Image credit: Illustration by author

From the archaic Slum Clearance scheme introduced in 1956 to more novel programs such as the Prime Minister’s Grant Program 1985; over the years, there has been a shift in policy paradigm. Policies have gone from slum clearance to slum rehabilitation. Where the prevalent strategy in the past was removal of slums for ‘cleaning’ the city, novel policies reflect a deeper commitment to slum-dweller rights.  

In 1995, the government of Maharashtra introduced the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme (SRS) with an emphasis on using slum land as a resource through private sector involvement by allowing an increase in the Floor Space index (FSI). The FSI increase allowed utilization of the same land better by permitting more dwelling units than what the building rules allowed. The excess units were to be sold in the open market to cross-subsidise reconstruction of slum tenements. Along with increasing occupancy on the same land, it was also a measure to incentivize the private sector to take up slum redevelopment activity, which otherwise was not profitable for them. 

Following its perceived success, SRS became a role model for many states to emulate. The scheme has since been initiated in many Indian cities. It is also a vertical, In-situ Slum Redevelopment (ISSR), under the Centre’s Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Urban, 2014. 

On the face of it, the policy seems to benefit the slum dwellers. However, the  motivation given by the state to developers to earn profits has made SRS a lopsided development model. The lens through which the scheme is drafted fails to take into account the material realities of the population in need of better housing. Furthermore, the viability of the model is highly questionable owing to its slow pace of delivery as seen over the years. 

Rise of Vertical slums 

SRS primarily focuses on relocation or in-situ development of multi-storey complexes, which free up swathes of prime real estate. The construction of rehabilitation housing is led by developers with little or no direct monitoring by the government over its design and construction. Since the scheme allows for greater profits for the developers but not greater accountability to the consumers (slum dwellers), what the developers end up building for the  poor is a by-product of their business.  

Developers often disregard prescribed development control regulations (DCR) in construction of the housing stock, thus compromising on basic livability standards for the poor. Along with an abrupt shift to vertical living, congestion of buildings resulting in lack of proper daylight & ventilation, poor quality of construction, inadequate infrastructure have been major causes of occupants’ discomfort and deteriorating health. A recent study highlights the rise in TB cases among the residents due to the poor design of colonies built under SRS in Mumbai.

Ramifications can be seen with inhabitants moving out of the new housing stating poor design and planning of the SRH as reasons for leaving. 

Disregarding people’s interests and lifestyles

The high-rise apartment building characteristic to SRS is a paradox to the ‘life on the streets’  inherently tied to the fabric of slum settlements. Living adjacent to the streets present economic and social opportunities for slum dwellers. Streets act as places of community interaction leading to strong social connections, and often become areas of work providing micro entrepreneurial opportunities to the residents. The displacement from low-rise, high-density dwellings to more impersonal high-rise, high-density housing has a negative impact on social networks. It further disconnects slum-dwellers from their means of subsistence, which is often completely dependent on the access to the street, thereby threatening the socio-economic sustainability of slum dwellers.  

The absence of involvement of communities during the entire implementation process further subjugates interests of slum dwellers. The policy restricts their role w.r.t consenting to the scheme and lacks transparency w.r.t eligibility for the scheme. 

The Katputli colony redevelopment in Delhi is a fine example of the stark gap between people’s socio-economic needs, their interests and the state’s imagination of housing provisions for the poor. The failure to involve the community in the planning process as well as accusations of leaving out a large number of residents led to strong and sustained resistance from communities and difficulties in implementation of the project.

Question of Viability 

Even with luring developers with additional benefits to boost their interest in these projects,  the delivery of housing construction under SRS has not moved at an expected fast pace. 

According to estimates, 12.5 lakh slum areas in Mumbai house nearly 62 lakh population (more than half of Mumbai’s population). In the 23 years since the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) was formed, only around 2.06 lakh families have got new homes. 

In Delhi, the projects under slum rehabilitation with public-private partnership face  difficulties to start up. This study notes that the capital has only 3 ISSR projects (that are under implementation) and 5 that are planned or in process. The model was also available in the Master Plan of Delhi 2021 and yet has not shown any signs of large scale uptake. 

Furthermore, as data from the Ministry for Housing and Urban Affairs’ CSMC shows, in the seven years since its inception, the ISSR model has the least uptake (4%) among the four verticals in Prime Minister’s Awas Yojana-Urban. 

Disparity between stated principles and actual implementation 

Since there is little to no rational basis for the profit margins of the developers, they tend to find illegal ways of increasing profits. These include compromising on Development Control Regulations (DCR) and building by-laws. To combat this problem there shall be strict enforcement of DCR and the state shall take a proactive role in supervising the implementation of the project at various stages. Additionally, the state shall extend its role in initiating rehabilitation projects in slums with the help of NGOs, civil society organisations (CSO), experts and other professionals. 

Slum rehabilitation has to take a people-first approach. The entire planning and implementation process shall involve consent and mandatory involvement of community-based organisations (CBOs) and slum dwellers along with complete transparency about the modalities of implementation. Shantadeep housing Co-operative in Kailashnagar, Sabarmati presents an excellent example of Slum Rehabilitation which took shape with active participation of slum-dwellers and involvement of NGOs.

Nevertheless, it is imperative to note that the sole model of SRS with involvement of private developers is unlikely to provide a comprehensive  and sustainable solution to the lack of decent housing for slum dwellers.  Findings from this study in Nagpur reveal that a majority of those living in notified slums preferred to upgrade their existing homes rather than move to new housing facilities. There is a need to devise alternate policies that take into regard aspirations and needs of slum dwellers in order to provide them with housing that is affordable, adequate and viable.

Post Disclaimer

The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.