Slum Bombay: PA Sebastian, Prakash Reddy, Meena Menon, Madan Naik and ors
Director: Ralli Jacob, Rafeeq Ellias, P.K. Das; Cinematographer: Rafeeq Ellias
Duration: 00:20:58; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 32.779; Saturation: 0.230; Lightness: 0.211; Volume: 0.140; Cuts per Minute: 0.477; Words per Minute: 113.954
Summary: Discussion amongst Trade Unionists and activists about right to housing, workers and poor in the city. The discussion dwells around the changing economic landscape of Bombay, role of trade unions in the housing question; what should they have done and the relation between the work space and space of work.
PA Sebastian: All of you here represent the workers and various unions. The theme today for this discussion is right to housing, workers and the poor in the city. Recently the government published development control regulations. Along with that they had issued a press law which says 55% of the people in the city stay in the slums and on the pavements. The total population is about 11 millions which means about 6 million people in the city live either in the slums or on the pavements. All of them are poor and many of them are workers. It is well known about 50% of the policemen who go and protect the demolition squad themselves stay in chawls which can be called slums. There are about 30 thousand municipal workers class 4 employees most whom have come from outside the city - almost all of them. Either in the slums or on the pavements it is the same people who are asked to go and demolish the huts where their fellow human beings stay. Now as workers one of the things which distinguishes them from others is that, they stay... they work in the same place. And if they also stay in the same place it strengthens the unity. As for unionists, as people who work among the workers how much importance you have given to the question of housing from the point of view of organising them better - I'll ask Vivek Monteiro to comment on this first.
Vivek Montero: The assumption that workers stay near their factories is no longer true for Bombay. Perhaps, 50-60 years back this was true for the textile workers. But today we find that not only has industry shifted out of Central Bombay in the suburbs, and as far as Ulhasnagar or Ambernath on the central side or to Virar even on the western side, But at the same time the workers also have been dispersed very widely and it is no longer possible to organise the workers of one factory or one company at the place where they stay because you will find that they stay over a very wide area. So, now it is necessary to organise workers on the housing issue not on the factory basis but on a local area wise basis. And for that a different kind of organisation - a tenants' organisation or a Rahivasi Sanghathan that is required. Now, our organisation CITU has an associated tenants' organisation known as the Mumbai Rahivasi Mahasangh of which Madan Naik is the general secretary. And this organisation has taken up the issue of housing and the rights of tenants. One of the basic issues that is thrown up by this problem today in Bombay is the question of land. And unless there is land made available on an authorised basis, it is very difficult for the workers to improve their housing facilities. It is not that land is not available - land is very much there. In fact the slums themselves are on very large areas of land. But the problem is that despite the geographical availability of land, in fact legally or on an authorised basis, this land is not available to the slum dwellers. And this is one of the main problems which in my opinion is a political problem.
Vivek Mantero: It is not that the government cannot make this land available. In fact in the past even as early as 15-20 years back a lot of land was made available for public housing. And housing was made available to workers on a tenancy basis. Today there has been a change in policy, there has been a change in the municipality, the character of the political parties which control the municipality and which also control the state government. And there has been a market change in policy so that today housing is not made available - public is not housing made available on the basis of tenancy. And the workers are expected to own their housing. But even if they are to own their housing there is a very restricted availability of land on an authorised legal basis.
Vivek Mantero: I think I would request my colleague Madan Naik to say a few more things on this question. But before this I would like just to say one more thing and that is - in the past the workers were spending much less on their housing. But today because housing has become so much more difficult and so much more expensive, housing and the related question of transportation takes up as much as 25 to 30 % of a workers salary and this proportion is increasing. I spent a few years in America. I found there too in America and also in Japan the workers spend about 25 to 30% of their salary only on housing. Now in socialist countries by contrast, the workers spend 5% of the their total salary on housing. And this was also the case for the housing which was made available in the public sector projects. So as we have a tendency towards privatisation, concomitant of this tendency is - one - a deterioration in the housing conditions. Secondly, more and more illegal aspects of housing and thirdly a sharp increase in the cost of housing. So, I think unless there is a change in the policy, unless we depart drastically from privatisation and go back... to a more public housing policy, this question is not going to get resolved.
PA Sebastian: One aspect which Vivek did not really refer to is that - what have the unions done to demand and to get implemented that the workers who work in a factory be provided with accommodation somewhere near the factory itself. Have the unions ever made it a demand? if we see the history the first factories which came in Bombay are textile factories. All of them had residences somewhere near the factory. And today we will see in Central Bombay which would have been otherwise as posh as south Bombay, as affluent as south Bombay, all workers stay - they have their houses which are near their factories. That is one of the reasons... probably one of the main reasons why the textile workers were more militant and more revolutionary among the workers. Even as early as 1906 when Bal Gangadhar Tilak was arrested, it is the textile workers who called for strike - not for any economical reasons but for purely political reasons. Was it not necessary that the trade unions who have been working for so many years should have demanded then the government should have the legislated that the workers should be accommodated somewhere near the factory especially in the case of multinationals and other big companies owned by Indians. Forget the small factories, small manufacturing units which may not be able to do such a thing - but have the unions made such a demand?
