Monthly Archives: August 2012

“Pushing for declaration”

Shared by Transparent Chennai- an action-research group housed at the Institute for Financial Management and Research that works on neglected issues in the city

(Cross posted from the Transparent Chennai blog:  

 On July 21, 2012, the Transparent Chennai team kickstarted our work on slums and informal settlements with a workshop on slum history. We had nearly 100 people attend the meeting, including members of slum-based organizations and trade unions, NGOs, researchers and academics, and students.

 The workshop was meant to be a stocktaking – we wanted to survey the entire history of programs and policies towards slums in the state and see how these policies had been implemented in the city, and the impacts they had on the urban poor. In addition to presenting the findings from our own research, we also invited slum-dwellers to share their experiences of accessing services and eviction and asked local experts for their feedback on planning regulations in the city.            

 What we found from our research was shocking to us. In the 1970s, Chennai had a fairly progressive history of policymaking towards slums. The state passed the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Act in 1971, which essentially stated that the government was only supposed to intervene in slums for the purpose of improving them (and not, for example, to move slums to make way for infrastructure as happens now!). It said that the government needed to first identify slums according to the definition given in the Act, officially recognize them or ‘declare’ them under the Act, and then improve them by adding basic services or by building better housing in-situ.

 They declared 1,202 slums in 1971, and spent the next few years building thousands of units of tenements in-situ to benefit slum-dwellers all over the city. Under the World Bank funded Madras Urban Development Programs (MUDP) and the Tamil Nadu Urban Development Programs (TNUDP), the city built thousands of “Sites-and-Services” plots in large mixed income colonies. Today, many of these original allotees have built second and third floors and are earning substantial rental incomes from their homes, providing their families with stability and helping them to permanently escape poverty.[1]

 But since then, the government has not followed the dictates of the Act. No new slums have been recognized for 27 years. But many new slums have come up as the city has grown, and the Corporation boundaries have expanded. This means that hundreds of thousands of city residents live in a limbo: they live in constant fear of eviction, and they are not eligible for any of the government programs to improve services in slums because the government does not recognize the slums they live in. This has had predictable consequences: a 2002 survey by the Slum Clearance Board in undeclared slums found dismal levels of access to water and sanitation.

 The government has also been evicting large numbers of slum-dwellers from the city to make way for new infrastructure projects and as part of city beautification projects. Our research found that at least 20,000 households were evicted from the city between 2005 and 2009 alone, and more evictions have taken place since then.

 And the government no longer builds in-situ tenements. Almost all of the money spent by the Slum Clearance Board in the last 15 years has gone towards building large-scale resettlement colonies on the outskirts of the city, where evicted residents from both declared and undeclared slums have been sent – in defiance of the guidelines for intervening in slums set down in the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Act. The money for these colonies has come from the JNNURM, despite the Mission’s stated emphasis on in-situ rehabilitation. Residents of slums who attended the workshop shared harrowing stories of evictions that took place as a result of these practices, and others described the inhumane levels of services in their neighborhoods.

 So what now?

 The individuals and groups that attended the workshop agreed that they needed to work together to push the government to declare existing slums, provide better services, and stop the practice of resettlement into far-away ghettos. The groups agreed to call the network the “Right to City Movement: Chennai for all,” and members agreed to organize events together to bring attention to the flaws in slum policies and the way they were being implemented in the state.

 We are very excited about the creation of this network, and hope that we can play a role in supporting its activities. We also believe that such an active network is important because new urban development schemes are on the table including the Rajiv Awas Yojana and the JNNURM II. As the central government plans to spend much more money for the urban poor, we are hoping that there will now be a strong voice advocating that this money be spent in ways that really improve conditions for slum-dwellers in the city.

[1] This observation comes from research we recently conducted for the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation where we surveyed residents from a sites and services site in Kodungaiyur. 


Bhuvan – a catalyst for transformation of urban poor landscape?!

