By Shorya Choudhary
The very first line on the Rajiv Awas Yojana (this scheme has now been subsumed under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Urban) website claims that its mission is to achieve a “Slum-Free India” with “inclusive and equitable cities”. But the Government’s role has been far from a benevolent party. States need to learn from the experiences of Maharashtra which has been an early mover in this regard and formulate effective policies to uphold the fundamental right to shelter of the people in the country.
Slums are concentrated in big cities and metros on two accounts. Land reforms in rural areas have been inefficiently enforced due to the connivance of the policy-makers, executive and the judiciary, leaving the socially marginal groups landless (there were cases in Gujarat where landless laborers were even kept away from tribunal hearings). Underdeveloped markets aided by lack of awareness amongst the general public of their rights and policies of the Government. For instance, the 1962 Delhi Master Plan allotted lands for housing for the economically weaker sections but was encroached upon by the Government and the affluent sections of the society. Again with the Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act, 1974, loopholes were exploited to hand back the lands to the original owners and the Act was finally repealed. Secondly, the growth trajectory followed by our Government has focused excessively on city-led growth creating an imbalance in job opportunities.
Housing is a basic right, but since it forms a part of budgets of Government which is an executive function, the court cannot direct upon the matter.
Maharashtra has multiple organisations involved in slum rehabilitation – Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA), Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority, and several Non-Governmental Organisations, etc. And even though there have been instances where clusters of slums have been demolished without much notice and the families moved to resettlement areas without schools or hospitals there can be some lessons for other States from the experience.
The SRA model for projects is that a group of people having a slum dwelling or a cluster of the same will organise themselves into a cooperative and transfer development rights to a developer. The original dwellers will get to reside on one part of the redeveloped structure, while the other half can be sold by the developer to the public at market rates. This creates an alluring market since slums in Mumbai happen to be located in prime locations such as the Dharavi slum which is close to the Bandra Kurla Complex and is up for redevelopment soon.
Firstly, because land is a concurrent issue under the Constitution and comes within the domain of the States as well, each should set up a dedicated authority. While Delhi has delegated this objective to the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), it would probably be better to set up a body which has the single objective of slum rehabilitation. At the same time, perhaps setting up as many bodies as Maharashtra has might not be a good idea as it would not ensure that all of them work in tandem and there can be administrative issues.
Mumbai has an ‘eligibility’ criterion for allocation of flats – those who had a slum dwelling since a particular date qualify. This has recently been rendered irrelevant by making all slum residents eligible for rehabilitation. An arbitrary cut-off date becomes problematic when seen in the light of the goal – to ensure a proper dwelling to populations residing in slums. Just because a family migrated to the city post-1995 need not be used as a reason to disallow their claim to a better dwelling.
Mumbai also has a lottery based system for allocating flats. This can have both a good and a bad side. While people might complain that they do not get to see where they will be shifted, a more maternalistic argument can be made that they will be getting access to better amenities such as toilets, more privacy and that the delays that might be caused in getting the flats reviewed by all the families might cause the project completion to drag on, especially if a bloc of families decide to hold out. Instead, there can be a review of the quality of the flats by an independent organisation and public discussions by people affected can be fruitful to come to alterations that the people think might be necessary. Another issue which is eliminated through the lottery system is that there would not be an opportunity to align housing along religion/caste lines.
The desirability of a lock-in period is contentious. The SRA model imposes a 10 year lock-in period, prohibiting the people from selling the flats. Circumventions or absolute violations of the law, i.e. through leasing or forthright sales to people other than the intended beneficiaries, have been struck down by the courts. Prima facie, this seems to be a benevolent (albeit maternalistic) policy. However, we need to keep in mind that most of these intended beneficiaries tend to be the poorest of the poor in society, who need to migrate to find jobs. Tying them down to a flat with no prospects of wages does no good. Apart from that, even if the person migrates and keeps the flat, the lost income from inability to lease/sell can is undesirable. There need to be safeguards to prevent speculation and inflation of real estate prices due to unlawful activities, but at the same time, genuine cases need to be accommodated.
