Transforming M Ward

Sunita (name changed) and many others living in Sahyadri Nagar on the Trombay Hill have cracks in their roofs and damaged television sets. “From morning till night they keep blasting the rocks to make the road. The whole house vibrates with the noise,” says Sunita, a teacher in a nearby school.

The Eastern Freeway corridor under construction at the moment will link Colaba to Mankhurd and will reduce travel time to a dream 35 minutes. It is a 22-km-corridor, which is being constructed by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA). For this project two 500m long tunnels are being constructed under the Trombay Hill.  In addition to this a flyover is also underway at Vashi Naka. On the Trombay Hill people live in areas such as Sahyadri Nagar, Ashok Nagar, Indira Nagar, Kasturba Nagar, Rahul Nagar and Om Ganesh Nagar. These areas as well as areas such as Chembur, Mahul, Trombay, Govandi and Mankhurd come under the M Ward. According to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) human development report of 2008, M Ward has  the lowest human development index among all administrative wards in the city.

Located on the northeast edge of Mumbai, M Ward mostly comprises of slums and slum rehabilitation buildings. M Ward is also home to one of the largest dumping grounds in the country, the Deonar dumping ground, which was built in 1927. Along with the development of infrastructural projects such as the freeway, flyovers and monorail, the ward requires urgent intervention in terms of measures that improve the living conditions of communities and people living in the area.

Given that this area scores very low on human development indicators, there is a greater level of poverty and deprivation. The level of poverty, deprivation and lack of access to basic amenities in the M Ward is perhaps more acute than anywhere else in the city. “M Ward is a dumping ground for waste generated by Mumbai. It’s also a dumping Ward for people who are displaced from elsewhere in the city.

All the slums that have been cleared from other parts of the city are put in here,” explains Prof. S. Parasuraman, Director, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). As part of its Platinum Jubilee initiatives, TISS, which is also located in the M Ward, has decided to undertake transformation work in the ward and draw up a people’s plan for development to tackle issues such as health, nutrition, schooling, housing and sanitation. For this purpose TISS has initiated a baseline assessment survey from November 26, 2011 which will later feed into a broader people’s plan.

A section of TISS students are currently surveying Vashi Naka and the adjoining areas on the Trombay Hill.  “In Vashi Naka we have endeavored to ensure that the community is already briefed about the project and the importance of their participation in this project,” said Satish More, a community facilitator of the area. Sunita is hopeful that the M Ward project will help assess problems in the area and take corrective action for infrastructural issues such as schooling, public transport and drinking water facilities. Ramdas (name changed), a resident of Ashok Nagar whose house was recently surveyed, however shows certain skepticism, “I’m apprehensive about the outcome of this assessment as well as the project and the sustainability of such a project since it is spread across 5 years. But there is hope.”

In Shivaji Nagar, Sanjay Nagar and Bainganwadi, where another section of TISS students are carrying out the survey, there is a certain ambivalence, doubt and anxiety in the community.  However overall they are hopeful of better living conditions and the long-term impact of the project. “People genuinely display doubt but while we made our rounds during the survey, many people called us out to carry out the survey in their houses as well. Some of the people we surveyed also referred us to their friends and neighbours who they felt might be in urgent need of help,” said Haimanti Prakashi, a student of TISS.

In the coming week, the assessment, which will take into account the socio-economic, demographic and environmental conditions of the people living in the ward, will help generate a knowledge base and give summary indicators which will help assess and  understand the current situation. The plan is to identify problems on a locality level and then come out with sectoral plans related to health, education, sanitation and housing. “We are looking at about 5 years of intensive engagement and we need about 6-8 months time to come out with a people’s plan. So this initial assessment will feed into a broader people’s planning,” said Prof. S. Parasuraman.

The project is seeking partnerships with various responsible stakeholders such as the BMC, PSUs and other organizations, along with local community-based groups to make this an inclusive process. These sectoral plans will then be presented to various agencies to elicit their contribution to the transformation of M-Ward.

Aakriti Kohli