In a welcome move, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation of the Government of India has released its decision to re-draft Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), India’s “Slum Free” policy, according to an article printed in Hindustan Times this Sunday.
Rajiv Awas Yojana was announced in 2009 to address the issue of slums through provision of land tenure and support for upgrading. But to get this (financial) support, cites would have to make city-wide plans for slum upgrading based on a city-wide database of slums. In the two years since, this rather ambitious initiative has met with reluctance from several states, primarily because of the financial requirements (50% of the contribution is to be borne by States), disagreements around the type of land tenure to be provided to all slum dwellers and complex, top-down guidelines for city-wide data collection. Increasingly, more concerns are coming in from cities implementing the first pilot projects and unable to meet the objectives effectively.
In response, the government has chosen to re-draft RAY. Increasing RAY’s focus on developing infrastructure in existing slums by improving amenities and common facilities will be the main focus of the revisions.
RAY is a program with the potential to bring about a huge difference in the life of India’s urban poor. Yet under the program’s original vision of creating a “slum-free” India by allocating funds to build new houses for the poor, RAY did not address the multi-faced nature of the problems that the urban poor face. There is now a huge opportunity to develop a really comprehensive urban poverty alleviation strategy through RAY if this program is seen as providing the urban poor with security of tenure and basic amenities, universally to all cities, rather than building a few houses through subsides that will reach a very small proportion of the urban poor.
In order to be successful, RAY must find ways to involve the community in its plans for creating a slum database and in finding solutions to upgrade slums. Slum communities have first-hand knowledge of the complexity of their problems, and they are capable of devising the most feasible and viable solutions to the situations they face. The urban poor already struggle to improve their situations day after day, constantly adjusting and upgrading their homes to make them as durable and comfortable as possible. RAY should not ignore the hard work that these communities have already put forth towards their own development.
RAY, in its revisions, should find ways to catalyze and stimulate the growth that poor communities have already begun to display. This can be done through creating Community Based Organizations (CBOs) of the urban poor and providing them access to the resources and capital they need to make the change themselves. Allocating money to water and sanitation, enabling mechanisms for individual home improvement, rehabilitation of livelihoods for relocated slum dwellers and planning for future growth are some of the many ways that this sort of change can take form.