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Rehabilitating urban poor? Draft slum policy lacks focus on in situ slum upgradation

Rajendra Joshi
By Rajiv Shah 
The draft new slum policy 2013, called “Gujarat Sum Rehabilitation and Redevelopment Policy”, overlooks the issue of slum upgradation altogether, despite the fact that it was found to be working successfully in Ahmedabad in 1990s. The government has not cared to float the draft policy for public debate, which has further constrained any meaningful dialogue on it.
The Gujarat government is mulling over the new Slum Policy 2013, and its draft, which has been prepared, has mooted changes from the earlier policy of 2010 in order to make it attractive for the urban poor, who were promised 50 lakh houses in the BJP manifesto during the December 2012 elections. And, in order to provide teeth to do it, it has decided to “manage” slums by making the Gujarat chief minister as head a new authority, Gujarat Affordable Housing and Slum Rehabilitation Authority (GAHSRA), which will have all the powers to “decide and/ or guide matters related to land use, town planning, master planning process and any issue related to slum rehabilitation”.
The task, indeed, is stupendous, as the pervious 2010 policy, proposing to involve private developers in building housing societies for the slum dwellers, failed. A recent World Bank-sponsored paper, “Ahmedabad: More but Different Government for ‘Slum Free’ and Livable Cities” (2012), by a team led by consultants Patricia Clarke Annez and Alain Bertaud, criticized government inertia to build houses for the poor in the following words: “Government produces about 5,000 units per year, showing a recent increase due to central programme subsidies. Perhaps another 2,500 units could be provided by reservations for low-income housing — provided these reservations are actually enforced. We estimate that 4,22,000 households live in slums and challis. At a rate of 7,500 government sponsored units per year, it would take over 50 years to address the problem for today’s slum population alone”.
While the state government may want to construct as many houses for the urban poor as possible in Gujarat, what appears to disturb keen observers, involved in slum networking for decades, is that the draft new draft policy for 2013 overlooks the needs and aspirations of the slum dwellers. Interestingly, while the draft has been leaked and there have been reports on how the government wants to pursue the Swiss route to involve private developers in order to avoid the bidding process for housing construction, it has still now shown transparency to put its proposed changes for public discussion, by putting it on its website and invite discussions.
The draft talks of “In-situ rehabilitation of slums on public or private land by private developer”, and the incentives in the policy include allowing developers to build high rise buildings with a floor space index of three, development rights for the slum rehabilitation plot, and freehold rights for the part of the slum rehabilitation plot which is utilized for free sale development. But, noticeably, the state government talks of in situ rehabilitation as an option along with relocating the slum dwellers at a different pace. This would, automatically, disturb the social fabric in which they have been living so far. “There is no talk of in situ slum upgradation”, says Rajendra Joshi, trustee, Saath, a well-known organization involved slum networking for two decades, and has studied the new draft carefully.
In fact, Joshi says, “Slum upgradation would have been a better option, as shown by our experience in Gupta Nagar area of Ahmedabad. There, the slum dwellers were promised that they would not be uprooted, and this gave them confidence to invest in their own houses. This happened against the backdrop of the biggest fear in which the slum dwellers live – that they might be uprooted as their land title is not clear. The government only provided basic infrastructure, and the slum at Gupta Nagar began looking up on its own. Slum dwellers invested in their own houses. Community life and livelihood were not disturbed. The slums today really do not look like slums, they are more housing colonies.”
According to Joshi, policy confusion in the government is on account of the failure to decide on land title. Slums in Ahmedabad are located on three type of lands – (1) the land which was to become surplus because of the erstwhile Urban Land Ceiling Act, but it was disposed of to middle men and shown as encroached, (2) former village common land which again was disposed of by interested land dealers, and (3) public land. “Nearly 85 per cent of slums are on the first two categories of lands, hence their ownership is unidentifiable. It can easily be called grey land, which was sold to the slum dwellers cheap, as they badly wanted some place to live in, by dividing them into tiny unplanned plots.”
Joshi believes, “The most fundamental thing needed in any slum policy is to recognize that the slum dwellers are not just part of the city but are a productive part of the city. They contribute to the economy in the same way as others. Any effort to rehabilitate the slum dwellers would mean destroying their social fabric which they have developed for years now by living together.” He adds, “While upgradation was the buzz word till 2005, after the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) with urban housing for the poor was launched, it lost charm.”
