Lessons in urban development ignored

By Sama Khan

This op-ed appeared in The Pioneer on 5 May 2015 and can be accessed here

The Modi Government is repeating the mistakes of its predecessors by constructing new houses to meet its Housing for All goal. Past experience shows that the urban poor prefer the cheaper option of developing existing slums with basic amenities, writes SAMA KHAN

In order to pursue the goal of ‘Housing for All’ by 2022, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had proposed to build more than two crore houses across the country. This would cover slum housing and affordable housing for the weaker sections.

In this context, it is worthwhile to take a look at how urban housing schemes have fared in the past. The Basic Services to the Urban Poor and the Integrated Housing and Slum Development programmes were launched in 2005 under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission for integrated development of the slums.

Both the programmes were administered by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation. The objective of the BSUP was to provide housing either in-situ or in a new location with basic infrastructure amenities in a healthy environment. The BSUP and IHSDP involved construction of dwelling units, and only a few projects covered the upgradation of infrastructure amenities.

According to the Ministry’s database, a considerable number of houses have not been completed under the BSUP and IHSDP programme. Out of the total sanctioned houses under BSUP and IHSDP, 71 per cent have been completed and of these only 54 per cent of the total sanctioned units have been occupied whereas 29 per cent were under progress as on December 2014.

A report by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India on JnNURM (2012) states that ineligible beneficiaries were able to gain benefits of the BSUP. There were shortfalls in the identification of beneficiaries, even though the guidelines proposed household survey of slums including livelihood and occupation profiles before the submission of the Detailed Project Report along with an understanding of the willingness of beneficiaries to relocate.

In many cases, the dwelling units constructed were of poor quality and hence some of the units remained unoccupied whereas others were occupied by ineligible beneficiaries. There were significant delays in the construction work due to the non-availability of land. In many cases, BSUP units were constructed on the peripheries of cities, without considering the willingness of the slum dwellers to relocate outside the city.

The Rajiv Awas Yojana, launched in June 2013, was yet another scheme launched by the MoHUPA to further accelerate the provision of housing for the urban poor. RAY was an improvement over the BSUP and it learnt from many shortfalls of the BSUP.

Unlike the BSUP, the RAY pronounced in-situ development as the preferred strategy for slum development suggesting either upgradation by filling gaps in housing and infrastructure or re-development, which is an overhaul of the entire slum.

However, according to the data on RAY, as on March only two per cent of the total sanctioned units have been completed and occupied. Thirteen per cent are under progress while construction is yet to start for the remaining 85 per cent. Within the sanctioned dwelling units, there has been a high preference for in-situ development/re-development projects under RAY.

The Ministry’s response to the Standing Committee on Urban Development on the slow pace of progress of the RAY was that while “in-situ redevelopment of slum is the preferred choice… it is a time consuming process as beneficiaries have to be relocated and places to be handed over to contractor for work. In many cases beneficiaries are reluctant to move and ULBs find it difficult to temporarily relocate slum dwellers.”

The Government now  plans on investing large amounts of money to build affordable housing. Thus, rather than improving the settlements, the Government aimed to create entirely new homes for the urban poor.

There seems to be an absence of any policy that targets the improvement of the living standards of slum dwellers. BSUP, IHSDP and RAY clearly point to a focus on construction of houses, with only a few projects covering the up-gradation of infrastructure amenities. Although the approach of construction of houses hasn’t yielded the desired results as a considerable number of these houses are incomplete, many of the completed houses are lying vacant and many others are occupied by ineligible beneficiaries. This approach fails to understand the unwillingness of the slum dwellers to relocate to a new location or to be temporarily relocated for in-situ redevelopment.

It also neglects the importance of providing citizenship rights to the urban poor and including them in the formal economy of the city. Up-gradation of slum settlements like provision of safe drinking water, sanitation and solid waste management is an important policy measure that should not be disregarded as it will allow the slum dwellers to improve their standard of living and will also provide them with land tenure security.

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