Mapping and Representing Informality

Case of Gazdhar Bandh, Mumbai

Informality can be defined in various ways- informal social interaction, informal economic interaction or informal cultural formation or informal spatial practices i: e. informal housing. Informality in Mumbai can be seen from various perspectives. Each perspective has its positive side and perhaps huge possibilities in cross-learning for it to enable the urban inclusion in planning, policy and practice. The informal housing in Mumbai is typically related to the word “slums”, however the formation of slums, networking of slums and sustenance of slums has a different story to narrate.

The larger question is how new methodologies of research and formats of representation of informal settlements support their recognition in urban design, planning, political and policy making processes.

What are the learnings from informal spatial practices of living?

Gazdhar Bandh is a large pocket of self-built-sustain model of slums in the western suburb of Santacruz, Mumbai formed as a response to multiple parameters. It largely owes its origin to the generic problem of the state body not being able to provide affordable housing at the city level along with, the absence of policy not being able to create housing stock for the urban poor. These two issues are coupled with large scale land speculation in the open market and market driven real estate resulting in unaffordable housing in Mumbai.

How informality is defined shall depend on the position taken. A sociologist would emphasize on informal social interaction, anthropologist would emphasize on informal cultural exchanges, economist would emphasize on informal economic action while urban planner would be more interested in informal planning or an architect would focus on informal use of material for dwelling. The question here is whether such individual disciplinarian definitions lead to ideas like ‘quality of life’ which are often discussed in various studies as a response to many issues and complexities that have recently emerged within our cities in the process of transformation. It is also connected with the questions of vulnerability and resilience of such informal living and working conditions.

The city of Mumbai is vulnerable to projected climate change related disaster within given social, economic and environmental stressed conditions coupled with population growth and informal housing. When we deal with housing in Mumbai, we often talk about limited models of housing production. The MHADA Housing, Private Layouts, Slum Housing, Federation Housing, Cess Housing or Collector Housing. Each housing types have different policy structure and often they overlap in various geographies of Mumbai. However, housing formations are either market driven or free housing, both accounting land as a precious commodity.

These definitions are also limited, when we talk about city as a larger anatomical structure and as a living object that is constantly negotiating, negating, contesting and as a result transforming into a reality that we live in. it is necessary to address the key objectives of studying and documenting such conditions within the cities, as the issues that are related to the understanding of the inflicted stresses/conditions are based on peculiar habitation processes. Hence the slums densities and land ratios are 8% of land versus 55% of population. However, the informal economies that are harbored within such informal settlements are important components of the city and they contribute significantly in the city’s revenue. The important discussion that is perplexing in the present context are regarding the redevelopment or whether the free housing scheme under SRA scheme is isolating and erasing economies on one side along with unlocking the land for market purpose. Resilience and Urban Planning is a dynamic set of cause and corrective measure to deal with disturbances which are inflicted on the human settlements either in the form of market intervention, natural disaster or in the form of human created disaster, either of such vulnerabilities inflicted on such informal settlements, it is necessary to bring about understanding, articulating, representing interdependencies of such conditions.

So, the question is what is formal housing? Is ‘minimum housing’ to become an ‘optimum housing’ or is an ‘informal social unit’ to become a ‘family unit’? Is it as simple a process as it is? Don’t we need to understand the circumstances that has produced informality? If these questions are raised appropriately then question of mapping and representing informality becomes central to the entire conversation. The case of Gazdhar Bandh is very unique, it has been informally built on a ‘no-development-zone’ and is highly vulnerable situation of estuarine conditions. Originally a fishing village on the creek edge has been encroached upon and expanded into the ‘no-development-land’. Based on an empirical study using participatory tools of survey and mapping in the slum community located in an estuarian conditions at Ghazdar bandh, in the residential/ TP Scheme precinct of western suburbs in the megacity Mumbai, this study argues for the significance of design strategies in consultation with local communities living in informal settlements that are vulnerable to environmental risks like floods and mudslides.

The first step of mapping and representing was to locate the two dimensions of informality in place. The first one is regarding ecological conditions and its depletion and the second one is regarding livelihood and infrastructure. The question is regarding how these two dimensions are represented in the reality?  It has an impact on the eco-system of the city. This is the most important aspects with respect to vulnerabilities and development of resilience strategies. The mapping of several sub-cluster with respect to various institutions and amenities bring about clarity on the social structure of the community.

These steps enable the process of understanding the probable resilience strategies. There are perhaps two approaches that can enable the process to mitigate vulnerabilities, short term and long term are affecting the settlements in various ways, right from reactive and techno-rational approach to socio-economic approach. It shall be to address the aspect of “quality of life” in contexts with need, necessities and desires as future goals. The approach is inclusive as it includes the informal settlements, government and private developers. Such process often requires to build trust with the communities and empathy towards informality and including them in to the planning process.

Photo Credit: Manoj Parmar Architects & Joint Studio of KRVIA Post Graduate Program and SPA Bhopal

Note: This YouTube video was a part of Breucom Project (Building Resilient Urban Communities of Erasmus+) PDP presentation


  1. Guzdar Bandh encroachers
    It’s total encroachments of about 8200 encroachers in G+2/3 structures as per our WP 743/2001 . The Guzdar SCHEME RESIDENTS TRUST, residents of the GUZDAR SCHEME is fighting for removal of these encroachers which is the main cause of flooding in the Guzdar scheme, Santacruz West, where by sluice gates were removed and hence flooding . Would love to explain the THD, sea level, Non implementation of the DP 1991 and 2034, and many other factors


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