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Report No. 138

3.2. Pavement dwellers in Bombay.-

The following extracts from the Supreme Court judgment of 1986 may be of some interest in connection with the situation regarding pavement dwellers in Bombay1:-

"The charge made by the State Government in its affidavit that slum and pavement dwellers exhibit especial criminal tendencies is unfounded. According to Dr. P.K. Muttagi, Head of the unit for urban studies of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bombay, the surveys carried out in 1972, 1977, 1979 and 1981 show that many families which have chosen the Bombay footpaths just for survival, have been living there for several years and that 53 per cent. of the pavement dwellers are self-employed as hawkers in vegetables, flowers, ice-cream, toys, balloons, buttons, needles and so on. Over 38 per cent. are in the wage employed category as casual labourers, construction workers, domestic servants and luggage carriers.

Only 1.7 per cent. of the total number is generally unemployed. Dr. Muttagi found among the pavement dwellers a graduate of Marathwada University and a Muslim poet of some standing. "These people have merged with the landscape, become part of it, like the chameleon", though their contact with their more fortunate neighbours who live in adjoining highrise buildings is casual. The most important finding of Dr. Muttagi is that the pavement dwellers are a peaceful lot, "for, they stand to lose their shelter on the pavement if they disturb the affluent or indulge in fights with their fellow dwellers".

The charge of the State Government, besides being contrary to these scientific findings, is born of prejudice against the poor and the destitute. Affluent people living in sky-scrapers also commit crimes varying from living on the gains of prostitution and defrauding the public treasury to smuggling. But, they get away. The pavement dwellers when caught defend themselves by asking "who does not commit crimes in this city."

In the same judgment the economic aspect regarding pavement dwellers has been thus dealt with2:-

One of the major causes of the persistent rural poverty of landless labourers, marginal farmers, shepherds, physically handicapped persons and others is the extremely narrow base of production available to the majority of the rural population. The average agriculture holding of a farmer is 0.4 hectares, which is hardly adequate to enable him to make both ends meet. Landless labourers have no resource base at all and they constitute the hard core of poverty.

Due to economic pressures and lack of employment opportunities, the rural population is forced to migrate to urban areas in search of employment. "The Economic Survey of Maharashtra" published by the State Government shows that the bulk of public investment was made in the pities of Bombay, Pune and Thane which created employment opportunities attracting the starving rural population to those cities. The slum census conducted by the Government of Maharashtra in 1976 shows that 79% of the slum-dwellers belonged to the low income group with a monthly income below Rs. 600.

The study conducted by P. Ramachandran of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences shows that in 1972 91% of the pavement dwellers had a monthly income of less than Rs. 200. The cost of obtaining any kind of shelter in Bombay is beyond the means of a pavement dweller. Some of the facts regarding hutments and pavements in Bombay has been stated in the Supreme Court judgment in these words3:-

In answer to the Municipal Commissioner's counter-affidavit, petitioner No. 12, Prafullachandra Bidwai who is a journalist, has filed a rejoinder asserting that Kamraj Nagar is not located on a foot-path or a pavement. According to him, Kamraj Nagar is a basti off the Highway, in which the huts are numbered, the record in relation to which is maintained by the Road Development Department and the Bombay Municipal Corporation. Contending that petitioners 1 to 5 have been residing in the said basti for over 20 years, he reiterates that the public has no right of way in or over the Kamraj Nagar.

He also disputes that the huts on the foot-paths cause any obstruction to the pedestrians or to the vehicular traffic or that those huts are a source of nuisance or danger to public health and safety. His case in paragraph 21 of his reply affidavit seems to be that since the foot-paths are in the occupation of pavement dwellers for a long time, foot-paths have ceased to be foot-paths. He says that the pavement dwellers and the slum or basti dwellers, who number about 47.7 lakhs, constitute about 50 per cent.
of the total population of Greater Bombay, that they supply the major work force for Bombay from menial jobs to the most highly skilled jobs, that they have been living in the hutments for generations, that they have been making a significant contribution to the economic life of the city and that, therefore, it is unfair and unreasonable on the part of the State Government and the Municipal Corporation to destroy their homes and deport them:

A home is a home wherever it is. The main theme of the reply-affidavit is that "The slum dwellers are the sine qua non of the city. They are entitled to a quid pro quo". It is conceded expressly that the petitioners do not claim any fundamental right to live, at least to exist. Such is the plight of pavement dwellers in Bombay.

1. Olga Tellis v. Municipal Corporation of Bombay, AIR 1986 SC 180 (201), para. 50.

2. Olga Tellis v. Municipal Corporation of Bombay, AIR 1986 SC 180 (190), para. 23.

3. Olga Tellis v. Municipal Corporation of Bombay, AIR 1986 SC 180 (187), para. 16.

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