Will Mumbai's Chawls Revive In The Hands of Landlords?
In India's financial capital Mumbai, chawls are a form of affordable housing. In prime areas of the city, rents in comparable apartments are 100 to 200 times those in chawls. So, it is not surprising that residents of chawls do not want to move out.
In mid-19th century, chawls were built by private organisations to house workers. The city has undergone major changes since. Mumbai's mills, whose workers these units primarily sheltered, became obsolete because of modern technology and competition from mills in smaller towns and prosperous Asian countries. Further, rents in Mumbai were frozen in the 1940s, when rents of comparable apartments rose elsewhere. Chawl rooms were still in great demand due to frozen rents. This explains much of the problems Mumbai's chawls face. While many of the chawls stand on expensive land parcels considered parts of Central Mumbai, exceptionally low rents lead to a mismatch. Later, such housing was built on cheap land in the city.
According to an estimate of the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER), a household in Mumbai spends about 11.2 per cent of its income on housing and about 50 per cent of its income on food and transportation. So, it is not surprising that people living in chawls were not willing to give up their privileges. They even brought in their relatives from villages to not lose control over their space in chawls.
Tenants in rent-controlled building, however, pay a price. Such buildings are not redeveloped because the cost of redevelopment and maintenance is too high when compared to rents paid. In one of his articles, journalist Dilip D'Souza narrated the story of a woman who complained that her landlord was not willing to redevelop his dilapidated property on the verge of collapse. Later, the building collapsed and the woman's husband died. D'Souza is of the view that the woman and other tenants should have been better off if they were willing to redevelop the building at their own expense.
Now, the Maharashtra Housing Department has asked the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada) to give back one of Mumbai's oldest chawls to the landlord. The benefits from redevelopment of this chawl will go to the landlord. According to a moderate estimate, if this 1.5-acre property with its seven buildings is redeveloped, it will be worth Rs 10,000 crore. Chawl tenants are now in favour of Mhada giving back the property to the landlord, based on their perception that Mhada is not capable of redeveloping properties.