CRZ drives a wedge between communities in Mumbai

A community meeting in Sion Koliwada to discuss the threat of resettlement.
7 August 2017
CRZ drives a wedge between communities in Mumbai
Part 10 of a Series on ‘Coastal Regulation’ by Dr Chitra Venkataramani for the CPR-Namati Environment Justice Program

Asymmetric rights to the coast fosters identity politics and housing insecurity.

One of the central tensions in the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) Notification as it plays out in relation to the complex land politics of Mumbai, is the question of development in fishing villages and slums. This essay highlights the new tensions and boundaries created between urban communities by the notification as it confers different rights to slum dwellers and fishers.

At the heart of the problem, is not only the government’s inability to embrace complexity in its mapping and planning process for the coast, but also its avoidance of an important problem Mumbai faces – that of well-designed, sustainable, and accessible low-income housing.

Untenable categories

The 2011 CRZ categorises ‘Koliwadas’ (fishing villages) as CRZ III where as ‘slums’ are categorized under CRZ II – each category leads to different developmental potentials. Under the differing guidelines for these categories, those recognised as slum-dwellers have access to housing under the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA). However, those who claim their residential areas as ‘Koliwadas’ have the opportunity, albeit vaguely worded, to self-develop: to improve the conditions of their residential areas in line with the city’s development regulations. While on paper, such a plan might seem workable, it is hard to draw boundaries and clearly define areas as Koliwadas or slums on ground.

Fishing communities in Mumbai are often located within larger, hybrid, informal settlements, making it hard – if not impossible – to draw such strict boundaries around them based on identity. Since the CRZ places the burden of proof on the fishing communities and because of a lack of documents and surveys that clearly identify the location and extent of the Koliwadas in the city, the city’s fishers face the very concrete threat of displacement into SRA schemes. That is, unless they are clearly able to claim the identity of “traditional fishers,” they stand to not just lose the opportunity to develop their residential areas, but could also end up getting displaced as a result of a combination of factors that include developmental pressure, lack of infrastructure, and the unsustainability of fishing as a livelihood in the city.

At the heart of the problem is the form and process of the SRA, which has been severely criticised by many urban planners and advocates. For example, Rahul Srivastava and Matias Echanove write that not only does the SRA offer poor living conditions, it also cuts off avenues for informal economies to thrive and destroys complex living-working spatial relationships.

Creating tensions

In evoking the SRA as a solution for housing in urban coastal areas, the CRZ opened the doors for identity politics and this created new tensions between communities living side-by-side. While this pushes us to ask broader questions regarding the lack of low-income housing in the city, better policies and provisions for those who live in informal settlements (their identities and community affiliations notwithstanding), it is also important to trace how this different distribution of rights came to be, and what CRZ surveys and plans have to do with it.

In December 2004, when the Swaminathan Committee was still in the process of reviewing the 1991 CRZ, the Indian Ocean tsunami struck, leaving a trail of devastation along the country’s coast. This event had a significant impact on the committee and this is evident in the opening paragraphs of the report it eventually released a month after the tsunami. Indeed, the committee writes of the catastrophe caused by this event as one of the foundational reasons for having a robust policy that would safeguard the coast, its ecology, and coastal residents. Cognizant of the deep impact of natural disasters on low-income coastal communities, the CRZ was to provide the means for better housing and livelihood for this vulnerable population, while safeguarding the coast against exploitation through sustainable development.

The committee recommended that the previous restriction on constructing SRA schemes on coastal land be lifted for two main reasons: firstly, to provide some measure of protection for slum residents given their precarious living conditions, and secondly, because it identified slums as harmful and polluting to coastal and urban environments. It is important to note that the idea of the slum as ‘polluting’ is deeply problematic especially since a large part of Mumbai’s waste is released untreated into coastal waters. By contrast, the fisher communities were to be given land rights and housing provisions as a result of their dependency on the coast. Thus, the notion of vulnerability resulted in two radically different solutions in the CRZ notification, the SRA for slum dwellers and coastal land-rights for fishers. These steps obscured the interconnections between these communities and also shaped the subsequent political rhetoric of rights claiming after the 2011 notification was released.

Threat to Mumbai’s Koliwadas

The 2014 Shailesh Nayak committee solidifies the threat of displacement of fisher communities as it proposes to categorise all of the city’s Koliwadas under category II, opening up these areas for redevelopment under the SRA. It also reinforces and deepens the boundaries between those who live in the different informal settlements along the coast. The committee circumvents a central question: can we think of equitable, sustainable, pro-poor, pro-fisher housing and development models?

In order to answer this question, the CRZ Notification – particularly its maps and plans, which determine how the law will unfold across the urban terrain and in people’s lives – has to engage with the complex conditions and relations on the ground. Instead of shying away from complexity, the CRZ plans have to acknowledge and work with the interconnectedness of communities and the intricate relations between people, landscapes and the environment.

Chitra Venkatramani is an anthropologist at the National University of Singapore and is currently working on a book on cartography and the politics of the CRZ in Mumbai.

The previous pieces in this series can be accessed below:

The views shared belong to individual faculty and researchers and do not represent an institutional stance on the issue.