Wednesday, January 15, 2014


A stinking, illegal, city of slums  

By Neeraj Mahajan & Ajit Ujjainkar

New Delhi & Mumbai:  Can you imagine a city in modern India – that even today discharges untreated sewage into a drain that eventually meets the very River that is also its main source of drinking water? Can you imagine an industrial town – not in a remote part of the country but on the periphery of Mumbai that would still take atleast four more years—i.e. by 31st December 2016 to be 100% ‘open defecation-free’? And atleast that much time to dispose of all the waste- both solid and liquid generated in a safe and scientific way? A modern city where Rs. 101 crore is required to be invested over a period of four years to ensure safe access to toilet facility to each citizen?

Can you imagine a city in Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) where only about 72% of the total households have access to individual toilets connected to sewerage network, septic tanks or other suitable transfer mechanism? Almost 15% of these households still depend upon shared or group toilets. And the rest either visit public toilets or go out in the open? About 3% of the population, i.e., about 2,900 households resort to open defecation. Open defecation is common to almost all its wards.

A city that chokes and stinks in its own filth and shit -- Ulhasnagar -- a medium sized town in Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) in Thane District of Maharashtra—about 58 Kilometers from Mumbai is an urban development nightmare. It may be the only 13-sq km township in the whole country that just might make it to the Guinness Book of world Records for regularizing as many as 1,40,000 illegal structures with a first-of-its-kind executive government order. (In 2006, the state passed an ordinance regularizing all existing illegal structures).

Bordered by the Ulhas River in North, Kalyan in the West and Ambernath in East and South (between 19.20°N Latitude and 73.10° E Longitude) the city of Ulhasnagar with an estimated population of 6,10,000 spread over an area of 13.34 sq. km is one of the filthiest cities in India and possibly the world. It is one city that neighbouring Kalyan, Ambernath and Dombivali may not like to associate with.  
An unhygienic city of slums, poverty, death and disease --Ulhasnagar has the unique distinction of being one of the most unplanned, corrupt, over-populated and under-developed cities in India. With an average household size of 4.55 and some 1,34,065 households the city there is already a great strain on the available land and the infrastructure services in the city as well as proliferation of slums and insanitary conditions in the city. According to an estimate close to 1,72,129 slum dwellers forms almost 28% of the city’s population. Almost 21 % of the total area of Ulhasnagar - 289 hectares is urban slum including 133 hectares of declared slum and 156 hectares undeclared slum.

As per the City Sanitation Rating compiled by the Union Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India, Ulhasnagar ranks 137 and fall in the Black category which means considerable effort is required to become a completely sanitized city. Ulhasnagar managed a score of 38.34 just a shade better than 33 – a sort of danger zone requiring immediate remedial action.

At the rate at which its unhealthy belly is bulging uncontrollably – Ulhasnagar will soon bypass Mumbai and Kolkata, as the most densely populated cities of India.

Situated on the mainline Mumbai-Pune Central Rail route, Ulhasnagar is a fairly important township in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and important industrial and trading centers as far as Mumbai and Maharashtra are concerned. But that is where the similarity ends. For all practical purposes though geographically close to Mumbai –Ulhasnagar remains one of its poor, old distant and neglected cousins about whom nobody cares. Not even the Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation and a handful of builders who only wish to fill their own individual pockets – even if at the cost of sacrificing the public interest.
Why then is the media silent? Why doesn’t anyone write about it--- you might ask? Well the simplest answer to this is that we are living in a world where just about everything can be bought or sold. The local media has either been pocked or silenced. There is no such thing as independent and responsible journalism in Ulhasnagar. 

Recently the town elder men and politicians have come up with a wonderful scheme to rehabilitate homeless local journalists who have been promised low cost homes. This is all it took to silence all voice of decent and set examples of democratic governance.

