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From the Archives: Report on Status of Sanitation in Slums in Mumbai (2001)

By January 8, 2024No Comments

Mumbai, the capital of the State of Maharashtra, is known by several monikers – the financial capital of the country, the city of glitz and glamour, the ‘Maximum City’. While being all this, Mumbai is also a city of bastis or ‘slums’. The very first enumeration of bastis in the city, carried out in 1976, confirmed that 47 percent of the population of the city lived in ‘slums’. In the second such enumeration carried out in 1983, the proportion of those living in bastis and on pavements had gone up to 50%. The reality of these bastis and the struggles of its residents to protect the meagre roofs over their heads against forced and brutal evictions was vividly captured by Anand Patwardhan in his documentary film, Bombay, Our City (1984). 

Over the next two decades, several social movements and civil society organisations deployed a range of strategies towards establishing the right of slum residents to exist in the city as legitimate citizens. A small group of young social workers who had started working in the bastis of Jogeshwari were inspired by a similar zeal to later set-up Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) on 30th August 1984. The 1980s saw the massive evictions of pavement dwellers in the city which culminated in the famous judgement in the Olga Tellis case (1985) and the formation of coalitions like the Committee for Right to Housing (CRH) and the National Campaign on Housing Rights (NCHR) of which YUVA became an active member. In the decade of the 1990s, YUVA expanded its work in the bastis of Mumbai through the  formation of People’s Organisations viz. Bhabrekar Nagar Sangharsh Samiti in Bhabrekar Nagar near Malad.

All these efforts brought increased attention to the issue of the living conditions in the bastis  and the provision of basic amenities like sanitation. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), the agencies responsible for provisioning of sanitation infrastructure (toilets and sewerage) in the bastis, had failed spectacularly in discharging their functions. In the 1990s, the available sanitation infrastructure in the bastis largely comprised: a) public ‘free for use’ toilets built and maintained by municipal authorities; b) public pay-and-use toilets built by municipal authorities but maintained by private entities; and c) community toilets built by public authorities without clear maintenance responsibility. These facilities were often inadequate, overburdened and poorly maintained. 

The Slum Sanitation Project

A survey of 1,959 slums in Mumbai conducted in 2001 showed that 62 per cent of the slum population, residing in 1,435 slum localities, were dependent exclusively on public toilets. A significant number of the slums (209) didn’t have any public toilet facilities. The survey was carried out by YUVA in collaboration with Montgomery Watson Consultants India Pvt Limited (MW) as part of the World Bank-funded Slum Sanitation Project (SSP). The Slum Sanitation Project (SSP) was part of the larger Bombay Sewage Disposal Project (BSDP) which was initiated by the World Bank in 1995 with the objective of effecting improvements in the city’s sewerage. Since most of the bastis in the city were unsewered, BSDP excluded a majority of the population residing in slums. Hence, a sub-component called the Slum Sanitation Project (SSP), focusing on sanitation infrastructure in the bastis was added to BSDP in 1997. The sub-component targeted  a population of over 1 million (20% of the total population residing in the bastis of the city) dedicating ten percent of the total project funding (Rs 906 million) with the target of constructing 18,000 toilet seats

The project was designed during the early post-liberalisation period when failures of an ineffective state and the exclusions of the predatory market had prompted a search for alternatives, and participatory methods facilitated by non-governmental and civil society actors had emerged as a candidate. The SSP envisaged the involvement of the residents of the bastis right from the beginning of the project including assessment of need, choice of location and technology, formation of community-based organisations (CBOs), upfront payment of contributions towards capital cost of construction and the maintenance of the toilet blocks by the CBOs. Thus, the project had a ‘demand-drive’ approach as opposed to the bureaucratic ‘supply-driven’ approach. This participatory process was made a precondition by the World Bank for its support to BMC for the overall project.

The implementation of SSP was to proceed in four phases: programme publicity and selection of locations; assessment of demand and planning for operation and maintenance; design and construction of sanitation infrastructure; and operation and maintenance of the facilities by the beneficiaries through their CBOs. The entire process was to be facilitated by NGOs. Initially, only bastis located on BMC lands were included in the project. 

The Phase-I of the project was expected to reach out to 141 communities. The appointed NGOs were to initiate work across these 141 locations by discussing the programme with the residents of the bastis, assessing their needs, encouraging them to join the programme by seeking consent from at least 75% of the residents and ensuring payment of Rs 100 per family towards the capital cost of construction of toilets, followed by formation of CBOs. The results were underwhelming; 105 communities (75%) refused to join the programme and at the end of Phase I in the year 2000, toilet blocks could be constructed at only three locations. 

