Mumbai: Half of Mumbai’s more than 15 million people live in slums. Most Mumbaikars consider the slums worthless but to others they are priceless real estate.
Dharavi, Asia’s biggest slum, is next to the emerging corporate hub, the Bandra-Kurla complex. Land in the complex costs as much Rs 30,000 per sq m, and 535-acre Dharavi is worth Rs 6,500 crore. Dharavi is every property developer’s dream and they are achieving it in the name of slum rehabilitation.
SS Tinaikara, a retired IAS officer, was asked by the state to investigate slum rehabilitation schemes and his verdict was this: “all slum rehabilitation plans are meant to encourage corruption.”
A CNN-IBN team went undercover in Dharavi and rented a room. The objective was to meet the slum mafia and prove that the slum rehabilitation scheme is a scam and slum dwellers rarely get flats built for them.
The most prized piece of paper in a slum is a ration card, for owning it makes a person eligible for one of the 100,000 free flats to be built in Dharavi. And the mafia can get you a card for you.
“The ration officers have piles of old, clear ration cards. They have touts who get customers for these ration cards. It doesn't matter if you are a Pakistani, Nepali, Bangladeshi, anybody can buy a ration card proving residence from any date. You just have to pay the right amount of money,” says social worker N R Paul.
People who can prove that they are residents of a slum on or before 1995 are eligible for flats under the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme. The slum mafia, for Rs 15,000, got CNN-IBN a ration card dated before 1995.
Mafia rehabilitation scheme
When they couldn’t block the slum rehabilitation scheme, the mafia, corrupt builders, politicians and bureaucrats converted it converted into a massive scam.
The scam is simple: build and allot flats to people who are dead or are fictitious. Builders then sell the flats at market rates, instead of handing them over free of cost to slum dwellers. Of the 65,000 flats for slum rehabilitation, it is estimated that builders have earned Rs 5,000 crore through the scam.
The scheme rewards builders for building slum rehabilitation flats by allotting them to develop a portion of the original slum. Dharavi’s slums for instance, would earn a builder as much Rs 40,000 per square foot.
Tinaikar’s report ripped apart the scheme. It alleged that crores were spent on building Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) Office, but the authority’s meetings were held at the Housing Minister's residence
Tinaikar said there was no credible process to distinguish a squatter or an encroacher from a slum dweller. Which left slum dwellers entirely at the builder's mercy.
“Every page of the report is stinking with the fraud but everyone from the present government to the Opposition is involved so everyone is quiet,” alleges Tinaikar.
Tinaikar’s allegations have merit. The next part of CNN-IBN’s investigation was meeting property developers and politicians allegedly involved in the scam.
A property broker told CNN-IBN on hidden camera he had “sold 40 percent of slum rehabilitation flats and there has never been a problem.” The slums were not sold to slum dwellers though.
Between 1995 and 2000, Mumbai's Slum Rehabilitation Authority was to build 4 million low-cost houses of 225 square feet each, for the city's seven million slum dwellers.
Everyone living in a Mumbai slum before 1995 was eligible for a free home. Barely 65,000 flats are ready today and even fewer have reached slum dwellers. Slum dwellers who protested the fraud were harassed and beaten up.
Chandrashekhar Prabhu, a former board member of the SRA, admits the scheme is a huge scam. “Pay off slum dwellers and then create fake identities. Everyone is paid off and documents are forged—stamp paper, land records, consent letters. People who have never given consent are shown as having given consent,” says Prabhu.
SRA flats by law cannot be sold for 10 years after allotment but in reality they are up for sale. Here is what real estate agent Raj, “a SRA specialist”, told CNN-IBN in Goregaon.
CNN-IBN: “We have been told that it is very difficult to get SRA flats?”
Raj: “Who told you? We have sold 40 percent of the flats here and there's never been a problem, how can there be a problem with you. Can you show me any flat where there has been an issue? Ask anyone around here.”
CNN-IBN: “How does this happen? What is the process?”
Raj: “There is an allotment letter that is given (to slum dwellers). The letter will be given to you. You can get an affidavit done on this basis of that letter. Then you can get a ration card made.”
The present target set for slum rehabilitation is 40 lakh homes. If that target is met, the profits that builders would make from illegal sales would be Rs 33 lakh crore—more than 400 times Mumbai's annual civic budget.
To learn more about the scam, CNN-IBN approached a politician as newspaper reporters. Waqar Khan is reportedly on the new list of board members of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority. On hidden camera, he said this:
“The money is going everywhere from the CM to Baba Siddique (of the Congress). Do you know what a big racket you are talking about? I can't go into all that. I'll have to work with all the MHADA people… names and projects just disappear from MHADA lists,” said Khan.
Posing as builders, the CNN-IBN team met a group of slum dwellers who paid money to builders and their architects. They said the builders had assured them that they would bribe SRA officials to push their project through.