And finally, while all of these address the policy initiatives, the implementation is perhaps the most crucial part. A study conducted on such settlements suggests that the mass housing structures in Mumbai are so congested that people do not get access to sunlight and fresh air, resulting in high incidence of tuberculosis, where 1 in every 10 residing in such settlements in Govandi had the disease. These high-rise buildings have poor architecture and less open spaces or ventilation. Resettlement makes no sense if one of the key purposes, i.e. to ensure better health and hygiene for the population, is not achieved.
While other States have started affordable housing schemes, a lot still needs to be done towards this goal. Resettlements can be additionally burdensome on the socially marginal communities, for instance when constructions were being made for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, families were brutally evicted most of whom were Muslims and were told they would be unable to find alternative accommodation until police verification was done because the Government eyed them with suspicion.
Slums have become a usual phenomenon in big cities since they attract people from all over for job opportunities. To maintain a sustainable growth track, we need to redevelop and improve housing facilities for the poor who are already disadvantaged by the inadequate lands available for them. Right to housing is a fundamental right and the State should intervene to ensure this as well as nudge private players in that direction while setting adequate quality standards. Dedicated authorities to overlook progress at reasonable intervals, quality standards, prevention of speculation without the adoption of arbitrary lock-in periods or eligibility criteria and involvement of the public through dialogue at each stage can be one of the key starting points in the path to a slum-free India.
Shorya Choudhary is a final year student at Jindal Global Law School.
- Rajiv Awas Yojana, available at http://mohua.gov.in/cms/raji-awasyojana.php
- Ghanshyam Shah and D.C. Sah, Land Reforms in India: Performance and Challenges in Gujarat and Maharashtra, Vol. 8, Sage Publications, 2002, p.27-33
- Olga Tellis, Thirty years after a landmark Supreme Court verdict, slum dwellers’ rights are still ignored, Scroll.in (December 21, 2015) available at https://scroll.in/article/776655/thirty-years-after-a-landmark-supreme-court-verdict-slum-dwellers-rights-are-still-ignored
- Raghuram Rajan and Luigi Zingales, Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists (Princeton University Press, 2003) 157-171
- The Right to Housing: the Indian Experience, Essays on Human Rights and Law, Human Rights Law Network, available at https://www.hrln.org/admin/issue/PdfFile/HOUSING%20FOR%20THE%20POOR.pdf
- Olga Tellis & Ors v. Bombay Municipal Council  2 Supp SCR 51
- Shantistar Builders v. Narayan Khimalal Totame (1990) I SCC 520; Chameli Singh v. State of UP (1996) 2 SCC 549
- Ahmedabad Municipal Nagarpalika v. Nawab Khan Ghulab Khan (1977) 11 SCC 121
- The Hindu Business Line, Maharashtra invites global tenders for Dharavi slum redevelopment project (November 28, 2018) available at https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/national/maharashtra-invites-global-tenders-for-dharavi-slum-redevelopment-project/article25586720.ece
- Sandeep Ashar, All slum-dwellers in Mumbai to be eligible for rehabilitation now, The Indian Express (November 24, 2017) available at https://indianexpress.com/article/india/all-slum-dwellers-in-mumbai-to-be-eligible-for-rehabilitation-now-4951953/
- A.Z. Sheith, N.R. Velaga and A.D.F. Price, Slum rehabilitation in the context of urban sustainability: a case study of Mumbai, India. (2009) IN: Proceedings of SUE-MoT: 2nd International Conference on Whole Life Urban Sustainability and its Assessment, 22-24th April, Loughborough, UK
- Shibu Thomas, Slum rehabilitation scheme flats can’t be sold for 10 years, Times of India (March 24, 2012) available at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Slum-rehabilitation-scheme-flats-cant-be-sold-for-10-years-High-court/articleshow/12387153.cms
- Doctors for You, Studying the association between structural factors and tuberculosis in the resettlement colonies in M-East ward, Mumbai, Final Report, available at http://www.mmreis.org.in/images/research/TB_research_Final_submission_report_DFY.pdf