Nipesh P Narayanan, architect and urban designer with mHS argues that it is the poor conditions of slums that make them affordable. To find solutions for housing the urban poor, we need to stop seeing land as a commodity and view it as a resource for the betterment of citizens, he argues.
More than half the population in Delhi (and in all the metro cities) lives in settlements that are comfortably termed as slums. The majority of the population are categorized in this manner with such negative connotation that the only viable option perceivable is a philanthropic approach of pumping in public money to improve their condition. Already (as of Dec 2011) almost 30,000 Crore rupees (INR 300,000 Million) has been spent for ‘Basic Services to Urban Poor’ under JNNURM and the preparatory phase of Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) itself has spent almost 30 Crores (INR 300 Million) for 38 cities, this is apart from 1000 crore rupees as mortgage guarantee fund. World Bank also now intends to pump $ 300 million for low income housing through NHB. This is not something new; we keep spending money with no results. Slums keep growing and their condition worsening. Are slums a necessary evil for the development model that we have chosen? Is there no way to get rid of slums? Why all the money that went in, is not bringing any change in the status of slums all over the country?
Most of the interventions that are currently being done are to improve the condition of the slums. So the basic ideology is that slums are not a good place to live in, or are they? Slum as a term had different connotations until in 2002 when UN came up with a common definition of slum as described below
So the basic definition of slum revolves around the infrastructure and tenure of the place (except for the poor structural quality); thus a notion that, improving the infrastructure will improve housing condition. India is having an infrastructure boom, still the slum population is growing; more people in slums live in poorer conditions today than before.
To put it straight, if all the slums in Delhi have tenure rights and proper infrastructure then will there be no slums in future? …. RAY now focuses on bringing tenure rights to all slum dwellers, looks like a magical formula, but it should be noted that Madhya Pradesh government (and subsequently Rajasthan, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh) passed an act to regularize tenure of landless persons in urban area throughout the state way back in 1984, yielding to nothing more than just capitalizing on vote banks.
“…. it is too simplistic to assume that tenure regularization and infrastructure improvement will, in any case lead to improved housing condition of the poor…” (Banerjee, B. 2006)
The basic reason that the slums still exist is that we have been focusing on the symptoms than on the disease….. more affordable housing with subsidy….spending money for physical infrastructure…. accessible finance….. all these are important but still the core reason for mushrooming of slums remain unanswered….. THE LAND!
Affordable housing, or finance to urban poor are initiatives that can perhaps be taken care by private players with some help from the government, but the issue of land is something which needs a broader policy perspective. Even builders who are ready to build affordable housing want land for free, so that makes the selling price of the house much lesser than the market rate, opening obvious inefficiencies. If one studies any of the slum resettlement colonies (colonies created for relocated slum dwellers, usually in the outskirts of the city) of Delhi, it can be easily seen that most of the original allottees have sold their land informally to someone else.
The genesis of the land issue in Delhi started with the establishment of DIT (Delhi Improvement Trust) in 1937, which was motivated by profit generation concept from Nazul land as developed by R B Whitehead report of 1908. Post independence also when DDA was formulated in 1955, the main ‘weapon’ it had was the ‘land acquisition act of 1884’. DDA became the biggest land speculator of the city-state by acquiring land and selling it for making huge profits, on the pretext of generating money for developing affordable housing – which is a paradox. One can’t speculate to increase the land prizes and provide affordable housing at the same time.
When land becomes a tradeable commodity and speculation becomes a profit making game, then the poor and marginalized are pushed out to the so called slums.The very poor condition of these areas is what is making it affordable. Improving the housing condition will naturally let the market to force creation of new slums – and the vicious cycle continues till the land is rationalized.
Rationalization of land doesn’t mean that there be forceful restrictions, which never work, but a thorough study of the market dynamics and delinking speculation of land from the development process. We can see that the Dharavi model, or the much acclaimed PPP model where every project seems to derive its main funding by trading land which is counterproductive for the development of an inclusive city.
Land in an urban context is a common resource like water and air, which should be utilized for betterment of the citizens. Any project which perceives land as a money generation avenue creates the basis for most of the urban problems- – physical and social.