The battle for Golibar: urban splintering in Mumbai

The ‘Mumbai model’ of public-private partnerships in urban land and housing development is being adopted and piloted across India, and the world. So why has the ‘Mumbai model’ in Golibar provoked such outrage?

Matt Birkinshaw
22 April 2013

On Saturday 13th April 2013, veteran activist Medha Patkar ended an indefinite hunger strike after a successful meeting with the Chief Minister of Maharashtra to halt demolitions at Golibar, one of Mumbai’s larger basti[i] clusters. For nine days, amid the rubble and remains of over 70 destroyed homes, Patkar and Madhuri Shivkar, accompanied by residents and supporters, fasted in solidarity with the movement for land and housing in the city. Earlier this year, 11,000 residents of Mumbai slums, including Golibar, occupied Azad Maiden in central Mumbai for ten days in protest against ‘slum rehabilitation’ in the city.

The ‘Mumbai model’[ii] of public-private partnerships (PPPs) for urban land and housing is being adopted and piloted across India[iii], and PPPs in urban development continue to attract interest worldwide. So why has the ‘Mumbai model’ at Golibar come to provoke such outrage?


Golibar occupies 140 acres of prime land at Khar, Santa Cruz (E), Mumbai between the Western Express Highway and the train line, 3kms from the domestic airport.  Home to 26,000 families, the slum has existed since around 1950 when the first settlers drained and filled the marshy land.  Residents from the area and across the city are now demanding a halt to the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) project they call a land-grab by the “builder-politician-nexus”, and that India’s Urban Development Minister, Ajay Maken, has described as ‘prima facie illegal’.


Golibar.Khar East Andolan

Ganesh Krupa Society (GKS), a housing co-op of 323 households, has become the focus of the dispute since GKS brought a case of fraud against the developer, Shivalik Ventures, in 2010 for forging consent to the project. After six forced demolition drives in a year the society contacted the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao movement (Save Homes, Build Homes) and Medha Patkar for assistance. Since the start of demolitions, nearly 10,000 Golibar residents have been displaced yet residents’ groups say that only around 500 have been ‘rehabilitated’. Demolitions have been violent with attempts to force residents to sign consent to the project. [iv]


Demolished home in Golibar. Javed Iqbal.

In 1997 a rehab scheme for Golibar was approved with Madhu Construction. Residents of Ganesh Krupa Society became legal owners of the land in 2003, however in 2008 Shivalik Ventures took on the project without resident’s knowledge and in 2009 used forged documents to obtain SRA approval. Unitech, one of India's largest builders, bought a 50% share in Shivalik, using the proceeds from their involvement in the 2G mobile spectrum sell-off to finance the high upfront capital costs for Mumbai slum redevelopment. [v]


The Maharashtra Chief Minister, Prithviraj Chavan's refusal to investigate irregularities in the Golibar SRA project prompted Patkar to refuse food until he met with residents. On the ninth day of the fast, and after a gherao[vi] of his house and occupation of his doorstep, Chavan met Patkar and movement representatives. He agreed to halt demolitions pending enquiry, withdraw permission for SRA contracts agreed under fraudulent conditions (like Golibar) and pilot Rajiv Awaas Yojana[vii] as an alternative to SRA in the city.Residents face their evictors protected by 300-strong policeforce (2011). Faiza Khan/Khar East AndolanPatkar addresses rally. Javed Iqbal.

Slum rehabilitation


Officially, 7.25m of Mumbai's 12.4 million residents live in slums on only 6.24% of the city's land. [viii] People who have lived in slums (in temporary structures) since 1995 are eligible for a free 225ft² apartment from Mumbai’s Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA). Construction of the slum rehab tenements in-situ or elsewhere is cross-subsidised by relaxing regulations on building height, on the original site or at another location, allowing participating builders to increase their profits. For developers who can assemble the capital for SRA work, the scheme presents significant opportunities to reduce land costs. The 2008 cost of land at Golibar under the SRA was estimated at Rs2500 ft² allowing developers to double or quadruple their profit. Slums of Mumbai. Click to enlarge

SRA progress so far however, has been slow. To date of the 2,395 SRA projects approved, only 597 have been executed. [ix]. From a residents perspective there are a number of issues with the SRA programme. 