Q: I would like to add a little bit to that. We put up demands for workers' housing to be close to the [factory]. I think the... I have put the questions slightly the other way.....
This is a very old problem. In Bombay, since 1870 workers had demanded about the cheaper houses, cheaper housing and nearness of the housing to their factories. Of course at that time Bombay's situation was different. After 1920 that is after first world war situation changed. As land market in Bombay changed, accordingly the scarcity of land, the housing question also changed. The first crisis was during the first world war then second bigger crisis was during 2nd world war. On that basis investment in the housing also changed. So, we find changing needs of the workers as well as changing situation. Housing construction industry also entered in this particular field quite late. Formerly it was a chawl system, then after 1946 transfers into flat system, particularly after influx of refugees from Pakistan, particularly Karachi. And then housing problem become acute. If you see period between these two world wars, situation was totally different. Therefore we have to divide the demands of the union and how unions were facing the problem. During that period unions made certain demands and those demands were also fulfilled by either management or factories.
If you see Wadia... Wadia has already constructed various... that is Bombay Dyeing... they have constructed various chawls for workers. And Wadia used to take pride that 'I have built up quarters for the workers'. If you say Godrej, he is also taking pride in it. But class... this capitalist, as a class, they have never taken responsibility of housing on their own therefore, union came forward. And then 1950 onwards there was constant demand by all the organised sectors that housing should be provided by the management if it is a big factory. Since 1960 this particular demand assumed importance and then management or various type of capitalist they began to grant loans on lower terms of interest. For example, 2% or maximum 4%. Nowadays, they're different in situation when national housing bank has come into existence or say various other agencies are come into existence like, LIC, Grahvikta etc. So, all these management has stopped thinking about financing. Or that even financing to the housing was their primary responsibility. Now that responsibility they don't have. So with a higher rate of interest, workers or even employers, they have to borrow. Now central government has also not taken responsibility of constructing quarters for the workers. They have also increased rent. Now minimum thousand rupees employer has to pay. State government has abandoned its responsibility and they are giving loan for flat or housing, but constructing mass level housing what it calls public level housing - that responsibility they have abandoned.
In short when government has abandoned its welfare concept, this whole thing has completely shelved. Various unions have demanded, and they did get certain housing loans in past at the cheaper rate on the priority basis. But nowadays worker want... worker do not want quarters (?), because when prices of land were not increasing in Bombay, so having quarters was advantageous thing. But when prices of land has increased and when government has not provided any land for co-operative society, and when lot of land in Bombay is frozen by the government, the real problem came. And union almost all unions are also in fix. Because if you demand more loan for housing, management is not providing anything. And management is also not taking responsibility of constructing houses.
Now government is taking responsibility. Simultaneously from world bank level to government level they are pointing out that you are getting relatively cheaper housing loan from various agencies, you take loan. Therefore, housing is becoming your own responsibility. Though union has made lot of demand in past, government has never taken the responsibility. But accepted that this is a primary responsibility, so shelter has become primary responsibility of individuals not of the government. And this has become responsibility in what sense, that we are responsible to give you loan and not to provide you housing.
After 1947 what happened was the unions were dominated by the CPI, the red flag. And at that point of time there were people at even at the shop floor level... I mean that consciousness was that this is a welfare state, we have got independence from the British. So, our outlook or approach or perspective should be such that our quality of life should be better. And having this outlook if you go to see there were many BDD chawls during the 2nd world war which were constructed for the soldiers by the Britishers that a model was fixed that whatever houses we will build it will be better than these BDD chawls which were there in Bombay city. And because of this pressure we had this Housing Board coming into existence. These housing colonies which were there, where a lot of pains were taken where there would be adequate playgrounds, open spaces where children could flock in the evening after school to play, then recreation rooms. And we did have some colonies coming. But then in the late 60's the red unions were destroyed by the capitalists or by the Shivsena. Workers got disorganised and whatever was gained remained there only stagnated and afterwards the deterioration started. This is my point.
PA Sebastian: And its also a demand of some environmental groups that all factories and all manufacturing units be shifted from the city of Bombay because they pollute the air, they destroy the environment. One of the first victims of this policy which is initiated by the government and supported by the affluent in the city is textile workers. Because the government has already decided to shift textile workers. The new development control regulations state 1/3rd of the factory premises and the lands belonging to them are earmarked for recreation and gardens for which the employers - in this case, the owners of the lands and the premises will get transferable development rights. Which effectively means they can construct somewhere else instead of constructing in the same place itself. And another 1/3rd will be given to MHADA that's Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority - for which also the employers will also get 1/3rd and transferable development rights will be issued to them.
Transferable development right means a document which embodies the value of the land, the value of the land separated from the land itself. And it is embodied in a document. It in effect means a form of currency which can be dealt with in the market provided that it has been endorsed by the commissioner of Bombay Municipal corporation. And the remaining 1/3rd can be used for housing and commercial purposes. This will effectively mean in a few years time the political configuration of the city itself will change. All these textile factories will be closed down by virtue of which the workers will be forced to move out probably from the city itself. And we will see hotels, commercial offices and the residences of the affluent in Central Bombay instead of seeing chawls, which has very far reaching consequences from a political point of view and from the history of this city. I would ask Mr. Prakash Reddy to say few words on this.