FPJ Campaign Part III: Mumbai's SRA Model, A Structural Nightmare 28 Years Later

FPJ Campaign Part III: Mumbai's SRA Model, A Structural Nightmare 28 Years Later

After 28 years of implementation, Mumbai’s SRA model remains a subject of debate, heralded by some for alleviating the city’s housing crisis and criticised by others for perpetuating the problems of citizens while disproportionately benefiting the builders.

RUCHA KANOLKARUpdated: Monday, March 04, 2024, 09:13 PM IST
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FPJ Campaign Part III: Mumbai's SRA Model, A Structural Nightmare 28 Years Later | Representational Image

Does the government accord ‘no value’ to things that don’t cost citizens anything? Apparently yes, going by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority’s (SRA) attitude. It appears that the scheme is based on the premise that as shanty-dwellers are given houses for free on ownership basis, they can be located in even poorly designed buildings. How else does one explain their ‘cheek-by-jowl’ design that prevents every ray of sunlight and every whiff of fresh air.

Citizens' woes

Worse, there is zero privacy, as one can easily look into a room on the opposite side. The quality of construction is atrociously poor in most buildings, with water seepage, low quality fittings and poor sanitary conditions. There are accounts of floor tiles coming off and wall plaster peeling within a couple of months of moving in. 

Once the SRA hands over the keys, the residents are left to fend for themselves. They have to pay for the building’s maintenance, but they are too poor to do that. In the absence of regular upkeep, the structures deteriorate, making living in such towers dangerous. But do they have a choice?

Mumbai’s SRA model remains a subject of debate

After 28 years of implementation, Mumbai’s SRA model remains a subject of debate, heralded by some for alleviating the city’s housing crisis and criticised by others for perpetuating the problems of citizens while disproportionately benefiting the builders.

Krishna Yadav, 45, a resident of Mulund’s Shrikrishna Nagar SRA, lamented, “Although the scheme propagates improved sanitation, living conditions largely remain unchanged. These buildings isolate families and disrupt social networks. The long corridors with tenements on either side resemble railway compartments, discouraging interpersonal interactions. Redesigning for better living conditions and sustainability is feasible if builders prioritise more than just profits.”

The structural concerns

Raising structural concerns, architect Shirish Sukhatme noted, “The proximity of SRA buildings poses huge risks – if one collapses, others are endangered as well. SRA structures are mere economic assets, benefitting only builders. The residents struggle to afford maintenance, often resorting to renting or selling their homes and returning to the slums.” He said Mumbai lacks low-cost housing options, forcing many into slums or SRA units. The future of ageing SRA structures is also uncertain. “The government must address this before they deteriorate into new slums,” he said.

Another eminent architect, who did not wish to be identified, said, “The SRA merely relocates people from one dire situation to another. People choose shanties only out of need. SRA buildings, without safety and right structure, are not the alternative. The oxygen levels on the third or fourth floors are lower than that in slums.”

Highlighting the evolution of SRA projects, an official said, “Since 2008, two-wheeler parking has been provided, with four-wheeler parking introduced in 2018. The open space has increased from three to six metres. Community halls are now mandatory, constituting 2% of the total built-up area in schemes with 250 structures. In addition to existing amenities like nurseries, society offices and welfare centres, healthcare centres and libraries have been added. Prompt action is taken upon receiving complaints.”

Urban planner Harshad Bhatia, however, doesn’t agree. He said the SRA must prioritise designing homes for human habitation. “The SRA, formed as legislation, should have automatically dissolved after 20 years, ensuring Mumbai’s slum-free status. Unfortunately, we’ve failed to achieve this and perpetuated the problem,” he said, adding that a monster has been created and now has to be fed.

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