Abstract – Land security and the challenges of realizing the human right to water and sanitation in the slums of Mumbai, India

Sharmila L. Murthy

Health and Human rights 14/2

Published December 2012


Addressing the human right to water and sanitation in the slums of Mumbai, India requires disentangling the provision of basic services from a more complicated set of questions around land security and land ownership. Millions of slum-dwellers in Mumbai lack adequate access to safe drinking water and sanitation, which places them at risk for waterborne diseases. Many slums are located in hazardous areas such as flood plains, increasing their susceptibility to climate change-related weather patterns. Access to water and sanitation in slums generally hinges on whether a dwelling was created prior to January 1, 1995, because those constructed created prior to that date have greater land security. Although the so-called “1995 cut-off rule” looms large in Mumbai slum policy, a closer reading of the relevant laws and regulations suggests that access to water and sanitation could be expanded to slums created after January 1, 1995. State and municipal governments already have the authority to expand access to water services; they just need to exercise their discretion. However, slums located on central government land are in a more difficult position. Central government agencies in Mumbai have often refused to allow the state and municipal governments to rehabilitate or improve access to services for slums located on their land. As a result, an argument could be made that by interfering with the efforts of sub-national actors to extend water and sanitation to services to slum-dwellers, the central government of India is violating its obligations to respect the human right to water and sanitation under international and national jurisprudence.