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‘Slum-free Mumbai key to slum-free India’

A Slum-free Mumbai is necessary to fulfill the dream of a slum-free India,said Union Minister for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation Kumari Selja on Tuesday.

Written by Kavitha Iyer | Mumbai |
September 28, 2011 3:29:34 am

A Slum-free Mumbai is necessary to fulfill the dream of a slum-free India,said Union Minister for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation Kumari Selja on Tuesday. But the financial capital could just be the biggest hurdle in achieving the grand vision of the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY). While the just-launched RAY envisions 50 per cent assistance from the Centre for slum rehabilitation programmes for selected cities,its basket of options for slumdwellers does not include free rehousing,which has been implemented in Mumbai since the 1990s.

Though a politically thorny issue,New Delhi expects the Maharashtra government to,over time,roll back its free housing scheme for slumdwellers,officials said. “We have communicated to the state government that they will have to move away from the free housing scheme,” said Joint Secretary (Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation,Government of India) Aruna Sundararajan. “A rethink of the free housing scheme is definitely recommended. What we instead hope to create is a basket of options — dormitory-type shelters,land rights,lease-purchase options in which slumdwellers gradually buy rented property,an option where some could be charged some more if they do not fall in the BPL bracket,etc.”

While the RAY does away with the Mumbai pattern of a cutoff date based on which slumdwellers are termed eligible or ineligible for rehabilitation,it is flexible on the manner of resettlement,instead seeking stakeholder including state government,parastatal bodies as well as community-based organisations to send in innovative pilot projects. While there is a 50 per cent assistance from the Centre,rehoused slumdwellers are expected to pay nominal charges through an interest subsidy or rental housing schemes.

“We can’t give free housing to all slumdwellers,so we have to create an approach that accommodates all,” Sundararajan said on the sidelines of a day-long conclave on the RAY. “The design of rehousing will be created on a case-to-case and location-to-location basis.”

However,indicating that the Slum Rehabilitation Authority’s (SRA) existing redevelopment of slums in Mumbai cannot be halted,Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said there was a need to “creatively” marry the existing schemes with RAY for Mumbai. The existing cutoff date of January 1,1995 (slumdwellers who settled before this date are eligible for free rehousing) is a cutoff date that has been “mandated by the legal process”,he said. “We have to weave both schemes together,” Chavan said.

Several state government bureaucrats present at the conclave said this could be a solution for non-starter mega-slum rehabilitation projects,including the Dharavi revamp and the airport slum rehabilitation,where the percentage of families deemed ineligible for rehousing based on the current cutoff date is significantly high. “Those not eligible could be then offered houses under RAY,” said a secretary. Agreeing that one-size-fits-all schemes will not work in Mumbai,Municipal Commissioner Subodh Kumar pointed out that the SRA legacy in Mumbai can hardly be wished away. “We have been giving free houses to those eligible under the law. Do we go back now? Is that doable?” he asked. He suggested that while some cutoff date would be necessary even under RAY,perhaps the date of the RAY survey. “We can’t have a moving target.”

Government of India officials at the conclave also said they are awaiting a political signal on doing away with Mumbai’s free rehousing scheme,though it appeared unlikely immediately.

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