Dunu Roy: Slums are a best practice

Dunu Roy discusses why India’s low-income housing policy is completely incongruent with the communities it looks to serve.


Dunu Roy discusses why India’s low-income housing policy is completely incongruent with the communities it looks to serve. 

Edited excerpts from the conversation:

Housing is built without planning for support systems like water, sanitation and energy around it. Pic courtesy: Meena Kadri

Housing is built without planning for support systems like water, sanitation and energy around it. Pic courtesy: Meena Kadri

We build upon a sub-optimal housing policy

In the 70s, slums were seen as the result of inadequate housing provision by the State, which is why programmes like Basic Services for the Urban Poor (BSUP), the slum rehabilitation programme, the slum redevelopment programme etc. were initiated. Executed on a large scale, these projects proceeded to cause social disturbance in the slum communities—relocating people to remote corners outside the city and disrupting the lives and livelihoods of the slum dwellers—all in return for the promise of a house.

The Government then turned its attention towards in-situ rehabilitation as a better way of addressing the lack of low-income housing. There is, however, a significant change in the way in-situ rehabilitation is looked at currently, compared to its initial plans two decades ago. Earlier, a certain amount of basic planning went into constructing an ecosystem in the slum—roads were rationalised, drains made pucca with sewerage, building bye-laws followed etc.

The current policy tries to marry the value of land with in-situ rehabilitation.  This has given way to the PPP models where land and huge subsidies are given to private developers, who in turn demarcate portions for low-income housing and construct high rises. For example, if you look at PPP-led affordable housing projects in Mumbai, you will see 8 or 9-storeyed buildings, with very little planning on facilities around the high rise: water, energy, maintenance etc. are  prohibitively expensive for the low socio-economic groups.

The current affordable housing strategy has had three key manifestations:

1.Beneficiaries have to pay: In contrast to earlier schemes, where slum dwellers did not have to pay for their house, today, beneficiaries are required to pay about Rs 1,20,000 for a dwelling. It is clear that BPL families cannot easily afford this amount.

2.Housing has become a finance-driven activity: Slum dwellers can avail of loans against their land tenure and mortgage their property, enabling them to pay for the house over time. Growing land value has to be recovered and housing finance seems to be a way of implementing that.

3.Houses don’t reach the poor: Once malls, hotels and luxury flats come up in the land allotted to private developers, tenements in the vicinity become an undesirable sight. Legal recourse, executive action, or a sale is then forged to buy this land back. For example, in Porular in Mumbai, houses meant for low-income groups have been taken over by the middle class.

We have hence moved from an economy that built and planned for welfare housing to one where market forces completely dominate. In this scenario, some lower-income groups may still get housing, but in due course of time, the property itself becomes more valuable as rent.

We have no plan for 86% of the workforce that drives our economy

After GIS plotting of slums in several cities, we have discovered that extra land is available right next to the original slum. Pic: Wikimedia Commons

“After GIS plotting of slums in several cities, we have discovered that extra land is available right next to the original slum.” Dharavi juxtaposed with Hiranandani. Pic: Wikimedia Commons

There has been increasing urbanisation and migration to bigger cities and towns for over two decades now. Any city’s urban master plan projects population growth, infrastructure needed to support this growth, housing, jobs, education etc. The problem is with the implementation of these master plans.

In the 60s and 70s, we met half of our planned targets. After that, it has steadily decreased; now barely one-third of what is planned gets implemented.  Consequently, more and more people are becoming disenfranchised without options for housing or employment.

Migration to bigger cities has actually slowed down. It is now much more in the smaller towns, and this is a huge issue. Metros have the financial and political clout to bring in support facilities – power, water, land etc. Smaller towns on the other hand have very little room. Our research shows that financial budgeting and allocations in metros is as much as 10 times over that in smaller census towns.

86% of our labour comes from the unorganised sector, contributing to 57% of GDP growth. We are driving an economy based on unorganised sector growth without a plan for the people in this sector.

Slums should be embraced

Slums are not going to disappear. Though the Rajiv Awaz Yojana (RAY) and other programmes talk about “slum-free” India, the truth is that only  1/3rd to  1/4th of those needing housing are going to be beneficiaries of tenements. We are just hoping that slums will gradually become invisible and make way for better real estate.

In my opinion, slums are a best practice. Slum housing actually represents a great optimisation of existing resources, and yet is inadequate, primarily because of absence of connections to infrastructure. The Government looks narrowly at housing without planning for support systems like roads, sanitation, water, energy, transport etc. in the slum, and this is the core problem. We don’t design with the occupant in mind.

We commit the same mistakes as the developed world. Look at all the abandoned settlements from World War-2 housing in UK- with no proper planning, sanitation choked, no one had money to clean it up, so the beneficiaries just vacated.

House construction should be left to slum dwellers; the Government should focus instead on making the land available and providing infrastructure, safety, emergency and sanitation services. The slum people will build their own houses, the way they’d like, and when they can.

There is enough land to meet all our housing needs

Dunu Roy.

Dunu Roy

Our slums address the housing needs of only 1/3rd of the current population. After GIS plotting of slums in several cities, we have discovered that extra land is available right next to the original slum. For example, next to Dharavi, the entire East Bandra area was available to extend housing, except that it was given over to private development.

Additionally, there are a number of old industrial buildings and areas – old cotton spinning mills, fertiliser plants, small-scale industries from the 60s etc. – that lie in a state of decay. A lot of this land can be reclaimed for housing.

More than land, the issue is in poor documentation. In the 50s, land was largely owned by the public. The Government took over these lands, and in the 70s, set up Urban Development Authorities to facilitate development.  A lot of this land has no documentation or records. And until land records are updated, land titling cannot be sorted out, and the agency of the poor will hence be limited on housing.

Empower the poor for solutions

The slum community has the skills, tools and ingenuity to come up with innovative solutions that are relevant to them.

There are enough documented success stories and best practices all that are implicit in survival mode. Take for example, a labour colony in Mumbai that was constantly  plagued by fires. They revamped their layout such that every cluster of six houses was built around a courtyard with a lane separating clusters. Even if one house caught fire, it wouldn’t spread to the other clusters. Life proceeded peacefully in this colony for 20 years until the Government came along and demolished it to “rehabilitate” them.

In the two decades that we have worked with slum dwellers, their demands have been consistent:

1) Give us title to the land, give us a plot of land.

2) Give us water and energy at the household level. We are willing to pay for it.

3) We need some credit to build our houses and we can repay this loan over time.  This is a more practical solution than spending an average of Rs 80,000 per house that the Government scheme is following now.

The need of the hour is integrating community participation right at the start of a housing project. The RAY already provides for this participation. The community needs to be decision makers in implementation as much as urban planners.

The slum community already has abundant skill through their painters, carpenters, masons and the like. They don’t need junior engineers from the Government to tell them how this should be done.

Dunu Roy, formerly A.K. Roy, is a chemical engineer by training, social scientist by compulsion, and political ecologist by choice. He worked for over four decades on land and water management, secure settlements, safe work, environmental planning, leadership training, and pollution control in both rural and urban communities. His work is poised on the delicate borderline between environment and development. He is the founder of the Hazards Centre, which provides research support to community and labour organisations in Delhi.

Related articles:

Affordable Housing: How affordable is it?

Community engagement: United We Build

The Utthan Project: Mapping for a slum-free city

Slum rehabilitation through In-situ Housing

 


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aarti Mohan is the Chief editor of The Alternative. more

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  • Eilif Verney-Elliott

    Excellent article.