Internationally, Mumbai is the financial and commercial capital; forming a Gateway of India, and the powerhouse of the country (SECOA). It has emerged as a major international city of the 21st century with the capacity to encourage the growth and business with market-let economic liberalization policies in place. Mumbai city is strategically located for its global markets of the western world (O’Hare, Abbott, and Barke, 1998). It is the sixth largest city in the world after Tokyo, New York, Seoul, Mexico City and Sau Paulo and the largest city in India. Mumbai contributes about 33% of the country’s income tax, 60% of customs duty and 40% of the foreign trade. Mumbai (formerly, Bombay) is the capital of the Maharashtra State in western India and is a largest metropolitan region of India. It is unique in its issues such as high population density and substantial size of slum migrant population and is phenomenal in its economic and cultural development (SECOA).
In the last two decades, rural-urban migration has grown tremendously in India leading to degradation of urban environmental quality and sustainable development especially in the metropolitan areas such as Mumbai and has become a major concern for the government. The issue of slums in Mumbai is considered to be an issue not only related to housing but also related to transportation, population, health and safety in this fastest developing metropolitan region. Every year millions of rupees (Indian currency) are being spent on rehabilitating slums to make the city sustainable. Currently, six percent of the total land is occupied by slums and holds almost fifty percent of its population. Many organizations are working towards the eradication of slums in Mumbai. However, their efforts are insufficient in the manner that there should be a holistic approach towards the overall development (Sheth, Velaga, and Price, 2009).
The city is facing severe problems of air and water pollution, unsatisfactory solid waste and sewage management, exploitation of wetlands, high traffic volume, insufficient housing, poor infrastructure and severe economic disparity (SECOA). This essay is focused on critical analysis of the issue of slums in Mumbai using critical spatial theory framework with its causal, communicative and action-oriented dimensions and will consider social, economic, environmental and political factors for each dimension. But, before that we will go through a brief history of the built environment of Mumbai city, explaining the urban process of what were the trends of migration in the past and how the city has transformed over the period and how is it linked with the issue of slums.
A Brief History:
In late 17th century by attracting traders and artisans in Mumbai, Gerald Aungier, the second governor of Mumbai initiated the urban development in Mumbai and within fourteen years the population grew six times. The prosperous traders built their houses inside the fort and the marginalized were forced to live outside the native town around the fort walls and were the first slums in Mumbai. Overcrowding remained a problem in the 18th century with almost thousand houses inside the fort and six thousand five hundred immediately outside. In the 19th century, the problem became severe due to large-scale industrialization and the understanding and control of diseases which improved the life expectancy of the population. The city became ill-equipped in dealing with migration taking place from rest of the country due to cotton boom and cloth mills that grew in Mumbai. The slums started growing beyond the capacity of existing housing, around the mills and other places of employment. The city grew further when cotton growing areas of the hinterland got connected by Mumbai rail (TIFR, 1997).
The migration from rural areas to urban areas is a result of income disparities. Such migrated population lives in a densely populated enclave near their place of work (TIFR, 1997). Originally, Mumbai consisted of several low-lying islands of small fishing villages, reached out from the mainland towards the sea (Hohmann, 2010). At the time of development of the harbor and port, the fishermen community were displaced and were not provided with compensatory housing. They were forced to live in the slums. This process continued even in a late 20th century. Also, there were some villages with specific small-scale industries which encysted by the city growing around them. Dharavi is an example of such slum which originally was a small village in the tanning industry. Other such examples include Byculla and Khar, which were villages with their traditional industries (TIFR, 1997).
The first effort to address the issue of slums in Mumbai was initiated by The City Improvement Trust in the aftermath of the plague epidemic in the early 20th century by rehabilitating crowded living areas of slums. The rate of migration was greater than the rehabilitation schemes and could not be checked even by low – cost housing. The city became more diverse, attracting skilled and unskilled labor with manufacturing sector opening doors to new industries such as the chemical industry, metal industry, and other engineering products. In addition to these, after independence in 1947, the growth of the port, the discovery of offshore oil, the emergence of financial services, the development of national and international trade and the establishment of many public sector units and educational institutions gave further push to the growth of the city. Mumbai also became the capital of the State of Maharashtra, adding further to its administrative importance. (TIFR, 1997)
Currently, Mumbai serving as the important economic hub of India is flooded with specialized technical industries such as aerospace, optical engineering, medical research, computers and electronic equipment of all varieties, shipbuilding and salvaging, and renewable energy. Internationally it is renowned for its numerous Trans National Corporations (including the State Bank of India, Tata Group, Godrej, and Reliance) are based in Mumbai. Other than these high profile jobs there is a large human resource available for the unskilled and informal workforce which comes from slum areas. They work as self-employed and often unregulated workers. Many of these people earn their living as street hawkers, street sellers, taxi drivers, mechanics and other such occupations. (TIFR, 1997)
Defining the Issue:
As a financial capital of India, Mumbai shares in the pressure, pains and pleasures of rapid urbanization, like many cities across the world. It becomes an attractive destination for the migrants to escape rural poverty and remake their lives in a city of opportunities. The incoming population puts pressure on the existing infrastructure and land available for housing, resulting in people living in informal settlements called slums, where there is a lack of proper sanitation, water supply, electricity and waste disposal. In these slums, there is a struggle for access to and control over land with a lack of crucial legal protection (Hohmann, 2010).