Firstly, basti residents who rent, moved in post-1995 or cannot display paper work for pre-‘95 residence are ineligible for rehousing under SRA rules. Those who are rehoused will need to pay maintenance costs, not covered under the SRA, and unaffordable for many.

Secondly, if ‘beneficiaries’ are relocated, they are often moved far from their old neighbourhoods; damaging livelihoods and social networks. Moving from the flexibility of unplanned areas to tower block apartments is another potentially serious issue for businesses and homeworkers, and if negative impacts are too high residents may sell their SRA flat and move back to a basti.

Thirdly, the potential for corruption in SRA schemes is high [x]. For example, builders can forge the 70% consent needed from residents for redevelopment or manipulate the number and identities of 'beneficiaries' eligible for rehousing. While lower absolute numbers reduce development costs, untraceable names in beneficiary lists provide rehab tenements for private sale. For example, Golibar residents found Sulochana Pawar, dead for some years, listed by Shivalik Ventures as having consented to the project; while Shivalik claims 92% consent to the Golibar SRA, in an alternative survey, Ghar Bachao found that only 52% of residents consented. The lack of baseline slum surveys in SRA projects compounds the potential lack of clarity on these kinds of issues.

Fourthly, escalating costs and protracted timescales pose a real problem. SRA development plans often change over time, and the standard three year completion period agreed between SRA developers and residents has not yet been adhered to in a single project. If financial viability becomes an issue, developers are able to move slum residents off-site in order to provide more market housing for profit.

Finally, developer profits may be further increased by cutting corners on the cost of rehab tenements, or perhaps, by not building them at all. An RTI[xi] request last year by SRA ‘beneficiaries’ from Golibar’s Panchasheel Cooperative Housing Society found that records showed their flats as built in 2007 despite work not yet having started on the project [xii].

Essentially, even if all goes smoothly, the SRA frees valuable land from low-profit use as slums and allows development towards market rates. This ability to either divide plots directly, or relocate slum dwellers to low value land leads to a further splintering of urban space.

Splintering urbanism

The pervasive use of PPPs in Mumbai’s SRA programme echoes the arguments given by Graham and Marvin in Splintering Urbanism (2001). Combining science and technology studies with work on the political economy of infrastructure, they argue that from around 1850 to 1960 there was a movement away from fragmented piecemeal infrastructure systems towards centralised, integrated and standardised provision. Ideas of progress through science and technology fed into rationalised urban planning while economically, infrastructure development was driven by the production and consumption of new (sub)urban spaces and lifestyles. Universal access to urban services was framed politically, as a national issue of the population’s health and social cohesion.

Towards the second half of the twentieth century however, this ‘integrated ideal’ of universal access came under increased pressure.  Physical urban decay, shrinking city budgets, a backlash against modernist planning, urban sprawl, and new social movements all contributed to transformations in urban management.

The rise of free market thinking and the shift towards a business model for city governments in the 1980s led to infrastructure liberalisation, the use of new technologies (particularly information technology) and unbundling of spatial and sectoral (water, power, etc) monopolies, to create splintered cities.

The argument suggests that these developments led to a fragmentation of urban services and social space as market forces focussed on the most profitable areas. The results are areas of well networked areas of high-value connected by heavily linked interconnections at a range of scales, which bypass areas (and sectors) of lower value returns.Graham and Marvin describe this as the creation of ‘premium networked spaces’ linked into an ‘archipelago economy’ (2001:301, 305). In Mumbai, the Bandra-Kurla Complex and Ambani residence spring to mind.


Ambani House, Mumbai. Jhariana, Wikimedia Commons.

Graham and Marvin do recognise that for cities in much, perhaps most, of the world, access to urban services has always been fragmented, particularly under the ‘spatial apartheid’ of colonial rule (2001:82). However, while they acknowledge that the ‘integrated ideal’ is local both in space and time, their discussion may be less resonant in post-independence contexts.

Critics of the splintering urbanism thesis have also questioned whether liberalisation necessarily leads to negative outcomes. Water, the sector closest to a natural monopoly restricting the development of free markets, would be the best progressive case study for this. However, the chequered history of water sector commercialisation, particularly in the South argues against an overoptimistic reading of the potentials of liberalisation.

