Pk Tatilu, 36, runs a tailoring shop out of his one-room asbestos house in Nolia Sahi, which is one of the oldest slums in Puri’s temple town of Konark. Father to two young daughters, Tatilu claims his family had lived in the slums for three generations, albeit without any legal rights. But that changed earlier this year when he saw a drone hovering over his house.
The drone was the harbinger of a new initiative by the Odisha government — called the Jaga (Land) Mission — which is the world’s largest slum land title project. It involves the government surveying and awarding slum dwellers like Tatilu a legal land title. Last week, the Odisha government became the first in the country to bag an award from the World Habitat Mission for this particular project.
Tatilu, who claims to belong to a “backward caste”, could not be happier. “The fact that I now have a certificate to the land where I have lived — without any rights — for 35 years is transformational. I can now think of building a proper house because the investment is on the soil that has been legally given to me by the government”.
Under the Mission, Odisha’s Housing and Urban Development Department, in collaboration with Tata Trusts, is “transforming slums into liveable habitat with all necessary civic infrastructure and services at par with the better off areas within the same urban local body (ULB)”.
Why land rights for slums matter
More often than not, slums are seen as encroachments and slum dwellers, even if they stay in slums for decades, are not provided with any legal rights over the land. This illegality further condemns slums — which are an urban reality in Indian cities — to unsanitary conditions. Formal recognition of land rights allows for cleaner cities and better living conditions for slum dwellers.
Outlining the vision for the Mission, its head and Principal Secretary Housing and Urban Development, G Mathi Vathanan, told The Indian Express, “Odisha enacted a Land Rights for Slum Dwellers Act in 2017. This is not just a statute, but a lifeline for slum dwellers, who have been historically considered as encroachers. Slum dwellers have been considered lawbreakers and treated as culprits (by the state and the society)”.
“This attitude has led to conspicuous differences between slum and non-slum localities in urban spaces. Slums are characterised by their lack of hygiene and a general air of being a un-liveable environment. In Bhubaneswar, 30 per cent of the area is covered by slums and inhabited by 25 per cent of the population. This cannot be successful urban governance”, he added, explaining the rationale of the Mission.
So far, Odisha has surveyed 109 ULBs in 30 districts — in the process, surveying over one lakh households. Of these, around 30,000 households have received land rights certificates (LRCs) in Puri and Ganjam districts.
The process of handing LRCs to slum dwellers began with drone surveys of those settlements as well as another round of door-to-door household surveys. Drones mapping slums drastically cut down the time consumed in the mapping exercise, which the Jaga Mission team members say would have taken 12 years if done by traditional methods, thanks to a lack adequate number of revenue inspectors.
Shishir Ranjan Dash, who works on Jaga Mission from Tata Trusts, said that the exercise also involved community mobilisation to get the slum dwellers to agree on the entire exercise. “We had to also convince slum dwellers, who lived on rented accommodation, that the land they were paying for did not belong to the so-called landlords or local goons. Continuous communication and persuasion also helped achieve the consent of the slum dwellers towards this project”.
“For the Economically Weaker Section (EWS), the first 30 sq mt are free of cost, and thereafter a person has to pay 25 per cent of the benchmarked value which has been set based on nearby land transactions in recent years”, Dash stated.
Vathanan talks about the economic importance of slums. “One cannot just remove them. (If we do that) there will be no one (left) to work as domestic staff or in garbage disposal and road constructions — their most common occupations that also happen to be the lifeline of the city. Slums are the pillars of the urban (city) economy. Especially in India, the formal economy runs on the engine of the informal economy”.
“We must also understand that slums do not exist because of the fault of the dwellers”, he continues. “Wages, for the kind of work slum dwellers do, are very low in India compared to European countries, where we do not see slums. Our minimum wages are not applicable to domestic and unorganised workers. The answer is to not ignore the problem but to recognise systemic inequities and manage it”, he said.
Jaga Mission is, however, only one component of providing land rights, said Dash. After LRC distribution, the focus will shift to individual and public toilets, household tap water supply, LED street lighting, and skill improvement etc.