Skip to main content
GovernanceHabitatPublicationsResearch Studies

How has COVID-19 amplified issues of inadequate habitats?

By October 16, 2020December 21st, 2023No Comments

The lack of an adequate housing facility gravely impacts people’s experiences of living in the city. Inadequate housing is most often also coupled with inadequate basic services such as access to water, sanitation, electricity, open spaces, health care, educational facilities. Moreover, the experiences of violence and climate impacts leave residents of these settlements much more vulnerable.

This blog highlights the various challenges faced in relation to access to housing and basic services, pointing out vulnerabilities that the urban poor face as a result of severely inadequate habitats. These are challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. Through household surveys and in-depth telephonic interviews, YUVA’s recent report presents the challenges and demands of the urban poor with regard to habitat in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR).

Housing Insecurities

Housing insecurities affected some participants tremendously, especially the homeless, those living in rented houses and those living in kutcha or semi-pucca houses. Eviction was a constant threat to the homeless and tenants who were unable to pay their rent. Other housing-related vulnerabilities included being unable to produce proof of residence needed to access entitlements, exposure to violence in some neighbourhoods, and extreme weather conditions during the lockdown without much access to help.

a. Forced Evictions and Shelters for the Homeless

‘We were beaten up by the police in the initial phase of the lockdown. Policemen come at night and wake us up. They ask who we are and where we have come from. Even the residents here are complaining about us. They shoo us away. Where will we go? We don’t have homes’ shared Nasreen, a homeless woman and mother of three children living in Matunga in Mumbai.

‘How can I live there with my children? I have so many belongings with me. How can I go there with my children?’ she added, about staying in a homeless shelter.

Some of the homeless participants mentioned that they were offered to be moved to temporary shelters during the lockdown. However, most of those interviewed preferred not to go to shelters. The fear of losing whatever little belongings and space they had withheld many of them from moving to shelters. Mothers were also concerned about the wellbeing of their children in shelters. A few of the homeless in Mumbai were shifted by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) to temporary shelters or given temporary housing during the lockdown. But for many, this has not been a viable option and they have preferred to stay in the open, together as families with their meagre belongings, holding on to whatever little space they have in public places.

b. Challenges Faced by Tenants

‘Owners are asking for rent and making the tenants’ life hell’ shared Saira from Antop Hill in Mumbai’s Island City.

‘Since we were not able to pay rent he asked us to leave the house. Now we are staying in a temple. He has given the house to someone else’ shared Adi who lived in a rented house in Antop Hill in Mumbai with his family of six and was evicted for not paying rent during the lockdown.

The house rent amount mentioned by the participants ranged from INR 500 for kutcha houses to around INR 6,000 for a pucca house or apartment in a rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) colony. While many among those living on rent were not forced to pay rent due to the government announcement, many others did not have any respite. The pressure turned into a lot of stress for some of the participants, more so for women headed households.

c. Link Between Entitlements and Housing

‘The relief never reaches us. They tell us straight away, “you are not house owners, you live on rent. How can we give it to you? Where is the proof that you live here?” They are not giving it to the people living on rent’, shared Budhan living in Panvel with regard to food being distributed by the local coporator.

While Budhan’s case reflects discriminatory relief practices. Entitlement documents such as a ration card, which is crucial for accessing government relief, requires a proof of residence. Although not mandatory, it is given much importance. This gap between policy and practice limits many people from accessing entitlements. Particularly vulnerable are the homeless and those who cannot produce any proof of their residence.

d. Climate Impact

‘The water gets filled inside this shade also. I keep standing, holding my children. We do not get to sleep until rain stops and water retreats’ said Latika, a homeless woman in Mumbai whose family was taking shelter next to a shop. They had nowhere else to go during the rains.

People living in settlements with kutcha and semi-pucca houses, those living in adivasipadas, and the homeless were highly concerned about the monsoon when we talked to them. Usually people living in kutcha and semi-pucca houses repair their roofs every year before monsoon to prevent them from leaking. But this year many of them did not have enough money to buy material for repair. Some participants’ houses were destroyed by cyclone Nisarga that hit parts of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region in early June 2020.

Access to Basic Services

Basic services such as water, sanitation, electricity, and healthcare became additional financial liabilities during the lockdown. These expenses should be seen cumulatively to understand the extent of the accruing financial burdens on the urban poor; while their earnings stopped and meagre savings were entirely wiped out.

a. Access to Water

‘There is irregular supply of water here. We pay 400 rupees per month. Other than that, we had to install a motor and attach a pipe as water doesn’t reach our house’ shared Shaan from Sathe Nagar in Mumbai’s Eastern Suburbs.

Access to water differed for people living across settlements and across cities. For many, getting water was challenging and expensive before the lockdown and the situation did not change. The cost of water reported by the participants was usually in the range of INR 100–500 per month although a few participants were also spending more than that. Some participants shared that their water bills were also deferred during the lockdown, but they were accruing for payment later.

