Amitabh Bachchan, the famous Bollywood actor, recently stirred up a controversy when he complained in his blog about the intrusion of his privacy due to the construction of the Mumbai Metro near his mansion “Prateeksha” in Juhu. The city responded with anger – public interest cannot be compromised for the benefit for one person, however important, they said. The next thing we know, the implementing agency announces that it is going to install view-cutters in that area so that the privacy of residences is preserved.
Elsewhere, a Metro car shed has been planned underneath the Race Course in Mahalakshmi, a posh locality in Mumbai. MMRDA (Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority) has announced that it will be taking special care to ensure that the racing seasons on the race course are not affected.
This should, however, be compared to the story in Laljipada, a slum in the Western suburbs of Mumbai that is known for its small-scale industry. Here, the initial plan was to acquire the entire 120 acres occupied by the slum that houses 40,000 jobs and dwellings for all the families working here – all this ostensibly for a Metro car shed, though people suspect that there was an intention to “develop” most part of this land. After protests, the requirement was brought down to 60 acres and finally to 12-15 acres.
MMRDA perhaps learnt its lessons from the Laljipada experience. When the Metro ran into a slum in the Bandra-Kurla complex, it decided to alter its course rather than get into the trouble of rehabilitating the evicted persons. But the news report makes it clear that this is being done only to save time, and not, for instance, to save the evictees the inconvenience of having to leave their homes of many decades and the communities they belong to.
It is not fashionable, it seems, to raise the issue of class-bias in urban development projects in Indian cities. And yet, when one looks at what’s going on, one can’t help see the prejudices behind the decisions of our governments. It seems that in India, even the most discretionary activity of the rich (horse-racing, for instance) takes precedence over the homes of poor people.
As for Amitabh Bachchan’s worries about his privacy, Justice O’Connor’s words in the case Kelo vs. City of New London (in the United States Supreme Court) come to mind. She says: “The Court has elsewhere recognized “the overriding respect for the sanctity of the home that has been embedded in our traditions since the origins of the Republic,” Payton, supra, at 601, when the issue is only whether the government may search a home. Yet today the Court tells us that we are not to “second-guess the City’s considered judgments,” ante, at 18, when the issue is, instead, whether the government may take the infinitely more intrusive step of tearing down petitioners’ homes.” These words carry much more meaning in the slums of Mumbai, where security of tenure is completely illusory, and the poor live at the mercy of the gangster-builder-politician nexus. In such a climate, for all of us to be debating Amitabh Bachchan’s demand for privacy shows how little we care about the other half of Mumbai.
The fact that most of the negative impact of large transportation projects falls on the poor is just one side of the story. The other side is that the rich take most of the benefits of these projects. For instance, in Delhi, the Metro is almost unanimously celebrated for making public transport attractive for the masses. And yet this study shows that the Metro came at a great cost to slum-dwellers, but hasn’t improved their accessibility to any significant extent.
Social justice, it seems, is a forgotten goal in transportation planning.