MUMBAI: Noted industrialist Ratan Tata on Monday lambasted developers and architects for treating slums as "residue" of the city, which, according to him, is one of the reasons for the rapid spread of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic in the megapolis. He also said the city builders should be ashamed of creating vertical slums across the cities.
"Affordable housing and slum elimination are two surprisingly conflicting issues. We're trying to remove slums from seemingly unsuitable living conditions by relocating them to other locations which are 20-30 miles away on one hand and on the other where there are no jobs for the uprooted people.
"The high-value housing units that have come up at a place where the slum once stood makes the slums a residue of development," Tata rued at an online discussion organised by Corpgini.
Tata, who always wanted to be an architect, said builders and architects have built vertical slums which have neither adequate fresh air, hygiene or open space.
"The big gain for developers comes from the high-value housing that comes up in the areas where the slum stood once and I think what has happened in the COVID issue is that for the first time, the low-value structures that we have built in close proximity are now the very cause of the spread of the virus.
"The pandemic has underlined the problem that slums create for everyone due to the absence of enough fresh air, enough open space and the issues of being uprooted from your work," the 82-year-oldindustryveteran said.
In its endeavour to provide housing for all the government has been encouraging developers to undertake more affordable housing projects across the country along with slum rehabilitation.
However, Mumbai continues to house large slum dwellings with the Dharavi slums, measuring just about 2.4 sqkm being the largest and is home to an estimated 1 million of the 12 million denizens of the megapolis, which has become one of the most infected areas of the city.
Dharavi, the largest informal economy of the financial capital with an estimated USD 1 billion in annual GDP has come to a total standstill due to the lockdown. Dharavi is the largest slum cluster in entire Asia.
With around 140coronaviruscases detected in the slum, experts are fearing the numbers to rise significantly in the days to come.
"How can we expect a person to live in such an environment that we created for low-cost housing? Would we be fair towards the occupants for the lifestyle and hygiene that is offered?" Tata asked the architects.
Nearly 5,000 participants across the sector participated in the webinar.
He went onto say that "if we are proud of what we do, then we should be ashamed of what we have done to cities because we have tried to build an image we want to project of ourselves publicly and also try to hide the rest and we get offended when people criticise us for that".
He also emphasised that there should be a re-examination of what we would consider as acceptable standard in terms of for quality of life.
"It seems to stop at the areas with the slums are being replaced and I use the word again the residue is the slum. It's like putting the garbage together and calling it a community pushing it 20-30 miles out making it difficult to survive. So perhaps there ought to be a revision in terms of the fact that we are dealing with," he said.
Tata said this community wants to be a part of the new India and the architects and developers are dogged by that issue.
"We are, however, creating a community that we are ashamed of. We should be driven by a desire of being proud of what we do even if it is low cost or affordable housing. It should be done in a way that it creates a world culture, it creates a usage of space and offer fresh air, among others," he added.
He further said architects and developers have a social responsibility to do something that they are not ashamed of.
"In the slums they created, there is no fresh air. It's just a space for living, because it is done through corruption and coercion. This is what architects and developers have been satisfied with and I think this pandemic is a wake-up call of what beholds us if that's what our concern is," Tata warned.
Corpgini and Z Nation Lab CEO Amit Jain said the uncertainty looming across businesses, COVID-19 is reshaping the architecture, engineering and construction.
"Real estate and design industry landscape morphing longstanding norms and realities. Designers and educators will need to unite to propose the future norm and standards," he added.
April 21, 2020