02 Informal

Informal settlements like Pratap Nagar began emerging on JVLR’s future alignment from the 1950s. These are called ‘slums’ by the state and the elite but their residents call them vastis or bastis: both words literally translate as settlements. A culture of collective living made it possible to make a valued space and community out of inhospitable conditions.

Old residents report buying kholis (rooms) in the late 1950s - early 1960s in ground storey chawls. These were built by informal real estate entrepreneurs on land they did not own. Wattle-and-daub structures with clay-tiled roofs without supportive infrastructure: no electricity, water supply, toilets, or paved pathways. Residents used the ‘jungle’ on the hillock to the north to defecate, with separate areas set aside for men and women.

Safety also had to be auto-constructed. Till 1957, Jogeshwari lay outside Mumbai’s municipal limits. Even into the 1960s, Pratap Nagar continued to be considered a tadipar area (to which externed criminals from the city were sent). For long, the police would not enter the maze of lanes in the settlement. Women were often victims of this insecurity, but some among them also showed leadership to get the police to act against local criminals.

Informal governance systems were developed against great odds - for instance, lane committees that collect an affordable monthly contribution to keep lanes clean. Collective action is required to maintain community toilets. They are also upgraded at times with contributions from local elected representatives.

Today, people in Pratap Nagar point around with pride to ground plus one or two-storey masonry homes, paved lanes, community toilets, water supply in every house (with bathrooms or toilets in some) and say: ‘We built all this!’ Not just with hard-earned money, but also collective effort: community organisation, public protest, and continuous lobbying with political representatives and the municipal corporation for minimal services.

03 Institutions
of informality




Nala Sopara