Ulhasnagar was born as Kalyan Military Transit Camp under the British army in 1942. After World War II, the camp moved out, the land remained vacant. So when a large number of Sindhis migrated from West Pakistan to Mumbai the Ministry of Relief and Rehabilitation, Government of India provided them shelter. Initially it was first called Sindhunagar because of largely Sindhi inhabitants before being renamed as Ulhasnagar in 1949.  One thing in common – throughout its history is the role of powerful contractors and vested interests trying to tightly control every development activity in the city.

Today the only difference is that these contractors, brokers and noblemen have been replaced by builders, politicians and Councilors who want their own interest to prevail and nothing that they do not want should happen in the city. Their endeavor always is to go for the ‘soft target’ dominate and encroach upon the land meant for social amenities and infrastructure. Apart from this they allow many illegal structures to come up on residential as well as change the land use from residential to commercial or from agricultural to residential.

The deep-rooted nexus between builders and politicians is responsible for the mushrooming growth of illegal structures and the catch 22 situation where despite declaring 300 buildings as hazardous Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation prefers to remain silent. Several of these buildings in precarious condition, have been duely ‘inspected and passed’ by the UMC officials. Recently two town planners – were arrested for allowing inferior constructions violating the norms.  

The story of Ulhasnagar’s neglect started from its first development plan in 1969 remained. It remained in force for 22 years till 1991 but was not implemented completely. It laid the foundation for unplanned development of the city.

Recently Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan announced a policy offering Floor Space Index (FSI) of 4 to builders having layouts of 4,000 sqm or one acre for cluster redevelopment in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. This allowed developers to build four times more. Earlier the applicable FSI was 1.33 in South Mumbai and of 1 in the suburbs. This has come in as a blessing in disguise for builders in Ulhasnagar, Thane, Kalyan-Dombivli, Navi Mumbai, Vasai-Virar and Mira-Bhayander. The noble idea behind cluster projects and higher FSI was to ease the property prices to make it affordable for people staying in slums and illegal buildings but this scheme has become a tool in the hand of the powerful builder lobby to further their own interests.

The all powerful builder-Corporators lobby is known to exploit all loopholes in the system. In 2003 the UMC is understood to have filed an affidavit in Bombay High Court acknowledging that it had only developed seven plots and the rest had been encroached and unclaimed by it. Seven years later, all the open plots have been encroached.  

The Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation recently announced its new Development Plan – which has been called “Ulhasnagar Destruction Plan’ by the local population.

The proposed plan like the hurriedly drawn redcliff line that created a wedge between India and Pakistan -- affect many shops and residential properties -- not only on the main roads but also in the by-lanes. Many residential areas have suddenly been shown as reserved for green zones. Also many industrial zones were converted to commercials zones in the proposed plan.  Similarly the land use of many existing schools has been converted into residential zones. The Proposed plan also makes a mockery of the planning process by ignoring the need to build civic amenities like schools, playgrounds, gardens, parking lots, community halls, libraries, hospitals, business centres, sewage treatment plants and cremation grounds.

Central Railway after spending Rs 25 lakh on the renovation of Ulhasnagar railway station suddenly now finds that the Railway station – for all practical purposes ‘does not exist’. It is not even mentioned in the City’s Development plan or town planning map. Ulhasnagar is one of the busiest stations on the Karjat – Kalyan route and generating revenue of Rs 2 crore per month from more than 75,000 commuters daily.

Some other peculiarities of Ulhasnagar are that only 8 MLD (29 % of actual design capacity) of sewage is treated in the STP, as some sewer line is not connected with the mains. Out of 126km only 18.1 Km (i.e,14%) roads have been developed as per the DP width. 14Km of roads are required to be developed for 100ft ROW and at present no road has been developed for 100 ft. About 97km of roads are to be developed to desired DP width. Despite high demand from vehicular traffic parking facilities are not available in the densely populated residential areas. As a result both 2 and 4 wheelers park on the main roads. There is also no truck-tempo stand.  

Similarly construction of a rail-over-bridge ROB near Ulhasnagar-Vithalwadi and foot over bridge FOB at Ulhasnagar have been hanging fire for years.