Source: O’Hare, Abbott, and Barke, 1998
Currently, the city occupies just over 400 square kilometers of land as shown in figure 1 and has a population of some 12 million, out of which 50 percent population live in informal settlements which include either slum settlement, old and dilapidated, crumbling chawls or pavements themselves. In Mumbai, there are around 2500 such individual slum settlements, which occupy just 6 percent of the city’s land as shown in figure 2. In all 80 percent of the city’s population live in substandard, inadequate and unsafe housing featured above with the ever-present threat of displacement (Hohmann, 2010).
Most of Mumbai’s slums were build on lands, which are not suitable for habitation such as mangrove swamps, garbage hills, and cemeteries, flood-prone tidal flats, under high-tension power wires. Lack of services, infrastructure, affects human health in slum settlements with the possibility of contamination due to lack of adequate toilets, clean water or safe disposal of waste and contributes to the dire conditions in slum settlements. Lack of a proper sewer system often fails to cope up with the monsoon rains, resulting in flooding and water-borne diseases of the slum areas. Dwellings have little ventilation or common space to allow fumes from cooking and home industries to escape (Hohmann, 2010).
Rather than low-income levels, poor living conditions such as lack of safe drinking water and pit latrines shared by thousands of people in the slums have resulted in the spread of diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, measles and HIV/AIDS. It is observed, that children from higher income groups in slums are affected more than those with lower income because they are exposed to contaminated water and food from the surrounding areas. The research shows that there are more than 2 million children in the developing countries are killed each year and the number will increase with an increase in the number of slums in the city (Mundu and Bhagat 2008).
A survey of slums reveals that about 63% of the slum population does not have adequate access to safe sanitation facilities. About 84% depend on public toilets, 2% depends on private toilets and almost 4% defecate in the open and 10% have, pay to use toilets. Thus, slum populations have been forced to depend on public toilets to meet their sanitation needs. The basic norm of 1 toilet seat per 50 populations is not fulfilled in most of the slum areas. Around 85% slum dwellers reported that there is open drainage and 10% says there is no drainage in a slum area. Another important aspect is the garbage collection system. 35% slum dwellers through their garbage on the road. This is an arrangement to carry away the refuse and waste of households to some dumping place away from the residential areas. The availability of micro-credit to slum dwellers is extremely insufficient (85%) and there is no awareness about HIV/AIDS to 15% slum population (Deshmukh, 2013). These issues of slums are complicated and seem beyond any solution.
Source: Nijman 2015
The issues are not properly known or understood; some are paradoxical and contrary, entangled with one another that they could not be addressed effectively. (Woods, 2008). The critical spatial thinking framework helps us to understand and identify these issues scientifically and develop a pragmatic approach towards the issue.
O’Hare, G., Abbott, D. and Barke, M. (1998) A review of slum housing policies in Mumbai. Cities [online]. 15(4) pp. 269-283. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263154449_A_Review_of_Slum_Housing_Policies_in_Mumbai?enrichId=rgreq-7a54bce0-8a8e-4fdc-9ed8-ba690771bc2b&enrichSource=Y292ZXJQYWdlOzI2MzE1NDQ0OTtBUzoxMzU0ODY5NjYzNDE2MzJAMTQwOTMxNDAxODgxOA%3D%3D&el=1_x_2 [Accessed 13 February 2016].
Sheth, A, Velaga, N. and Price, A (2009) Slum rehabilitation in the context of urban sustainability: a case study of Mumbai, India. [online]. IN: Proceedings of SUE-MoT: 2nd International Conference on Whole Life Urban Sustainability and its Assessment, 22-24th April, Loughborough, UK. Available at:
https://repository.lboro.ac.uk/ jspui/bitstream/2134/5818/1/Slum%20rehabilitation%20in%20the%20context%20of%20urban%20sustainability.pdf [Accessed 10 February 2016].
Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (1997) The Slums of Bombay [online]. Available at: https://theory.tifr.res.in/bombay/history/slums.html. [Accessed 29 January 2016].
Hohmann, J. (2010) Visions of Social Transformation and the invocation of human rights in Mumbai: The struggle for the right to housing. Yale Human Rights And Development Journal [online]. 13(1) pp. 135-184. Available at: https://openyls.law.yale.edu/bitstream/handle/20.500.13051/5742/04_13YaleHumRts_DevLJ135_2010_.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y [Accessed 03 February 2016].
Mundu, G. and Bhagat R. (2008) Slum Conditions in Mumbai With Reference To Access Of Civic Amenities [online]. ENVIS Centre 5(1). Available at: [Accessed 13 February 2016].
Deshmukh, M (2013) Conditions of Slum Population of Major Sub-Urban Wards of Mumbai in Maharashtra. Voice of Research [online]. Available at:
[Accessed 04 February 2016].
Woods, L (2008) Woods, L [Blog]. Slums: The Problems [online]. Available at:
[Accessed 03 February 2016].