Mumbai City & its Social Reality


The one Indian city that exemplifies the growth-poverty conundrum is Mumbai – the city of lore where a little known petrol station attendant with entrepreneurial spirit built a multi-billion dollar company whose many subsidiaries now drive the Indian stock market. Mumbai contributes 33 per cent of India’s tax revenue, 60 per cent of India’s customs duty, 20 per cent of Central Excise and generates 40 per cent of India’s foreign trade. Mumbai has a population of 21 million people (more than the population of Srilanka) and of this 60 per cent of them (12.6 million more than the population of Greece) live in slums has given Mumbai its dubious name Slumbay and has the Asia’s largest slum Dharavi. Mumbai’s claim to the highest per capita income in the state is overshadowed by glaring disparities in income and possessions with about 40% population living below poverty line. The city has only 42% Maharastrians mostly migrated from the rural areas and rest have migrated from other States. 60% of its population who lives in the slums are migrant workers which constitutes the cheap unorganized labour market of Mumbai. The city that never sleeps with highest density of population (22,000 people per square km) is financially and politically controlled by a handful of people besides the underworld dons.


 An Experiment in Increasing Peoples Participation in Urban Local Governance


Bombay Urban Industrial League for Development (BUILD) in 2003 initiated a structured multidimensional strategic social intervention called Increasing People’s Participation in Local Governance & Community Initiatives. Taking a look at the deplorable conditions of slums and people living there and the massive Mumbai Municipal budget of more than Rs.24,000 crores shows the custodians of power are not interested in the well being of people especially the poor. They are denied of their basic rights and access to amenities based on their ‘illegality’ of being migrant-encroachers, and thus not considered full-fledged citizens of the city. The 74th Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA) which opens up space for the people’s direct participation in local governance is not implemented in its letter and spirit. The Ward Committees which are mandatory for areas with a population higher than 3 lakh are not effectively functioning in all Wards. The centrally sponsored scheme ‘Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission’ (JNNURM) for the redevelopment of cites, has conditionally attached to it to enact a Community Participation Bill which was passed by the assembly last year by diluting its scope and giving power only to the elected representatives/ politicians. The main five political parties which changes hands of power are Shiv Sena, Maharashtra Nava Nirman Sena, BJP, Congress and NCP. The challenge is how to create a space for the poor who are in conflict with the system in a set up that clearly excludes them.


The administration of Mumbai is taken care by the Mumbai Municipal Corporation. There are 24 Administrative Wards and 227 Municipal electoral wards which forms the smallest constituent body of the local government.


As the mission of the organization was to work for a dignified living of the slums communities, BUILD with the available resources, as an experimental attempt, intervened in 3 Administrative Wards of Mumbai. BUILD could mobilize the poor migrant unorganized workers living in slums, and facilitate various groups and committees to look into their community and area level problems, economic and social needs. To give a more organized strength, a collective at the electoral ward level was formed called Vibhagya Jan Samiti (VJS) (People’s Area Ward Committee). These are formed mainly from the representatives of 495 constituent bodies like savings & credit forums, micro enterprises, Neighbourhood Groups/Committees initiated by BUILD and from other CBOs, NGOs etc. to make checks and balances of the existing electoral and official machinery This idea initiated by BUILD was to strengthen the local democratic governance structure at the electoral ward level. This forum looks into the schemes and provisions in the Municipal Budgets, the need assessment of the area, the possibilities of community resources and external resources etc. Periodically they arrange interface of elected representatives, Municipal officials with people to appraise the situations in the community for early redressal. They also will put up area development plans to the Municipal authorities, elected Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) for the improvement of the area and for the common good of the people. These forums are found to make the system more accountable are transparent.


BUILD further constituted Peoples Ward Committee: It is collective at the administrative ward level formed from the convergence of the representatives from the People’s Area Ward Committees at the electoral Ward level. Ward Committee which constitutes the body of elected representatives is a mandatory body under the Nagar Raj Bill as an interface mechanism for people at the ward level with the local governance mechanism for planning, implementation and monitoring of developmental plans at the ward level. Considering the size of the ward in many cases these bodies remain ineffective. However with the introduction of VJSs at the electoral ward level, Peoples Ward Committees have become vibrant units of local self governance as a countervailing people’s power to make checks and balances.  This forum will monitor and supplement the activities of the People’s Area Ward Committees and will have a greater negotiating power at the Ward level.  


Jansatta Abhiyan (People’s Empowerment Campaign): This is a people’s convention convened in once in four months conceived as a mechanism for ensuring transparency and accountability in urban governance. Participants encompasses all sections of constituents forums as well as all the elected representatives of the Municipal Ward Council, Office bearers of different departments of the Municipal Ward Office, NGO & CBO representatives of the project area, prominent citizens, teachers, Police etc. This large forum threadbare analyzes the performance of the Ward as a whole, utilization of funds, budgets of the Municipality for the Ward, development schemes. This collective also takes stock of the needs in the Ward, achievements of different programmes etc. These initiatives are significant because people themselves are creating alternatives; they are seeking ways and means of asserting their rights and making demands of the system for effective service delivery, transparency and hold their elected representative accountable.


Since the whole process is supplemented by the livelihood support initiatives to ensure economic empowerment as the foundation of community empowerment with the superstructure of political activism and empowerment can be self sustained. Now the challenge is to spread this mission to spread to other Wards for wider and effective results.