Unkept promises and skewed plans

The sudden revival of interest among the Congress legislators to extend protection to encroachers who had set up their shanties before 2000...

Written by Kavitha Iyer | Mumbai | Published:February 8, 2009 3:23 am

Slums,the most visible symptom of Mumbai’s housing crisis,cannot be wished away. And a famine of ideas has caused their relentless proliferation

The sudden revival of interest among the Congress legislators to extend protection to encroachers who had set up their shanties before 2000,from the current cut-off of 1995,may be seen as an obvious attempt to claim the tag of being the patron of Mumbai’s slumdwellers.

But it was the Shiv Sena that had won a bout in competitive populism in the mid-1990s when it announced free homes for protected slumdwellers. Five lakh homes in five years,they had promised,giving the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) its mandate. A decade-and-a-half later,the latest numbers from the SRA tell the story of a plan gone awry:

* Until January 31 this year,a total of 97,956 free houses,or tenements,had been given occupation certificates,less than a fifth of the original five-year target. Even after counting the projects underway,the total number of tenements given the nod is an abysmal 2,84,928.

* The City Development Plan prepared by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation two years ago states that 54 per cent of Mumbai’s population lives in 1,950 shanty towns that dot India’s financial capital.

* Worse,the numbers will turn more skewed: In 2001,Mumbai’s slum population was 58.2 lakh vis-a-vis the non-slum population of 60.9 lakh. By 2025,the government estimates,the slum population will be over 64 lakh.

Mumbai’s slums may be the most visible indicator of the gaping hole that is affordable housing,but obviously,the city’s plans for slum resettlement have been a complete failure. “Free houses for slumdwellers is an unsustainable concept,” says D M Sukthankar,former state chief secretary and now head of a panel of independent experts monitoring the Dharavi Redevelopment Project. “Because that cost of constructing free homes has to be loaded on the free-sale component.”

SRA schemes have succeeded only in coveted locations as opposed to congested areas.“The scheme will not take off without the involvement of slumdwellers as stakeholders,” he says,suggesting that a part of construction costs should be recovered from the beneficiaries.

The concept of free apartments coupled with the realty prices and the power wielded by officials who decide the eligibility of slumdwellers for rehabilitation have led to complaints of corruption and malpractice in SRA projects. A public interest litigation in 2007 said there were over 200 corruption complaints involving SRA schemes.

What activists and planners have roundly derided as a builder-driven project also permits slumdwellers to form societies and undertake redevelopment. However,the stumbling block is the access to finance. “They are not salaried people,there is no clarity on their incomes,but the poor do have savings and are willing to invest,” says Sundar Burra,a former bureaucrat and member of the Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC).

He says the HDFC had transformed this scenario for the middle-class in the mid-eighties. That led to a host of financial institutions offering easy access to housing finance. “The next challenge is to extend housing finance to the urban poor.”

Also,for the vast majority of middle class home-buyers,housing finance works as an independent realty sector ombudsman. And scrutiny of developers’ plans and permissions by bank officials handing out loans to slumdwellers could check SRA fraud too.

Instead of a bouquet of creative solutions,Central agencies continue to bar even basic amenities on their encroached land in Mumbai and the state government persists with its unimaginative use of the otherwise powerful tools of TDR and incentive FSI,even as Sao Paulo has transformed some pockets with innovative upgradation schemes and Manila introduces housing microfinance and a community mortgage programme.

Back in Mumbai,the Housing Policy,unveiled in 2007 and recently reviewed by Chief Minister Ashok Chavan,sets out to rehabilitate 25 per cent of eligible slumdwellers in three years,free of cost. At a conservative 12 lakh slum households,that is three lakh homes to be built.

Unfortunately,that is an old poll-time idea repackaged,tragically reminiscent of the Sena’s grandiose slum assurances of the 1990s.

(Tomorrow: Rental housing and the way forward)

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