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300,000 displaced; Slum Demolitions on Hold in Mumbai

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Issue: 26 Section: International News Geography: South Asia India, Mumbai Topics: democracy, poverty

February 22, 2005

300,000 displaced; Slum Demolitions on Hold in Mumbai

An estimated 300,000 people were left homeless in Mumbai, India when authorities bulldozed acres of slums that were housing the city's poor. The razing of shantytowns began in December 2004, as part of a program put in place by the municipal government of Greater Mumbai and the government of the state of Maharashtra.

The plan aims to clear squatters from government-owned land to make way for infrastructure and commercial development. Roughly half of Mumbai's population lives in slums. Due to high real estate costs, many middle class families also opt to live in huts on unused land.

"It took us a lifetime to build our houses," one former resident was quoted as saying in a Reuters report. "But the government is destroying them in a minute. We won't allow this." Hundreds of demonstrators continuously opposed the demolitions, some attacking crews that lacked police escorts, others shaving their heads in protest.

"We want to put the fear of the consequences of migration into these people. We have to restrain them from coming to Mumbai," said Vijay Kalam Patil, a Mumbai revenue officer. Hundreds of thousands have moved to the city from the countryside, looking for work in India's financial capital.

On the busiest day, over 6,000 houses were destroyed.

Finding themselves homeless and sleeping in rubble, many former slum-dwellers have discovered they are losing their democratic rights. Representatives of the National Congress Party recently filed a court injunction to remove those whose houses had been demolished from the voting rolls.

Many say that the Nationalist Congress party owed their success at the municipal level to the support of slum dwellers. Politicians had promised to regularize all huts built before the year 2000 but went back on the promise in a bid to "clean up" Mumbai.

Under intense pressure from the party's grass roots, Nationalist Congress representatives have put a de facto hold on demolitions.

While some commentators have condemned the demolitions as a "human made tsunami," Nationalist Congress officials are worried about a "growing perception" that their policies are anti-poor.

BBC: India's 'biggest slum demolitions'

Reuters: Bombay slum dwellers protest against demolitions

India News: House demolished, names removed from electoral rolls

Business Standard: Mumbai demolitions get Sonia`s nod

CounterPunch: Mr. Deshmukh's Bulldozers: Mumbai's Man-Made Tsunami

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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