A Monitoring and Evaluation Report by Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and a Mid-Term Evaluation by World Bank brought out several design and implementation flaws which were held responsible for the failure of Phase-I: reluctance of the residents to pay for a service which had been considered to be free till then; the disinterest of the officials because of the involvement of NGOs and the displeasure of the elected representatives on account of being excluded from the decision-making. Several changes were effected to the SSP design as course correction including inclusion of all bastis in the programme, irrespective of whether they were notified or un-notified, were located on BMC lands or others. The participatory nature of the programme was retained but NGOs were now assigned wider responsibility across the whole cycle of the programme including liasioning with elected representatives. Lastly, to gain a comprehensive understanding of the status of sanitation and the demand of sanitation facilities in all the bastis, a social and technical survey was commissioned, for which a contract was awarded jointly to Montgomery Watson Consultants India Pvt Limited (MW)  and YUVA. The survey was initiated in the year 2000 and the report was finalised in the year 2001.

The Report

The Report of the Survey on Status of Sanitation in Slums in Mumbai (‘the Report’), carried out by MW-YUVA covered all slums in Mumbai irrespective of their legal status (notified and non-notified slums) and land-ownership (BMC as well as non-BMC lands). The survey showed an increase in the proportion of the city’s population residing in bastis to 54%, as compared to the previous enumeration in 1983. 

Table: Increase in the population residing in ‘slums’ in Mumbai City

YearSlum Settlements
Slum Population
Total Population
Proportion of Slum Population

*Includes 0.7 million pavement dwellers

Of the 1959 bastis surveyed, around half (48%) were situated on private lands, followed by lands owned by the state government (21%), municipal authorities (17.6%) and central government (4.7%). Among the 1,959 slums enumerated, 137 were non-notified slums (7%) and over 8% of the total basti population of the city was residing in these non-notified slums. Thus, if the SSP had covered only those notified bastis located on BMC lands, it would have covered less than one-fifth of the total basti population of the city. The survey had three components: social survey at the settlement level across all slums (1959); headcount survey to ascertain the toilet usage in sub-set of slums and finally Focused Group Discussions (FGDs) in selected 58 slums. As part of the technical survey, all existing toilet blocks (9,665) and open spaces were enumerated.

The survey results showed an over-reliance on public toilets. 1,435 slums with over 61% of the total basti population of the city relied exclusively on public toilets. At the other end, over 200 slums had no public facilities at all. 53 bastis (3%) relied on public toilets of nearby settlements. Only 142 (7%) bastis had at least one individual toilet. The survey also showed that the slums located on municipal lands had the least deficit in terms of availability of toilets while those on government lands had the highest deficit. The existing toilet infrastructure was found to be over-burdened: the average number of people dependent on a single toilet seat was 81:1 across whole of Mumbai, much higher than the 50:1 norm adopted under the project, but here also there were wide variations, with the ratio ranging from 56:1 to 273:1. In terms of the disposal of sewage, the survey found that most toilets had aqua privy (53%) or septic tank (46%) type of containment system. Of these, two-thirds of the toilet blocks finally drained into storm water drains or nullahs creating health and environmental hazards, while the remaining one-third toilet blocks eventually drained into sewers. 

In terms of water supply, 49% of the bastis (975 bastis) where 48% of the total basti residents resided, had access to water supply through shared systems (water from one stand-post is extended to multiple houses) while 12% of the bastis (229) has access only through stand-posts. Only 103 bastis (5%) had access through individual connections. 

The FGDs showed that the inadequate provisioning of sanitation infrastructure translated to long waiting queues for the residents; difficulties faced by women and children in accessing toilets which were located at long distances from their houses; and the unhygienic conditions of the toilets because of regular maintenance. Where such difficulties were more pronounced, the willingness to participate (requiring payment of up-front contribution) in the Slum Sanitation Project was much higher . Security of tenure and threat of evictions was highlighted as one of the biggest impediments in participation in the Project.

The survey report analysed the existing institutional structure for provision of sanitation services and made several recommendations including the institution of a separate Slum Sanitation Cell in BMC comprising both official and non-official members. The report also highlighted the specific challenges faced by women and children in terms of accessing sanitation. The issue of safe conveyance of sewage was also dealt with in the report although this aspect was left out of the final SSP design.

Prologue: The Slum Sanitation Project

By the end of 2005, about 330 community toilet blocks (CTBs) with more than 5,100 toilet seats were constructed under the Slum Sanitation Project as against the target of 18,000 toilet blocks. According to an evaluation by the World Bank, between 1997-2005, the program was estimated to have benefited about 400,000 people residing in the bastis of Mumbai, as opposed to the original target of 1,000,000 people. Some analysts have called the programme a success since it has proven to be more effective than previous such urban programmes, even though it has underperformed against its own targets; while others have been more critical especially about the nature of ‘participatory decision-making’ which eventually materialised in the programme. Some of the learnings from the project became the basis of formulation of Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (a precursor of Swacch Bharat Abhiyan) and VAMBAY (Valmiki Ambedkar Awas Yojana) scheme (a precursor to JNNURM, RAY and PMAY schemes). Revisiting the experience of SSP definitely complicates as well as enriches our understanding of terms like grassroots democracy, participatory governance and beneficiary-led design which have since gained much currency in the development field. 

The Slum Sanitation Report (2001) prepared by MW-YUVA is available at YUVA’s Urban Resource Centre.

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