The Mumbai High Court recently ordered CIDCO and the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation- the two planning authorities of Navi Mumbai- to demolish unauthorised constructions and formulate a mechanism for taking quick and effective actions on unauthorised constructions reported by people. The angst expressed in the ruling was on the lack of effective enforcement resulting in building violations in civic spaces.
In compliance of this order, CIDCO drew up a program for demolishing under-construction unauthorised buildings in the first phase. 500 odd number of such type of under-construction buildings were identified in the survey. And many times more than that number were found which were already built and occupied. Demolitions started in full swing and as is usual in such situations, there was much political opposition to the actions. Inorder to ensure a lawful conduct of a protest march and a public meeting of some 3-4000 people, a large posse of more than 200 policemen and women were deployed. Thanks to the excellent honesty and trust-based relationships built by the management with the people in recent years, the protest march did not turn riotous. It ended peacefully on a note of further talks to take place with the CIDCO MD.
The root causes of these unauthorised buildings were interesting. The city of Navi Mumbai was developed by CIDCO on the lands acquired by the state government from farmers of 95 villages in the 1970s. As infrastructure developed for the city, the land value also escalated. The villages themselves had not been acquired for urbanisation but the land immediately adjoining the villages was. The population growth in the villages over the last 4 decades was bound to spill over into these adjoining acquired and vacant lands over the 4 decades. Also due to rising land value, this spillover would surely not be restricted to the need of only family expansion of the villagers. The risk of creating unauthorised multi storied buildings to extract the maximum financial benefit out of it would obviously be very low as most development agencies of government do not prioritise a watchful enforcement through proper resourcing. More than tens of thousands of unauthorised structures have sprung up adjoining these old village boundaries and they have mushroomed in a wholly unplanned way with no proper access for emergency vehicles. The high economic stakes in these structures and the large numbers of the stakeholders, some of whom are the people who are living in these illegal buildings, are a powerful enough political voice to demand to be left alone.
There is a concept in crime management called the ‘Broken Windows Theory’, in which the appearance of ‘broken windows’ or the state of negligence and disrepair in a locality encourages illegal behaviour and crime. Similarly, these mushrooming unauthorised structures, which are within the sight of all, are like a red flag to the bull, for encouraging all types of non compliance including criminal behaviour. The state of lawlessness in the neighbourhoods rises as these unauthorised structures grow, and it appears like it is a problem of poor policing, when it really is not.
My point is this: Development gets the priority in governance, and it does need to have a priority, but if you do not simultaneously prioritise good enforcement, you are creating unsafe societies. No amount of policing will help this situation once created. It will also encourage more corruption, since the size of the problem is too large to be tackled and therefore the ground situation becomes ideal for ‘rent seeking’ by the field functionaries of government. ‘A stitch in time saves nine’ really applies when we are creating a vision and agenda for a developing economy, like ours.