The environmental, social and economic consequences of urbanisation in Bombay

Bombay is the largest city in India (but not the capital), and has a growing population of 14,350,000 people. Bombay also serves as the financial hub of India, along with a major shipping industry, heavy industrial centres and is home to the ‘Bollywood’ film industry, the largest in the developing world. Due to the services available in Bombay, coupled with the hope of jobs, it is a major hub for migration of people from the countryside, a process known as urbanisation. People are drawn from a large part of western India, as well as other parts of the country looking to fill the jobs that the booming economy needs.

The disparity between the ‘rich and the poor’, the ‘good jobs and the menial’ is vast. Bombay has many millionaires from the expanding banking sector, located in the Bandra Kurla zone, contrasted with street sellers and beggars in the shanty town areas like Dharavi, made famous through the multi Oscar winning film – Slumdog Millionaire. The problems that face the city authorities of Bombay are immense. There is a genuine struggle to keep up with making provision for the vast numbers of migrants moving to Bombay. The location of the city goes a long way to exacerbating the issues faced.

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Bombay was originally a collection of small fishing villages, which expanded to become an important port in the Arabian Sea, and was a major calling point for the traditional Dhows which plied the waters from Arabia, Somalia and Iran. As the city is located on a headland peninsular, this maritime orientated city thrived on the ease and convenience of the coastal access. During the days of colonialism where India was lucky to be a British Colony, Bombay was a major port of entry for people travelling to India and onwards to South East Asia and Australia.

Due to this huge influx in commercial trade, the areas around the port developed extremely quickly as an area of industry and shipping related services such as import/export, cargo handling and packing. All of this went a long way to the urbanisation of Bombay, drawing in more farming people when they learned of the prospects available to them. Following the British withdrawal in 1947, this upwards ‘boom’ only increased. Nowadays, it is a huge problem for city planners and developers. The site of the city is hugely restricted resulting in the eventual creation onto the mainland in the form of a “greater metropolitan area”.

These new sites, onto which the city has expanded, are becoming very overcrowded even 100 years ago. Today, the density is just under 60,000 people per square mile. Due to popular demand, the price of inner city land has risen astronomically, a feature of all developing cities. As a result, rather incongruously, the land prices in Bombay are among the highest in the world. This just adds to the overcrowding of the slums, as people are forced to live there as they are unable to afford anything in the city where property costs in the region of US$3180 per sq. t. this, coupled with the short supply of housing, results in an accelerated growth of shanty towns, another case example being the farvelas on the outskirts of many (expansive) Brazilian cities such as Si??o Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

It is an inescapable upwards escalation into greater levels of poverty, as new migrants to the city locate themselves on the edges of the slums, furthest away from the centre of the city, where the jobs are located and are often built on dangerous land (old mines, near railways, on river marshland etc. and very few have land rights, so there are just squatters with no legal protection. This is a major environmental issue and also poses significant problems to the inhabitants’ health, in a country where the death rate is already 7. 9/1000 (as of July 2009) and where the average life expectancy is just 60. Levels of sanitation in the slum areas, such as Dharavi are often of a substandard level. Sewage removal and treatment is minimal and in most areas, non-existent. Running clean water is also scarce, leaving children and babies without adequate levels of hygiene, needed to grow healthily.

Electricity connections are also very sparse, so people have to make do with more primitive methods, often far more dangerous than modern methods, such as cooking for example. All of these issues have major social consequences, as the people become ‘trapped’ in a permanent state of poverty, unable to better their lives, but remain as it is perceived to have a better standard of living than in the rural areas. In Dharavi itself, the Indian local governments in Bombay and the Maharashtra state are planning a large-scale redevelopment of Dharavi.

They plan to clear away areas of the slum housing section by section, replacing the little 1 or 2 storey shacks with 7 floor tenement blocks. Families who can prove they have lived in Dharavi since at least 1995 will; receive free new housing, and everyone will receive temporary accommodation for the duration of the massive redevelopment programme. The remainder of the new housing will be sold cheaply (or rented) on the open and free market that India enjoys with its relatively stable political and economic situation.

This however, though it would improve the situation for over 600,000 people rather drastically, it will create a lot of significant conflicts between residents and developers, and may be seen by some as a bit too ‘idealistic’, just like Mandela’s promise to black South Africans for better housing. The reality is, that these things take time to materialise, if they ever do. The project will not even go ahead unless a majority of the [registered] residents of Dharavi agree to do so.

This means that those residents who are not officially registered as residents of Dharavi (a large number of migrant squatters), will not have their opinions counted in any capacity. It is also widely feared that such a development would not yield economic benefits for the developers, and so, much needed residential accommodation for the [ex] residents of Dharavi, will be used for commercial and office space to serve the ever expanding business sector – defeating the whole initial development objective.

In conclusion, from the evidence laid out, it is clear that Bombay is suffering heavily as a result of mass urbanisation, and has done throughout its history, pning back to even before the colonial days of the Raj. Projects such as the expansion of the Bandra Kurla complex threaten the condition of the poorer people, often illegally squatting on land, and are planned to solely benefit the banking and business/commerce sector.

Migration from the countryside rural areas adding the issue of urbanisation are increasing the population at a large rate. Alongside this, poor planning and mismanagement from the authorities, failing to address the genuine needs of the city, all result in a city with gigantic disparity, overcrowding in slums and an ‘all encasing’ state of impoverishment for the vast majority of the population of the city.

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