Seminar:" Hawakhaana in Vasai-Virar – Urban Housing in Mumbai’s Periphery" by Dr. George
The peripheries of a metropolis are a crucial, if undervalued, site for culture and politics, and have generated distinctive forms of urbanism, especially in the global south. The search for affordable housing, especially in the margins of our cities, fuels distinctive forms of urbanisation. This paper charts the critical role of ‘air rights’ in the transformation of Vasai-Virar – a peri-urban area in the north-western periphery of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region – from a dormitory town to a full-fledged municipal corporation in 2009. I suggest that state policy framed around the rhetoric of ‘housing for the poor’ and a profits-oriented private-enterprise-driven housing construction sector combined to transform globally deployed urban planning tools and protocols—floor space index (FSI) and transferable development rights (TDR)—into a local narrative in Mumbai’s edge.
In 2008 the Government of Maharashtra tasked the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) with the responsibility of producing half a million rental housing units for the urban poor in five years. A majority of these planned units were to be constructed as high-rise stacks in Vasai-Virar. MMRDA, in turn, entered into partnerships with private builders using TDR - a policy instrument enabling property owners and developers to trade their right to build on a plot of land independent of its physical location –to make this affordable housing project financially attractive. The scheme was abandoned in 2012 after it failed to produce a single house-for-rent, but not before it had generated an exceptional market for high-rise housing societies for the middle-class, spawned by the trade in TDR as speculative commodity.
The unprecedented demand for cheap housing produces both a market for unauthorised construction and an overheated trade in speculative real estate which spawns a ‘virtual’—and vertical—built-space that is a characteristic feature of the rapidly developing peripheries of Asian cities. I propose that the legal and political processes that fuel Vasai-Virar’s ‘spectral’ housing commoditises the right to build vertically, and produces, in its wake, airscapes—a distinctive urban imaginary. The impressive trade in TDR, that is, the right to build vertically, and the state’s continued subsidies for ‘affordable urban housing’ projects combine to produce dubious schemes in Vasai-Virar that restructure the value of land and generate a new market topography built on the ‘primitive accumulation’ and trade in air rights.
George completed a Joint-PhD in Anthropology and Contemporary India from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and King’s College London (KCL) recently. His thesis titled ‘Forging a periphery: Urban transformation in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region’ examines the manner in which the contemporary city is imagined, produced and consumed in its margins, by its marginalised citizens.George was an International Fellow at Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin, for the ‘Global Prayers - Redemption and Liberation in the City’ project with Europa-Universität Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder and Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin. He holds an MA from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, taught sociology for several years in Kishinchand Chellaram (KC) College, Mumbai, and was Visiting Faculty in a range of institutions including KRVIA, Mumbai, NID, Ahmedabad, IIM Bangalore, IIT Bombay, and St Xavier’s College, Mumbai. George has also served as Programme Executive at the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA), Bangalore and was the first Programme Director of Asia Society's India Centre. He now teaches sociology in NMIMS deemed University, Mumbai.