The topographic map of Vasai-Virar shows terrain and altitude. Note that the low-lying, marshy lands are mostly located in the central part of the city, adjacent to the suburban railway line. The towns of Virar, Nala Sopara and Navghar-Manikpur fall within this central low-lying zone.
Look at the city’s Development Plan (2007). We see that the yellow area marked as “urbanizable” — that is designated for development in the Vasai Virar Development Plan — mostly overlaps with this low-lying, marshy land. It is thus highly susceptible to flooding every year. How did this happen?
State planners carved out the Vasai Virar Sub Region to facilitate opening up the region for development. But when formulating a plan for Vasai Virar, state planners only considered Mumbai's needs -- they saw Vasai Virar as providing dormitory towns or sleeping arrangements for a population commuting to work in Mumbai.
Planners thus marked the area on either side of the colonially-built railway line as “urbanizable”, without considering local ecologies and the tendency of this area to flood during heavy rain. In short, they considered local ecologies, and the settlements and livelihoods of connected social groups in Vasai Virar, disposable.
Devaluing working class habitats
Industrial zones for small scale industries (coloured purple) were designated adjacent to Vasai Virar’s Green Zone (where minimal, low-rise development is allowed) in the 1970s. With the deindustrialization of Mumbai, many small industrial units were expelled from the city, and some relocated to these estates.
However, the city’s Development Plan doesn’t make adequate provision for living arrangements or infrastructure needs of workers near factories in the Industrial Zone. This leads to entrepreneurs emerging to fill a market need: they build chawls on farm land to settle poor workers who work in the industries. This process of self-building involves informally occupying the green zone land, usually without public services. The blue boundary marks the approximate area that has been developed in this way, mostly informally, till 2015.
In 2021, we see the steady expansion of this (informal) sprawl marked by blue bubbles. Note that this growth is taking place along existing road infrastructure (Pelhar Road or National Highway 48) and a road proposed in the city’s Development Plan.
Why does the plan not account for labour’s land, housing and infrastructure needs in the first place? In short, because it considers poor workers and their needs disposable.