Making Indian Cities Slum-Free: Vision and Operationalisation
by Amitabh Kundu
Economic & Political Weekly, 48(17), pp. 15-18, April 27, 2013
by Amitabh Kundu
Economic & Political Weekly, 48(17), pp. 15-18, April 27, 2013
Abstract: The plan of making urban India slum-free faced serious difficulties in the Eleventh Plan period and it looks like these will persist in the Twelfth Plan period as well. This article points out that the schemes in operation lack a reliable framework for identifying non-tenable slums and legitimate slum households that are entitled to get dwelling units. Further, the design of the Rajiv Awas Yojana betrays a big-city bias to attract global capital, and there is no clear road map for its time-bound implementation.
The Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) is a major flagship programme of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, designed to build on the groundwork carried out during the Eleventh Plan period and launched on a national scale during the Twelfth Five-Year Plan (2012-17). It projects the vision of a slum-free India, its primary objective being enabling poor urban families to realise their dream of owning a house that has a proper land title and access to basic amenities. The initial years of its operation have, however, created diverse expectations in different quarters. The real estate and builder's lobby, which apprehends that the housing bubble is about to burst, wants it to give a boost to construction activity. The banking-cum-financing sector, uncertain of the demand for housing loans and their recovery, believes there will be a substantial increase in interest subsidies and a streamlining of the mortgage market. The upper and middle classes hope that their cities will be "sanitised" when the programme is implemented, with slums disappearing either through upgradation or eviction.
The Large City Bias
Small and medium towns have been excluded from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), launched during the Tenth Five-Year Plan for improving urban infrastructure, and now from the RAY, despite there being clear evidence of a high incidence of poverty and slum-like conditions, alongside serious service deficiencies in them. The focus is on large cities because the political economy of the country necessitates improving their environmental conditions to make them attractive to global business. This bias is also implicit in the development of a database, with the Census of India collecting information on slums only from the larger cities until 2001. In addition, reliable data on slums from the National Sample Survey are available only for cities with a population exceeding a million.
Problems in Defining Tenability
Granting full property rights to slum-dwellers and enacting state legislation for this are mandatory requirements under the RAY, except in regions with community control and ownership of land. The mission is based on the principle of inclusion, implying no eviction and in-situ development unless a site is identified, after following the due process, as "untenable". If a site is found to be untenable, an alternative site must be found in consultation with the urban communities concerned and, as far as possible, it should be within the same ward or zone to minimise adverse effects on livelihoods, community assets, and access to health and education facilities. Vacant residential land in the same or adjacent areas must be identified and used for accommodating the people in untenable slums. All this to be operationalised through a slum-free city plan of action (SFCPOA), which is to be prepared by the urban local body or any other competent authority, in consultation with personnel in the state government departments concerned, technical experts, and the resident community.
Slums located on environmentally hazardous sites such as the banks of rivers and ponds, and hilly and marshy terrain would be untenable as they pose a threat to human life and public health. Taking everything into consideration, only a part of the slum may be declared hazardous. Besides, ecologically-sensitive sites such as mangroves, and national parks and sanctuaries are to be considered untenable as habitation there will have serious negative implications for society at large. However, slums located on land reserved for non-residential
use such as industries, and more importantly, for major "infrastructure projects for public purpose" such as roads, railways and other facilities in a city master plan must be considered semi-tenable. Such land often remains undeveloped for years and a review of their use is needed while preparing the SFCPOA. This can strengthen the process for deciding (a) changes in present use to residential use (passed by a standing committee of the urban local body), and (b) swapping uses for sites within the same zone of the city to make adequate land available for in-situ slum upgradation. Such decisions must be based on planning norms, taking both risk and public interest into account. Unfortunately, the process has not begun within a well-defined framework. The ambiguity in defining tenability, the absence of procedures to determine hazardous and ecologically sensitive locations, and different interpretations of what is "infrastructure for public purpose" have resulted in decisions being taken on a case-by-case basis while preparing SFCPOAs.
