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Housing Experiment at Betwala Chawl, Foras Road

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CRIT Community Support Programme

The residents of Betwala Chawl are a community of migrants from Allahabad — makers of exquisite cane furniture — who have squatted on a plot off Foras Road (Nimkar Marg) in Central Mumbai for more than 75 years. Betwala Chawl would qualify as a heritage slum, if criteria to ear mark heritage buildings were any different! With the help of housing activist Chandrashekhar Prabhu and the Slum Rehabilitation Society represented by Adolf Tragler, the community has acquired the land under its ownership. 

The 1976 Societies Act decrees that if a group of tenants (more than 70%) come together and register as a society, this society could take up the development of its premises on its own, without involving a builder as an agent of development. Such a self-development model can save the tenants’ society lakhs of rupees, an amount which could in turn form a corpus fund. This community corpus can be used to support the tenants’ monthly outgoings, which for new developments in Mumbai can be prohibitive for urban poor communities. Moreover, the surplus space from redevelopment could help tenants gain additional floor space for the use of the communities or for sale by them, thereby challenging the builder-touted myth that as per SRA (Slum Rehabilitation Authority) or Cess Rules, rehabilitated tenants and slum-dwellers areonly entitled to 225 sqare feet of floor space in ‘free housing’.    

Betwala Chawl is our first experiment with this model of self-developed, community-oriented housing practice. Architecturally, our attempts here are to modulate the built structure to achieve a comprehensible urban form — carving out as large an open space as possible, with a perimeter building typology that defies the rubber stamped tower type popularised by city builders. Our attempt is to tweak the building bye-laws and existing policies in order to maximise programmatic space for our low income user group. Spaces given free of FSI (Floor Space Index) by the Development Control Rules specific to the Slum Rehabilitation Act can work as flexible production/work-spaces by the community. A stilt is given free of FSI for parking by the SRA laws, so is a balwadi, society office and welfare or community centre. These form void spaces in the rehabilitation building, distributed as double height punctures in the building mass, such that they could alternatively be used as work spaces.

Urban housing policies, while addressing the issue of shelter, fail to connect it to the fundamental right to work. The paradigmatic shift from an organised smoke-stack economy into an informal, often home-based economy has not yet been reflected in mainstream planning practices and housing policies. This design and community intervention, will institutionalise a cooperative society with its own corpus financed from the sale and commercial components of their self-development project — empowering the community with new housing on its existing tenured land.

Betwala Chawl
Foras Road (Nimkar Marg), Central Mumbai, November 2004

View of New Betwala Chawl

View of Sale Component and Community Court behind

View of Rehabilitation building (shown in white) with sale component (shown in red)

View of Rehabilitation building with double height intermittent community workspaces

View of Sale component with a Sun screen feature, incorporating Bet (cane) blinds

View of Sale component with landscaped terrace above

View of Rehab component with internal court


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