Monday, 21 January 2013


The outputs of the project will be detailed reports reflecting community challenges that will be submitted to local authorities that will also be drawn in throughout the process. Reports will validate enumeration data around key issues decided upon by community members at a meeting on the 5th of March. These issues include; water, toilets, roads, health centres, ownership of land and housing typologies. The verification of data arose out of community needs to present concise reports to authorities about their areas in order to create awareness and leverage resources. Importantly this is a demand driven process and not one determined by a top down intervention.
On Wednesday the 29th   February federation members visited the Makerere campus for the launch of the collaborative studio project. Katana Gorreti Bwakika Zam and Kasalu Ronald from the Ugandan Slum Dwellers Federation spoke to the students about savings, enumerations, mapping and how these processes had created social and political capital as well as solidarity within slum communities. The importance of knowing ones own community and the collection of information was also stressed.

Friday, 11 January 2013


The Milan Nagar Cooperative society has been registered and the members have been reconfirmed.  The community has began to manage the functioning of the society. The households continue savings but unlike when they were living on the pavements, savings and funds are being used towards bettering their homes or to contribute to the monthly outgoings along with the savings.

The committee members had to face many challenges such as households throwing things from the window without regard had to be stopped. In addition, the toilets were often chocked because the women stuffed their menstrual cloths in them.  In order to keep the community toilets clean, the committee members created routines for all to follow .

The committee had to deal with managing festivals, keeping corridors clean, and creating spaces for children of different ages to have access to open spaces. Children especially young boys playing with the ball, often broke windows and were stopped from playing cricket for some time. Since Milan Nagar has been a flag ship settlement, the Indian alliance  and other federation members national and international visited the community.

As per each households capacity, the families painted their walls, retiled their floors, bought cupboards, beds, did up the kitchen etc…  The degree to invest depended on the number of members earning in the household, the amount of money saved, and/or the amount of loan that the family has taken.
Compared to the small space of 45sq feet from their old home they now had four fold space, and so many things rushed into their homes.

Thursday, 10 January 2013


Building number 13 in the Lallubhai Compound houses people that have been moved from the huts that were situated very close to the railway track at Mahim. Most dwellers are either rag pickers or make a living by selling wares at traffic signals. While their housing conditions have improved after the rehabilitation to the new SRA building, they still continue to live in poverty and are barely able to make ends meet.

With most of the families, the initial conditions while living in the slum were dismal due to their close proximity to the railway tracks. Several families lost members who came under the wheels, since crossing the tracks by foot was the only way they could access the outside world to get their basic needs satisfied. Full absence of toilets meant 100% open defecation along the tracks, and all problems that would follow with their absence. Low lying areas meant flooding during rains that left them with no option but to salvage whatever possible and live on the railway platforms with the family until the water receded. However this also meant the ensuing damages and therefore expenditure on repairs.

With the movement to the new SRA buildings, all these problems were negated, however some problems did not change, and some are now posed with new problems. There has been no change in the occupation, or income levels of the households, and given the new expenditure of maintenance and other services, their problems are compounded. Several households have defaulted on payment of building maintenance and other utility payments. This increased expenditure has resulted families even resorting to take loans from the savings in order to pay off maintenance debts and other larger expenditures.

Providing housing only provides a little relief to the poorest of the poor in the city that live on daily earnings by doing menial jobs. They live in better conditions, but still cannot come out of the poverty cycle and therefore are at risk of selling their houses and going back into poor living conditions.  The struggle to meet the first basic need of food still continues and therefore triumphs over the need for housing. What is therefore required along with better housing, is an innovative approach that insures that every variable that pushes the vulnerability of the poor is alleviated. This may mean an integrated approach towards housing, livelihood, education in a conscious effort to prevent the poor falling back into the vicious cycle. For some, just providing basic necessities and tenure security and letting them evolve themselves naturally might prove more beneficial.

Disclaimer – Everything expressed here are purely my personal ideas.


“In communities we know the number of settlements, services and origins of the people. We know how they spend their money and how they would like to develop their areas. You cannot plan from the office but if you go to the ground and speak to people and learn from them it can help you plan better”-Katana Goretti (Treasurer of Ugandan Federation)
The old adage that “knowledge is power” is particularly pertinent when it comes to traditional modes of development thought and planning. Who is afforded the right to speak? To what purpose do they speak and in whose interests? Who is included and, far more importantly, who is excluded? Far from being benign such narratives inform practices, models and interventions. They become a version of the truth ratified by officials, academic texts and practitioners. In this case the truth is not absolute it is socially produced within a very specific set of paradigms and engagements which all too often exclude the diversity, flexibility and value of community based knowledge. Surely those living in areas earmarked for development know their own needs best?

If we are to challenge current models of development to 
be inclusive of communities we have to confront the knowledge regimes that perpetuate them. These are housed within various spheres of society including the state, large development agencies and academic institutions. Through partnerships, negotiations and the setting of infrastructure precedents federations across the SDI networks attempt to create new spaces in which community knowledge comes to influence and inform development decisions. One such example is currently underway in Uganda where future city planners and geographers are being exposed to the knowledge and experience of federation members.