The process can be operationalised only if there are clear policy directives defining the ground rules at the national and state levels. Standard criteria need to be proposed at the higher levels without any ambiguity and then applied in the field by taking the local context into account. Attempts to do that at local levels, as the experience of preparing city development plans under the mission reveals, have faced enormous problems and conflicts of interest, often leading to a legal impasse. The categories of hazardous or ecologically sensitive locations and public purpose are used to arbitrarily evict slums. Several state and local governments have virtually declared all slums on government land to be hazardous and untenable. Such decisions need to be taken in a uniform manner across cities and states, following a procedure that is transparent, participatory, and fair.
Cities must be encouraged to review their present system and make it comparable within and across states. Many of the slums on non-hazardous lands that have been declared objectionable could be developed in situ by changing the present land use. Also, a few of the sites considered hazardous can be restructured and redeveloped to resolve current problems. However, if relocation is absolutely necessary, this would have to be done by following a clearly articulated process. The SFCPOA should make a provision to provide all non-tenable slums and homeless persons with alternative sites close to their present location. The policy on slums located on and in proximity to water bodies, railway tracks, industrial and commercial land, and so on must also be laid down with clarity and transparency, and made mandatory for all the agencies concerned.
Identification of Beneficiaries and Affordable Carpet Area
Identifying and targeting beneficiaries is most critical to preventing subsidy leakages. The guidelines for implementing the RAY have to be specific in terms of slum mapping and giving land titles to households so that states and cities do not interpret them differently. City commissioners now find it difficult to undertake this by managing local-level conflicts, especially in the absence of unambiguous criteria. The National Advisory Council (NAC) has recommended that the process of mapping settlements, and surveying and listing eligible households should be undertaken by district collectors, through committees comprising officials of the local and state governments, members of local slums and homeless settlements, youth groups, social work institutions, and so on. Settlements and households that feel they have been left out should be free to appeal.
In the in-situ upgradation and resettlement programme in Mumbai, the agencies of the state and local governments have worked with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres using multiple parameters to determine each household's eligibility for subsidised housing. Information on land and land-related schemes are managed by agencies at the district level and the land vests with the state revenue department. Consequently, the involvement of the district authority and the state government departments concerned is important to finalising and providing a stamp of approval for the plan of action. Unfortunately, due to the absence of systematic land records, non-transparent deals, and ownership conflicts between different landowning departments, it is difficult at present to answer questions of ownership of slum land in several places. Immediate steps must be taken to prepare an inventory of land and to organise land records.
A related issue is defining the minimum acceptable dwelling unit for slum-dwellers that is affordable, given their low capacity to repay and the limited resources available under the mission. The report of the high-level task force on a2ffordable housing for all (2008) skirted the issue and criticised the idea of one size fitting all. While it talked of a carpet area of 300 to 600 square feet for economically weaker sections (EWS) and low income groups (LIG), the figure was 1,200 square feet for middle income households. Further, it thought that the cost must not exceed four times the annual gross income, or that the equated monthly instalment (EMI) must not exceed 30% of a household's monthly income. Taking an average urban household of five members, the total monthly expenditure for households at the poverty line of the Tendulkar Committee (2009) would be Rs 4,500. As per the task force, the cost of the unit must not exceed Rs 2,16,000 and the EMI should be only Rs 1,350.
The real challenge would be keeping the cost of a flat with 300 square feet to Rs 2,20,000 in large cities. This would necessitate making land available free of charge and heavy subsidies for material cost and interest payment. Unfortunately, the state has failed to make institutional arrangements for providing the required land and capital. Banks and micro-finance institutions are reluctant to lend to the poor under state guarantee programmes as they are apprehensive of politicians sanctioning amnesty schemes. Also, guidelines have not been drafted for them to ensure that slum-dwellers can access credit with an interest subsidy in situations where a clear land title cannot be given before the construction of the house is completed. Institutional finance is not seen as the best option by the poor who continue to borrow from neighbours, relatives, and friends. While there is no clear command to the banking sector, and cheaper technologies of construction are not being worked out, the state is unwilling to lower the carpet area to a realistic level. No major policy is contemplated to give incentives to big as well as small builders to create housing stock on a massive scale at an affordable cost. This suggests the absence of any definitive thinking on the part of state agencies, if not a serious deficit in their commitment.
