directed all states to look into the issue of homeless shelters, directing them to build one shelter for every 1 lakh people in cities with population above 5 lakh by December 31, 2010. The Maharashtra government in compliance with the Supreme Court directive had filed an affidavit in response. While it acknowledged that homeless are the poorest of the poor of the city and cannot afford informal housing, it put slum dwellers and beggars in the same category as the homeless and cited schemes of slum dwellers as meant for homeless. The government then scandalously referred to schemes for the benefit of slum dwellers as those also meant for the homeless and equated the need of homeless city-makers shelters with the provision of Beggar homes. And as of May 2013, BMC has told Bombay High Court that is shall peruse a report on the “Situation of Homeless Shelters in Mumbai” and cited the lack of space as one of the major hurdles in the setting up of Homeless Shelters.