SDI has entered into a collaborative field project with third year planning students at Makerere University. Community members will accompany students in Kampala as well as 5 secondary Ugandan cities (Mbarara & Kabala, Mbale, Jinja and Arua) where students will conduct enumerations, transect walks, mapping exercises and other important community centered rituals. The students will be broken into groups with a specific focus for each member (e.g. housing, sanitation, education). In this manner students will have an in depth engagement around a core issue. Throughout the fieldwork process community members will assist, guide and teach the students about their communities and the obstacles that they face. Not only will future planners, geographers and architects be exposed to conditions of informality but also just as significantly they will come to see the intrinsic value of incorporating informal knowledge and practices in the planning processes.


Every household packed their belongings onto trucks, tempos, and/or buses thus starting a procession of vehicles from Byculla to Mankhurd. Banners were put up by the communities associated with NSDF along the roads.

Mahila Milan Byculla and the pavement dwellers federation’s network grew with the number of slum dwellers increasingly benefiting from their insights.  In many ways the Byculla pavement dwellers unknowingly have been the initiators of many of the tools which the federation uses today such as:
1. In 1985 their census for the pavement dwellers stating WE THE INVISIBLE, produced a enumeration protocol that is now an institutional activity of the Indian alliance as well as the SDI.
2. In 1986, they began examining the capacity of the poor with regard to housing.  This was initiated to understand why the poor never get houses.  Eventually the MM and the federation developed a housing design exercise which led to the formation of the house model exhibition which is in use till today.
3. In 1987 the MM along with the federation began daily savings managed by women which is yet another strategy everyone has adapted across the federations.
4. Once the Milan Nagar site in 2000 was allotted, the MM and federation begun design and construction themselves—a system which has been continued throughout the coming years.
5. In 2005, the MAHATMA GANDHI PADAPATH KRANTI YOJANA  was announced.  Its aim to rehabilitate all pavement dwellers in Bombay demonstrated a strategy whose roots began with a small group of women seeking to defend their homes and leading ultimately to all pavement dwellers securing a permanent home.  Others who observed and learnt from the Byculla MM and pavement dwellers federation often got their homes and amenities quicker than those who failed to realize their accomplishments.

The Minister of Housing of South Africa, Dr. L. Sisulu along with the provincial heads of 2 regions from South Africa, representatives from the SDI, local politicians from Mankhurd, and the secretary of housing of the Government of Maharashtra inaugurated the Milan Nagar Housing Cooperative Society  project by lighting the lamp.  Dr. L. Sisulu began interacting with Mahila Milan, NSDF, and SPARC as members of the SDI since she met them in Barcelona at the World Urban Forum. Dr. L. Sisulu  was inspired by the struggle of the pavement dwellers and acknowledged the commonalities it shared with the South African federation.


From 1990 onwards, Byculla Mahila Milan attended exchanges in India and internationally to share their experience of getting organized, of learning to use their own experience to design a core house for themselves, and of planning a settlement design from it.

Initially, women used boxes and cardboard to develop ideas to visually communicate with each other.  This allowed them to question the practicality of ideas and explore ways to keep experimenting.

The community as a whole usually joined in to air their reflections and often groups would compete to find the best concepts. Nothing was right or wrong, the focus was on what was needed, affordable, and doable.Ultimately, the houses resembled the kuccha houses in which the pavement dwellers lived in.  The vertical design allows the households to accommodate more members and have more space.


The picture on top is of Dimtimkar Road and the one on the bottom is of Sophia Zubair Road. Both these streets have families predominantly from Bihar who came to Mumbai seeking work in textile and weaving, but had to abandon their skill as weavers of fine tussar silk and become scrap collectors.
The women of these communities are amongst the oldest group of women’s collectives engaged in the housing program developed by the Mahila Milan and SPARC.  These Byculla communities were the first group to be relocated to Mankurd since they were both prepared and considered a priority of the city municipality.

In order to set the ground work for the relocation, the alliance was seeking to bring closure to the pavement dwellers rehabilitation policy by supporting the MAHATMA GANDHI PADAPATH YOJANA.  The yojana was announced by the state government in order to improve the road access for smooth running of vehicles by identifying pavement dwellers as persons needing relocation. The committee from Milan Nagar popularized the relocation by putting up a poster stating “ WE ARE MOVING FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT”. 

All of the neighborhood ward officials of the corporation, the local police station and the buildings whose walls the pavement dwellers huts were built on were informed that the obligation to keep the pavements clear was now theirs.

Milan Nagar, a cooperative society of  pavement dwellers, consisting of 536 households was formed in 1986 as a spearhead movement of pavement dwellers seeking to get secure housing away from the pavements. In 1986 they developed a design and a strategy for housing, began to save money, seek land, and also build skills and confidence of other pavement and slum dwellers to encourage them of the path they were exploring. Between 1991 to 2000 there were numerous  policies and projects which led to others in Mumbai and other slum dwellers in Indian, Asia, and Africa to secure tenure and housing options through this federating process. In 2000, Mahila Milan registered a piece of land in Mankurd to Milan Nagar. After overcoming many problems and challenges, in 2005 80 households moved to Mankurd.