Friday, December 31, 2010

An Incipient Slum and How It Was Removed

On my morning walk around a month ago walk I saw an ugly sight. To my horror I saw a slum was coming up near home, too close for comfort. First it was around four huts in a row, and then a few more were added almost overnight. The occupants would wash on the street, brush teeth, children would shit, dump garbage on the road, talk loudly, and on one occasion I saw them drinking liquor. A community was developing which was not to my liking. It always start with a few huts and before long it is a festering sore on the landscape, an eyesore.

I wasn't ready to see the neighbourhood deteriorate like that. So I made enquiries. I was told it was a temporary thing (as always is) and that it would be removed when some public work is finished. It always is a flimsy premise and then the slum grows. I have seen several such slums grow overnight into ugly conglomerations and becomes the den of vice and degeneration.

Here's my theory on slums. Slums make for irresponsible citizenry. If a man buys a small one-room tenement he has a responsibility to keep it well and work hard for it. But if he builds his home on government land (for free!) he hasn't paid anything so he doesn't see the need to maintain anything. He becomes part of a corrupt system. The politicians exploit him by giving him a water and electric connection. Then instead of investing in a good home he invests in colour televisions, refrigerators and lavish parties. He becomes more irresponsible and lives as a parasite of the politician who is his godfather who further spoils him for votes. He then gets into a criminal mentality of stealing, since the land he is occupying is also stolen from the government and therefore from the public funds. The politician has a perverse interest in keeping him dependent, poor, and illiterate.

I know of several affluent people living in such slums. Many of them own cars, which I have not been able to buy so far. Giving such people who have already stolen land, water and electricity from public funds a FREE FLAT to develop his lot is like giving a child candy and asking him to study well. (There's a corporation that distributes such free flats. Which to me reeks of populism.) Know what will happen? He will eat the candy and not study. The slum-dweller will sell the flat (as has been happening) and go back to live in another slum. The exploitation will continue down generations.

There's nothing like a free lunch, ever, remember that. A person who opts for a slum is having a free lunch at the expense of public funds that should have gone for his own development, education of his children, healthcare, proper roads for him to travel and abundant electricity. But that's not happening in Bombay because of the slum. A slum is the breeding ground of inertia, addiction, crime and vice.

So I and a few public-spirited citizens of my locality had the slum removed.

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