Mumbai Airport Slums: The reasons why they exist!
If you’re a Mumbaikar, like yours truly, or you’ve flown into Bombay often enough, especially landing from the east, you’ve probably tuned your mind to being greeted by endless roofs of shanties and slums. Being a Mumbai resident and an ardent Mumbaikar at heart, I’m irked every time someone critical of Mumbai brings this up.
Here’s an article that sets the record straight. Let’s answer the question once and for all. Why do the slums around Mumbai’s airport exist?
1. The Airport does NOT belong where it is!
This is probably the least talked about reason but Mumbai’s airport does not belong where it is! Mumbai’s Airport in the Santacruz – Vile Parle area was built around 1942 by the then British Raj to assist and eventually replace the Royal Air Force Aerodrome at Juhu, today called the Juhu Aerodrome. One has to realize, in a 1942 setting, Mumbai, then Bombay, was never envisaged to be a city that would extend several miles north of Santacruz into places like Virar and Nalasopara. Typically, a large metropolitan airport, is seldom close to the city. There are examples galore to support this claim, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Amsterdam, Los Angeles. Hong Kong actually reclaimed land to build a whole new airport to replace the old one that was dangerously close to the city. In Mumbai’s case, it’s smack in the middle of the city!
2. But why not have an airport in the city?
80% of aviation related accidents happen during takeoff and / or landing. A fully loaded Boeing 737 with 175+ passengers and fuel is nothing short of a missile. Would any sane human being want to point that at a populated area? Having said this, it is arguable that the best way an aircraft can approach an airport is over a huge water body, however that does not work in the real world because it goes against the basic prescription of landing an aircraft into the wind.
A newer airport in a place like New Bombay, which is solidly on the cards, is a good way of setting the situation right. One would much rather have a passenger jet move in and out of an airport flanked with lakes and farmland as opposed to inhabited buildings and shanties.
3. Squatters and Politics, the Slums will remain!
Contrary to what many believe, these shanties were never planned and are not legal. They may be legal now (for the want of a workable alternative) but they never started out that way. Think of it logically, what is the one thing one absolutely CANNOT build around an airport? Tall buildings right? Hence it leaves room for only single storied buildings or perhaps just a small town home. Having said that, if you were a developer in the 70s, would you try to sell property right around a former Royal Air Force airfield which now hosts a roaring jet every few minutes? Hence a bunch of opportunists saw benefit in putting together a shanty right on the periphery of the airport and calling it home. This is how it all started. Thanks to opportunistic and communal politics in India, these shanty dwellers now form a very large vote bank which means one will be hard pressed to find a government willing to take decisive action on clearing them.
4. The Stereotype, Mumbai Poverty
This is where Mumbai’s branding takes a hit. The first image a tourist builds of Mumbai while flying in is that of shanty rooftops and stubby constructions. Hence the stereotype, ‘Mumbai city houses a lot of poverty to the extent that the airport is surrounded by shanties.’ Nothing could be further from the truth! Shanties and slums exist everywhere in the world. The only reason they do not exist around the airports for the most part is because the airports are in some far flung vista miles away from the city!
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