When their usual sources of water were shut down due to the lockdown, some participants had to venture out, risking their safety to look for other sources of water that were often unreliable and faraway. Saju, a student from a migrant family in Navi Mumbai shared such a story of desperation — ‘When the water comes, nobody cares whether physical distancing is being followed or not. Everybody just rushes to get water’.

b. Access to Sanitation Facilities

‘Here, people don’t have money for food, but they still have to keep paying to go to the bathroom’ said Deepa, living in Bandra in Mumbai’s Western Suburbs.

Only a few participants reported having toilets at their homes. Most participants depended on community and public toilets where they had to pay for access despite the government order to keep all community and public toilets free of charge during the lockdown. Most of the homeless and pavement dwellers also depended on public toilets for their use. With many participants barely earning for months during the lockdown, managing the cost of accessing toilets became the biggest challenge for them.

‘I am scared of using community toilets as people from outside the community also come to use it and there are no hand sanitisers and washing facilities over there,’ shared Hemant living in Turbhe, Navi Mumbai.

Ensuring cleanliness and maintaining physical distancing at community and public toilets was a challenge participants shared. A pre-existing challenge for quite a few participants was unavailability of functional public toilets in their vicinity, because of which many people had to resort to open defecation.

c. Access to Electricity

‘The house gets very hot, so I sit under a tree for 2 hours a day. My children badly need some cool air’ said Roop, living without electricity in a kutcha house in Jogeshwari in Mumbai.

During the lockdown when people were forced to stay indoors, some were already living without any access to electricity. Being forced to stay inside homes, they suffered in extreme heat and humidity during summer.

‘There is a lot of pressure to pay the electricity bill. They say they will cut light if we don’t pay the bill on time’ shared Nitin from Malad in Mumbai.

Among those who had access to electricity, managing payments became challenging during the lockdown because of which a few of them lost access to electricity.

d. Access to Healthcare

‘Ever since the lockdown has started, the medical van has stopped coming to our area because of which no checkups are happening’ said Naman, living in an adivasipada in Borivali in Mumbai.

With the lockdown, restrictions were imposed on people’s movements. Due to this, access to healthcare became highly dependent on the available healthcare facilities in the vicinity. The quality of healthcare in the government hospitals also deteriorated during the lockdown as per the participants.

Pregnant women also found it difficult to access healthcare during the lockdown. Sahiba from Malad in Mumbai’s Western Suburbs shared, ‘I am 9 months pregnant, but haven’t been able to register anywhere (for child delivery). They told me to come when I get labour pains’.

Recommendations from the Report

Immediate measures

  1. Homeless shelters that have been set up in response to the pandemic must be continued and provided for as per National Urban Livelihoods Mission (NULM) guidelines to ensure the safety and well-being of homeless residents.
  2. For those living on rent, a helpline and follow-up support should be provided for support in case they are forcibly evicted or denied any entitlement for the lack of any proof of residence.
  3. A strict moratorium on rent should be released, extending the Government Resolution (GR) released by the Government of Maharashtra that was valid till June 2020
  4. Electricity bills must be deferred for the next 6 months (during disaster and recovery period) through coordination with public and private electricity providers for all urban poor settlements.
  5. Access to water and sanitation must be provided in all areas. The High Court and other legal directives to ensure water supply to all and implementation of the GR to allow the use of public toilets free of cost should be undertaken by the local government. All public toilets must be regularly sanitised.
  6. There must be emergency health services in underserved areas, disinfection of common areas, mobile health vans and free health care for all.
  7. As a disaster management strategy, kutcha house residents and residents of adivasipadas must be provided help with preparing or repairing their houses for monsoon, especially so during an ongoing disaster situation.

Long term measures

  1. As per the Maharashtra State Disaster Management Plan 2016, community-based early warning systems must be established in urban poor settlements to improve their disaster preparedness. Single women, transgender persons and unsupported elderly people must be integrated in community-based networks to ensure their security during disasters and inclusion during relief work and recovery.
  2. Slums must be notified as per the Maharashtra Slum Act and ensure all basic services (water, sanitation, roads, drainage systems) are provided in proportion to the number of residents. Currently this is a long and cumbersome process that has prevented people in slums receiving basic facilities that ensure adequate sanitation and quality of life.
  3. Local Area Planning with effective local governance must be developed. Local Area Plans need to have education, health care, sanitation services that cater to the existing population of an area.
  4. The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) rental housing scheme announced post the lockdown by the Central government is a welcome step. Operation of a rental housing scheme in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) would need support from local governments and the state government through the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA). A government facilitated rental housing programme that takes into account needs and income capacities of daily wage and informal sector workers will be a step towards resolving housing challenges faced by workers in the MMR.


Research findings state that the residents of inadequate habitats experience additional disadvantages during disaster situations due to their pre-existing insecurities, which render them far more vulnerable to the impacts of the disaster. Ensuring adequate habitats for the urban poor should be prioritised.

Our report ‘Living with Multiple Vulnerabilities: Impact of Covid-19 on the Urban Poor in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region’ contains in-depth research and recommendations to support the rights and needs of marginalised communities among the urban poor like — women headed households, domestic and sanitation workers, street vendors, children, etc.

Read the complete report in English.

Extracted and compiled from the original report by Mohammed Anajwalla

Leave a Reply