HomeSpotlightWhy our slum rehabilitation programs failed?

Why our slum rehabilitation programs failed?

As per 2011 census, 377 million people (31% of the total population) in India lived in cities and of these, 65 million (27% of the urban population) lived in slums. This challenge (of sizeable population living in unhygienic conditions without basic amenities) is not unique to India, 863 million people around the world live in similar squatter settlements. In India several attempts have been made in the past to resettle the slumdwellers but with little success. There are many reasons for our failure in slum rehabilitation programmes.

We are creating concrete slums

Our slum rehabilitation programmes are primarily aimed at providing the slumdwellers with four walls and a roof without bothering about other necessities of the slum dwellers. In other words, our slum rehabilitation programmes are nothing but shifting slumdwellers from horizontally spread kuchha units to concrete, vertically built slums. For example, in Mumbai’s rehabilitation plans, the developers have full discretion on the quality of rehabilitated buildings, which affects the living standards, so much so that, these rehabilitation buildings are transformed into ‘vertical slums.’ These housing units are often characterised by the lack of ventilation, thermal discomfort, lack of daylight and poor indoor air quality in the living space.

‘Rebound phenomenon’ is quite normal

The programs are designed in a top-down manner to construct public housing that would improve housing standards and close the housing deficit. However, little is known about the after-effects of these policies on the occupants’ overall well-being. Further, poor quality of the houses provided often forces the occupants to abandon these houses and either move back to the horizontal slums or create an informal settlement in some other parts of the city. Often this rebound phenomenon is also due to occupants not able to cope-up with the increased cost of living and low-income. Also, the horizontal slums help to maintain the informal economy which creates job opportunities for the occupants.

Lack of job opportunities in new localities

Most of the slums in the cities are located at central locations. This is because such locations provide lot of job opportunities in nearby areas and reduce commuting time of the slumdwellers. Though slum rehabilitation provides for houses in the same locations where slums were located but the temporary accommodation during construction period is provided at far away places and also construction schedule is also not strictly followed while completing the project thus causing hardships to slumdwellers. This is one of the major discrepancies of our policy.

Further, our manufacturing sector fuels small-scale and informal manufacturing in urban environments which attracts a low-skilled and low-wage workforce from rural areas. Development of small and informal sector where cost of manufacturing is kept at bare minimum encourages the development of slums. In fact, slums have been the major source of cheap labour to Indian industries, mainly in unorganised sector.

It’s a political agenda   

Slum rehabilitation programme in India is not a commercial or social welfare measure but a political agenda. Also, collusion between political leaders and real estate developers is well known and well documented. Market forces regarding land and finance drive the entire slum rehabilitation process that creates intense competition for the slumlands among the private developers. In fact, there is an overwhelming influence of builders’ lobby in drafting the slum rehabilitation plans.

For example, in Mumbai, the rehabilitation policy provides builders with the more significant advantage of building taller slum rehabilitation houses (SRH) in a smaller portion of the area while maximising occupancy. At the same time, constructing luxury apartment in the rest of the land and selling them in the premium real-estate market of Mumbai thereby pocketing huge sum of money as profit. It makes the rehabilitation process entirely market-driven, resulting in sub-standard housing design leading to poor quality of life for the erstwhile slumdwellers.

Case of delayed projects

Commercialisation of this social welfare scheme has resulted in many slum rehabilitation schemes stuck up due to various reasons. According to a recent newspaper report, 533 slum rehabilitation projects are either stuck or have been shelved since 2005 in Mumbai. One of the prime reasons why slum rehabilitation projects are stuck is because of fly-by-night builders. They corner the development rights of the slum by getting residents’ consent and then wait for an opportune time to sell the rights to a bigger builder. The slum rehabilitation scheme was supposed to rehouse 40 lakh slumdwellers, but has managed to rehabilitate only about 10% in the last 20 years.

Lack of data

For city governments to create suitable schemes for creating affordable or subsidized housing, it is imperative that they have an accurate and complete picture of those in need of assistance which is presently lacking in India. The success of this programme largely  depends upon mass gathering of data and surveying and mapping all of those currently living in slums. Improved information technology, such as the ability to collect household and geo-location data with a mobile device, has the potential to expedite this process prior to project implementation. But till date no genuine efforts have been made (except some basic exercises for academic purposes) to gather such data.

There is no one model that will deliver success in slums in Indian cities. Much depends on local economic, political and social factors. A new redevelopment plan that takes slum’s residents on board and addresses the socioeconomic fallout of relocation is the need of the hour. Efficient implementation will require strong partnerships between governments, investors, and private developers to affect the global and household quality of life. The policies and practices that provide low-income families with quality homes and access to essential services, need to be action-orientated, forward-thinking, and sustainable.

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