It is true that employment generation for the targeted households through the RAY would enhance their paying capacity. Yet, Rs 1,350 (the task force has suggested Rs 1,500-1,800 per month), or 30% of a poor household's income, going as an instalment to repay a housing loan will not be affordable to the poor. The NAC has rightly suggested that the amount needs to be worked out on the basis of studies on the average income or consumption expenditure of slum residents and the erratic or irregular nature of their earnings. It argued that it should not exceed 25% of the average income and there must be a special subsidy for single women, and the aged, disabled and homeless.
Cities are required to contribute their share of resources for obtaining central funds under the RAY. As a consequence, they incline towards the public-private partnership (PPP) model, especially when it comes to premium land at central locations. The temptation is to shift slums from these lands as they are a major source of revenue. Under both the JNNURM and the RAY, slum-dwellers are being shifted to peripheries where land is cheaper, while the land in the central city is used for high-rise apartments for the upper and middle classes and commercial developments. Densification of premium-value inner city land has an impact on the area's carrying capacity, transport, environment, and infrastructure that are generally not incorporated into the planning framework.
A country growing at above 8% per annum for many years has the financial capability to provide minimum acceptable shelter to its slum population, many of them engaged in activities linked to the global market. The per capita allocation of funds under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) is the same as that under the JNNURM, but the latter covers a much smaller population and seven times more resources are available per household. The question is whether it is possible to work out a system of cost sharing between the central, state, and local governments and with private agencies, including households, in a manner that the project can be implemented with efficiency and a sense of urgency. The answer is emphatically yes. A scheme must therefore be worked out among the agencies concerned for sharing the cost of providing land and construction so that dwelling units are built as per the minimum requirements and are affordable to slum-dwellers and the houseless population.
Two Objectives of RAY
The RAY has two main objectives – (a) improving the conditions in existing slums, and (b) preventing the growth of future slums. As for the first objective, the RAY guidelines place a welcome emphasis on in-situ development rather than relocation of slums, and recognise the importance of security of tenure in preparing SFCPOAs at the state and city levels. Since the availability of land is critical for housing the poor, the central funds are made available only to states and cities that can provide land with property rights. This was generally considered necessary even under Basic Services for the Urban Poor (BSUP) and the Integrated Housing and Slum Development Programme (IHSDP), the components of the JNNURM for large and small cites respectively. Importantly, the RAY has a limit of 10% on slum households that can be relocated in sharp contrast to BSUP where nearly 40% of households were relocated. This limit needs to be worked out on the basis of a realistic assessment of ground conditions on the tenability of slums and then be implemented firmly without many exemptions. For this, all the state and local agencies that own slum land must be brought within the policy framework of the RAY.
The second objective of the RAY would require a strategy that prevents the formation of slums in urban areas through redressing failures in the formal land market. One must realise that it is possible to achieve this goal without much difficulty by strengthening the legal, administrative, and land surveillance systems and allowing the market to function strictly on the basis of paying capacity. The guidelines, however, make it obligatory to reserve 25% to 40% of land in city development plans for new social housing stock to accommodate the future inflow of poor migrants. Not many state and local governments are willing or able to comply with this and it means that more than 50% of the mission funds remain unutilised. An official drive will be needed in all cities and towns to identify government land that has been encroached on by mafias, and land that lies unutilised with public agencies or is under unwarranted litigation to obtain the required extent from within the system. Speedy implementation of the programme on a national scale is needed to cover the total slum population in a time-bound manner, without which the mission would be an empty dream.
The RAY is a well-intentioned programme but unlike the MGNREGS it has no formal constitutional guarantee. It may be unreasonable to expect a country that has not yet been able to constitutionally mandate freedom from hunger to all its citizens to provide a right to housing. What, however, is a matter of serious concern is that in contrast to the MGNREGS, the operational details of implementing the RAY at the state and city levels have not been worked out. The scope and coverage of the mission remains ambiguous so much so that in a few states only officially "notified" slums or people arriving in the city before a certain cut-off date are considered eligible under the RAY. The surveys conducted in the first three years of its existence by the ministry concerned lack a macro perspective and have not been able to resolve local-level issues to do with implementation. The absence of a road map for implementing the mission in a time-bound manner in the whole country or even in a selected set of cities has resulted in a lot of uncertainty.
Amitabh Kundu (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches at the Centre for the Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.