Studies, too, suggest how JNNURM’s emphasis on housing for the poor created issues with slum upgradation. A recent study by the Development Innovations Group of the Centre for Development Finance, Chennai, titled “Best Practices in Slum Improvement: the Case of Ahmedabad, India”, says that “earlier policies favored eviction of slum dwellers from the city centre and resettlement in the periphery, which led to displacement from their sources of livelihood. This proved expensive and largely ineffective, as it alienated the slum dwellers who represented an important vote bank and new slum settlements sprang up in the city to take the place of those evicted.”
Things changed and “the government realized that in situ upgrading was a more sustainable and cost-effective approach. In particular, the National Slum Development Programme (NSDP) aimed to improve slums by providing physical amenities, community infrastructure, health care and social amenities.” In fact, during the early stages of SNP, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) “obtained funds from the central government.” However, after the JNNURM, “the focus has shifted again, with schemes such as the JNNURM representing a more market-oriented approach to the development of India’s cities.” Launched in 2005, while it did seek to target the urban poor, there was virtually no scope for consultation with the target population. “Most state governments propose to meet their targets through new housing projects for low-income groups, rather than in situ slum upgrading.”
No doubt, the SNP failed to last because of failure to address certain basic policy issues related with land. The report states, “In fact, only 23 of the 112 applications received for participation in the programme until November 2000 had been approved by the AMC. In addition, other factors such as lack of political support and pressures on land due to an increased number of public private partnership (PPP) projects in the city also impact the ability of AMC to obtain clearances for undertaking SNP in slum settlements located on land that is currently in high demand.”
The Census of India 2011 figures show that there is enough reason for Gujarat to be concerned about poor conditions in which the state’s slum dwellers live. Census data suggest, about 48.01 per cent of the slum houses are in “good” condition, while other houses may be either “livable” or in a “dilapidated” state. This is one of the worst in India. While all-India the comparative figure is 58.41 per cent, Gujarat is worse off most competing states – Maharashtra has 57.86 per cent of slum houses under the category, Karnataka 57.36 per cent, Kerala with 62.93 per cent, Tamil Nadu with 69.18 per cent, Madhya Pradesh with 57.85 per cent, Andhra Pradesh with 75.03 per cent, Rajasthan with 56.56 per cent, West Bengal with 50.51 per cent, and Uttar Pradesh with 49.51 per cent. The figures suggest that only Bihar (41.89 per cent), Orissa (38.09 per cent), and Punjab (42.67 per cent) fair worse than Gujarat as far as urban slum housing is concerned.
While there are no authentic data on the number of people living in slums, the still unreleased Census of India figures suggest that there are about eight lakh people or 14 per cent of Ahmedabad’s population lives in slums. Even senior government officials like Ahmedabad municipal commissioner Guruprasad Mahapatra believe this is an “understatement” as these figures only recognize notified slums, leaving aside the areas which are “slum-like”. “There the number of slum dwellers should be double that percentage”, he conjectures.
Be that as it may, the following are some the indicative facts about the status of slums, quoted by the study by Development Innovations Group of the Centre for Development Finance:
* Only 27 percent of the slums in Gujarat are notified and 73.1 percent are non-notified, with 63.7 percent of households living in non-notified slums. This compares unfavourably with the all-India average, which is 50.6 percent notified slums and 49.4 percent non-notified slums (and only 34.9 percent of households live in non-notified slums).
* In Gujarat, 86 percent of notified slums and 68 percent of non-notified slums are on public lands (the corresponding all-India figures are 64 percent and 63 percent respectively).
* 81 percent of notified slums in Gujarat are pucca (permanent), 19 percent are semi-puccaand none are kutcha (temporary); whereas for non-notified slums these numbers are 30 percent, 69 percent and 2 percent respectively. All-India figures are: 65 percent, 30 percent and 6 percent; and 30 percent, 40 percent and 30 percent.
* 81 percent of notified slums in Gujarat have a pucca road within the slum, whereas only 20 percent of non-notified slums have the same.
* 81 percent of notified slums and 79 percent of non-notified slums in Gujarat are water-logged during monsoons, whereas the all-India figures are only 36 percent and 54 percent.
* The proportion of slums in Gujarat having access to underground sewerage is 83 percent for notified slums and 7 percent for non-notified slums. Across India, access levels are 30 percent for notified slums and 15 percent for non-notified slums.
Based on the above facts, the report concludes, “On most of the indicators listed above, slums in Gujarat fare worse than the average Indian slum. The problem is particularly acute in Ahmedabad, with approximately 41 percent of the city’s population residing in informal settlements that are characterized by overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, insecure tenure and a high level of public health risk.”

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