If you want to know why Mumbai’s slum dwellers don’t buy the government’s relocation and rehabilitation plan, visit Lallubhai Compound, Mankhurd’s ‘infamous’ resettlement colony.
Text By Rajendra Jadhav
Photos By Arjun Chavah
Till eight years ago, Vinod Narkar used to live in a slum in Parel. Now he lives in a building in Mankhurd and says “life here is worse than the slums”. Narkar, aged 27, is a resident of Lallubhai Compound (LBC), a cluster of 65 buildings which were built under the Slum Rehabilitation Act (SRA) to resettle slum and chawl dwellers displaced as a result of Mumbai’s zealous development.
Narkar along with some friends and neighbours is part of a ten-member group that has recently carried out a social audit of LBC under the Youth Movement for Active Citizenship (YMAC) project, a program funded by UN Youth Fund. Their contention is that Lallubhai Compound, which came into being around 2005 and includes both five-storey and seven-storey structures, has been ignored by the government for the last decade and daily life here is a struggle for food, water, education and cleanliness. The compound is home to approximately 70,000 tenants and 36,000 residents.
The most recent part of their campaign was the creation of a thermacol model entitled “The future of LBC”, an outcome of the community based participatory group research they conducted regarding the housing problems in LBC. The model took into account the current situation there and also showed the future aspirations of the residents. The model reflects the desire of the residents for the compound to include markets, schools, hospitals, social spaces and gardens. Narkar and his colleagues have so far presented their model to local corporators, the TISS- M ward project and some other NGOs in an attempt to raise awareness about the problems at LBC.
LBC was built under the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) with Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Center (SPARC) being the nodal NGO agency to assist in the resettlement and rehabilitation process. There seems to be widespread resentment among the residents of LBC about what they were promised in terms of amenities and services and what they have received. “The rehabilitation of project-affected people should have been within a radius of 3 kilometers from their original dwelling, but we have been brought 25 km away from our chawl. Sarkar ne hum ko phasah diya (The government has trapped us.),” says an angry Narkar.
There the women would meet in the evenings to chat, but here in Lallubhai compound, there is no sense of community. We feel like prisoners here.”
Sumitra Pawar, a middle aged woman, says, “When we were first told that we had to shift from our chawl in Parel to a building, my husband and I were very happy. I had been working as a maid in a building and I had seen what life was like in a flat. I saw that buildings have adequate water supply, lifts, and cleanliness. So we thought that our entire lifestyle would change after becoming flat owners, and we would live with dignity there. But when we came to LBC we realized that buildings could also be slums! The only difference is that our previous dwelling was a horizontal slum and this one is vertical slum.” Pawar feels that her life in the Parel slum was much better than in LBC.
The problems are many in LBC. There are no proper sanitation/and drainage lines here. The narrow alleys between the tall buildings – often barely three metres apart – causes insufficient ventilation in the houses. People constantly complain of perennial leakage from various pipes in the area making the compound very slippery to walk in and making the entire complex a breeding ground for mosquitoes year-round. The incidence of water-borne diseases is high in the area.
The residents of LBC often congregate on the road divider in groups because there are no safe public spaces for them to meet in. Says resident Alka Patil, “There is no public transportation facility in LBC.” According to Shila Patil, the residents in her building cannot afford to pay the maintenance fee of Rs 300 Rupees per month and as a result many common services that are shared by the residents don’t exist in reality. Such as many of the buildings don’t have an elevator facility and even where it exists, most lifts are totally out of service.
The families in LBC get water for very limited periods in the day. Some get water for only 10 to 12 minutes every day and some for about 25 to 30 minutes on alternate days. Garbage collection and disposal is also a major issue in LBC and mounds of garbage piled up is a common sight.
To date, there are no branches of any banks here and the only ATM just opened a few months ago. As a result, there is a thriving jewellery loan business in LBC. People routinely mortgage jewellery to take loans – at interest rates as high as 36 per cent a year – at the 12 to 15 shops that have mushroomed here.
The lack of services is appalling in the least but most of all residents of LBC complain of feeling very alienated here. Alka Patil lived in a chawl for 20 years before she was forced to shift to LBC eight years ago. Reminiscing about her life in the chawl, she says, “There the women would meet in the evenings to chat, but here in Lallubhai compound, there is no sense of community. We feel like prisoners here.”
She continues, “In the chawl, we used to celebrate many religious and cultural events such as haldi-kunku. We used to exchange bhaji (vegetables) and help each other with the cooking. When someone in the family got sick, the whole chawl would help out.” She gestures towards the lack of community feeling in LBC by describing an incident when a resident died and the neighbouring families didn’t even reduce the volume of their television sets as there was no communication between them.
It’s time someone paid attention to Lallubhai Compound, a nightmare of a resettlement project.