The need for closer empirical detail to support the splintering urbanism thesis recurs in the suggestion that poor infrastructural connections are concomitant with low spatial integration into the city[xiii]. Again, sector specific dynamics are clearly important here, with water and electricity, or transport and broadband say, clearly having different dynamics. While the broad narrative of splintering urbanism tends towards a problematic universalism many have found it helpful as a starting point for closer empirical research (see Mcfarlane 2008 and Zerah 2008).

For example, a recent study in a south Mumbai basti (Cooper 2011) found that the inadequacy of municipal water service led to small-scale entrepreneurs arranging connections. This lucrative informal economy has expanded into other service areas and formed coalitions between community-based water-supply organisations, gangs able to provide security/consent, and local politicians with channels of influence into the Mumbai bureaucracy and police. When SRA approval was obtained for the area, SRA development plots corresponded ‘unsurprisingly’ to territories in the slum associated with rival networks (Cooper 2011:89).

In this case, the splintering of water supply in the informal economy led to a fragmentation and appropriation of the power over, a range of other urban services, ultimately dividing land and housing redevelopment under the SRA PPP along the same lines.

Replacing dynamics

The narrative of splintering urbanism can be mapped onto the politics of space in Mumbai. While pre-independence India was splintered both by British rule and earlier practices, moves towards an ‘integrated ideal’ could be seen in policies such as the 1918 (1947, 1999) Bombay Rent Act and the 1976 Urban Land Ceiling Act (repealed in Maharashtra in 1999). Urban splintering too can be seen in increased transport connectivity of primary benefit to the wealthy (sealinks, flyovers, airport expansion, metro-rail) for example, or the SRA capture and division of land.

While reform and extension of urban services was noticeable in the compromises of the Fourth Five Year Plan (1969-1974) and the marked emphasis on urban infrastructure for economic growth in the Eighth Plan (1992-97), since the early 2000’s an increasingly concentrated set of market-based reforms have been unfolding. As in the SRA model, this movement towards more market-based urban development and governance is accompanied by talk of leveraging private sector investment and expertise in order to solve challenges in service quality and coverage.

Is it possible to harness market forces for social progress? How will policy ideals transform in implementation? Can current pro-market urban governance reforms address the problem of powerful market actors in a situation of weak governance?


Residents march against eviction January 2013.Javed Iqbal.

The actions of basti residents at Golibar, the Ghar Bachao and Medhatai Patkar ask us to think harder about these questions. By halting demolitions they have shown that organising and determination can create change for people. People living in slums create the value of the place they occupy; through their work on the built environment and in the local economy. If CM Chavan keeps his promises to implement the R.A.Y. Mumbai might become a less splintered place. To recognise that all residents need and deserve an equal share of the city’s fortunes—starting with services and tenure—would be a real move towards becoming a truly ‘world class’ city.

[i] Following local use, I will use the terms basti (Hindi - ‘settlement’) and ‘slum’ interchangeably throughout.
See Hingarani and Tiwari, 2012
Maharasthra, Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan
DNA August 14 2012
Hindi, (lit. ‘cordon’), a tactic of protest by encircling targets and preventing them from moving
R.A.Y., the 2011 policy from India’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Policy Alleviation was received favourably by civil society but implementation is still in pilot stages:
India’s version of the UK’s National Audit Office
Right to Information
DNA August 14 2012
This seems somehow reminiscent of the marginality discourse of the 1960s, which, for example, Dharavi’s global value-chain connections seems to call into question.

Cooper, R. W. F. (2011). Municipal water schemes in a Mumbai squatter settlement: assembling space and society. International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development, 3(1)
Gill, M., & Bhide, A. (2012). Densification Through Vertical Resettlement as a Tool for Sustainable Urban Development. World Bank, MMRDA.
Graham, Steve, & Marvin, S. (2001). Splintering Urbanism: Networked Infrastructures, Technological Mobilities and the Urban Condition. Routledge.
Hingorani, P., & Tiwari, P. (2012). Housing and basic infrastructure for all: A conceptual framework for urban India. Infrastructure Development Finance Company Ltd
McFarlane, C., & Rutherford, J. (2008). Political Infrastructures: Governing and Experiencing the Fabric of the City. IJJR, 32(2)
Zérah, M.-H. (2008). Splintering urbanism in Mumbai: Contrasting trends in a multilayered society. Geoforum, 39(6)

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