Bombay, the Metropolis
The population in Bombay, primarily due to the tremendous economic momentum, has doubled over the last 20 years. Migrants, who constitute much of this increase, continue to enter the city at an estimated rate of 300 families per day! The city infrastructure can far from cope with the increasing demands made on it. Environmental and housing problems are acute, to say the least. The combined output of the housing agencies - a merge 40 to 50 thousand units annually, is just a small fraction of the number required. Hence, formal housing is exorbitantly expensive and far from the reach of the poor, which most migrants are. Even options like providing sites and services for self-help housing do not seem to work in this sea-bound city. The result is that more than half the population of the city live in "congested, unhealthy, unserviced and filthy" slums. This has led to its inevitable effect on the city's health and environment. But beneath all these lies the most critical quality of all, that offers hope for the future: the ambition, determination and perseverance of the migrant poor to improve themselves and their surroundings for a better life.
This is where citizen's participation comes in. The case study presented here illustrates an example of the people's organization, PROUD (People's Responsible Organization for United Dharavi) and the participation methodology that they adopted in improving their settlement.
Growth of Dharavi
Dharavi, described as Asia's largest slum, is in an area of about 600 acres and is inhabited by more than one million people. Located in the heart of Bombay city, the settlement is bound by the Mahim Creek and railway lines. The settlement in 1890 was well outside the municipal limits of Bombay. By 1944, the settlement had grown to 130 acres, doubling by 1956 to 330 acres when the total area under slums in Bombay was just 500 acres. Though it is obvious that the settlement grew and reached it's present size and condition gradually, over the years, nothing was done to improve it.
The Bombay Municipal Corporation considers the residents of Dharavi as illegal squatters (which they are, in the true sense of the word) whose shelters may be demolished at any time. In fact, maps at the BMC show the Dharavi area as "vacant land"! The BMC owns 70% of the land, Government of Maharastra (of which Bombay is capital) owns 10% and private owners make up the rest.
The present 600 acres making up Dharavi are divided into five major areas: Mukund Nagar, Central Area, Social Nagar, South Area and South-West Area. Each of these areas have dozens of chawls (clusters or streets of houses and other buildings) each containing about 50 to 100 people.
There are about 150 chawls in Dharavi. These residential areas with their places of worship, shops etc. cover a major part of the land, which in certain ways, is similar to small towns, since it also has small scale and indigenous industries as well as shorehouses dealing in recycled wastes. Individual house quality range from kuccha dwelling (using impermanent materials) to pucca (permanent materials) houses.
Before the emergence of active citizen's participation in settlement development, besides a few roads, essential services were practically non-existent. The occasional drain was perpetually clogged and a good part of the open spaces including the streets doubled as garbage dumps. Obtaining drinking water was desperate - the infrequent water supply service active for only a few hours every day. Even now there are no individual service connections for water or sanitation.
Contrary to stereotypes, residents of Dharavi are literate and have certain amount of formal education, and a few even a university degree. Most have stable employment in a variety of occupations. Many are also self-employed. A rich variety of socio-cultural features characterize the residents - who speak different languages and espouse different religions.
The Emergence of PROUD
The need for people to come together to solve their collective problems had been cultivated by chawls banding themselves to form committees. But islands of Chawl Committees were not very effective in dealing with issues that were settlement wide, and where dealing with the city government were concerned. To create a stronger representation by unifying themselves was a natural conclusion.
The awareness levels of the people mounted with the efforts of several NGOs which organized community development and training programmes. One of the main objectives was to build a people's organization with its structure derived from the chawl committees' issue-solving processes. For example, in September 1979, they had identified the source of the drinking water problem and organized a meeting of the local people in Social Nagar. Delegations to the local municipal office were mobilized to pressure them to provide drinking water. The result was a series of public taps that were installed in Social Nagar.
This kind of action-oriented approach which netted fast results caught the imagination of the people and was crucial for the formal launching of the People's Responsible Organization of United Dharavi on 2 December 1979, "by, for and of the people of Dharavi".
PROUD: Aims and Objectives
At the base of the structure are the approximately 150 chawl committees. Comprised of the residents of a chawl, it has office bearers such as a president and a secretary. These organizations work on local problems. Meeting monthly, the residents discuss problems, issues etc., and where required, they plan and take local action. The chawls, depending upon their location, fall under one of the five area councils - one each for Mukund Nagar, Social Nagar, Central Area, South Area and South-west Area. These councils are made up of presidents and secretaries of the chawl committees. It serves as a middle link in the communication process of PROUD. Local problems which cannot be solved by the chawl committee are brought to the attention of the Area Council, which then tries to solve it or passes it on to Executive Committee. The Council acts as advisors for the Executive Committee as well as send "area representatives" to the Executive Committee.
The Executive Committee is responsible for the smooth functioning of PROUD. It formulates policies, actions, programmes and implements them, provided they meet the approval of the people at the Annual Convention and the General Assembly. These later two act as a parliament, open to all the residents of Dharavi.
The committee office bearers, numbering eight are elected by the people at the Annual Convention. The Committee also consists of two Area Representatives from each Area Council and presidents of the Issue Committees.
The Role of Issue Committees
The work and the role of the Issue Committees is one of the easiest ways to observe the involvement of PROUD in improving the quality of life in Dharavi.
- The Water Committee: This was one of the first issue committees formed, with the solving of the water problem in Social Nagar. The committee now sees to the fact that a minimum number of taps are installed in most localities and supply is maintained. Public pressure, demonstrations etc. are used to obligate the authorities to make necessary provisions.
- The Drainage and Garbage Committee: The problem of garbage was accentuated every monsoon when the whole area was flooded. When repeated appeals failed to clear the garbage, the residents protested by dumping it in the municipal offices! The committee is fully engaged in the maintenance and construction of drains, clearance of garbage and emergency work during monsoon.
- The Health Committee: Besides identifying factories in the surrounding area that affect the health of the residents and lobbying for their removal, the health committee, with the cooperation of NGOs, organizes check-ups, health camps and vaccination drives for the residents.
- The Latrine Committee: The committee's responsibility encompasses the construction and maintenance of public latrines, besides the water and electricity for them.
The early actions of PROUD dealt with issues of immediate concern. The early successes of these helped to gain public participation and support. When struggles grew longer and victories less frequent, participation showed a downward trend. PROUD, due to its huge size, does see lapses in communication with all levels. This has resulted in a weakening of the base - not knowing what was going on, many people participated less, which is a serious disadvantage for a people's movement.