Shared by SPARC
Recently the Master Planning of 7,935 towns and cities in India – of which to date 24% have master plans has been promoted to be guided by the ‘Bhuvan’ Portal of National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) (In reference to: )
National Urban Information System (NUIS) is making available detailed satellite image maps of these towns and cities to municipalities. Cities will be encouraged to use the Bhuvan Project (developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation – ISRO) – which is basically India’s version of Google Earth. Google Earth does not provide India with recent enough high resolution satellite imagery of the country – most images are at least 4 years old. India therefore launched its own Remote Sensing programme and launched Bhuvan – which only uses images captured by Indian satellites.
This motivation behind this initiative is that it will help cities develop Geographic Information Systems for those cities (they will use Bhuvan images and Survey of India maps to do things like road verification). Technical support – training etc – will be provided by National Remote Sensing Center in Hyderabad
Recent reviews of Bhuvan (the website and the application itself) state that it is a very heavy application: website not easily navigable etc — plus its systems requirements (computing power, internet connection, 3D graphics capability etc etc) are so high that small cities and towns will need major communications and hardware infrastructure upgrading to use it. Have you tried to use Bhuvan? What has your experience been?
Remote Sensing techies / GIS techies and Urban Planners are all in short supply in most town and cities — as realised over the course of a study of BSUP projects in 11 cities across India. Even the big cities like Patna, Raipur, Nagpur etc at present lack the capacity to a) understand the technology and b) do something with it. Do these cities have the technical and human capacity to undertake this endeavour? 
It is the responsibility of municipalities to ‘master plan’ – to prepare for burgeoning populations, economic opportunities, transport and other services infrastructure etc. But how will municipalities ensure the needs of the poor are taken into consideration in the plan? The process of inclusive participation is likely to be entirely undermined. Mumbai’s Development Plan, which is well underway, is struggling to be inclusive – and build in the space and process by which the poor’s voices, concerns and needs are fairly taken on board. Most smaller towns and cities will not even know how to design a participatory process …
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Counterproductive ‘Housing for all’ development agenda??!!

Just read an interesting article which forces us to rethink our ‘Global Development Agenda’ and questions whether the ‘housing for all/ slum free cities’ are really valid approaches or rather are these just missing the bull’s-eye.

Terraurban takes you through some excerpts of the article here:

The global urban agenda must focus on employment and income levels, not just housing and services


Kerwin Datu argues that the global urban development community has lost sight of its own agenda, and perhaps even deserves to lose its funding until it can reclaim a focus on urban employment and income levels alongside its obsession with housing and services.

To begin with author questions whether or not urban problems are more complex or less measurable – it seems that the organisations that retained their funding have a clear vision of their purpose, where we in urban development do not. For example, the global health community, exemplified by organisations such as GAVI and GFATM, has always had a clear purpose in the eradication of communicable diseases; the global education community has an equally clear objective when it comes to universal literacy. The clarity of these visions lends itself to easily defined and quantified targets against which progress can be measured, and to consistent and comprehensive programmes to collect appropriate data in each country, such as the Global Health Observatory maintained by the World Health Organisation.

He highlights how the global urban development community does not have so clear a sense of its own agenda. It has been alarming to watch over the past two years how so many urban organisations have made the fashionable subject of climate change the focus of their work, dropping the ball on the many other profound urban challenges such as housing and livelihoods along the way. We have become followers of the sustainability agenda, rather than leaders of the cities agenda. Of course climate change and sustainability are important issues, but they are secondary to our core mandate of cities, which we are allowing to slip into irrelevance as DFID’s funding decision shows. This happens at the very moment that big business is jumping onto the cities bandwagon in a huge way, a movement we ought to be harnessing with great speed, but which we seem not to embrace with much sophistication.

He reiterates how we need to regain our appetite for a common vision, and articulate our agenda in a way that gives national leaders and donor agencies no choice but to embrace our challenges as their own.

One might say that we have such a vision already, embodied in slogans like “cities without slums” and “housing for all”.  However author clearly argues that these visions are incomplete enough as to be misleading and counterproductive. It has been well documented how the notion of “cities without slums” gives cynical governments the rhetorical leverage to commit the most brutal evictions and demolitions in informal areas. But beyond this, the overemphasis on housing and the residential aspect of slums leads even the most well-meaning governments to embark upon large-scale housing initiatives that destroy livelihoods and undermine the economic sustainability of their cities, in the belief that housing must be resolved above all else.

Author suggests how we are focused too much on the supply side of urban services (how do we provide more housing, more infrastructure, more water and energy?) and not enough on the demand side, that is, how do we increase employment and income levels to create lasting, self-sustaining demand for those provisions? And we are teaching the private sector to make the same mistake. The big businesses that have started to engage the cities agenda are all learning to focus on the supply side as well — housing provision models, service provision models, infrastructure provision models — with very few asking how they can help solve urban unemployment, create new industries and new jobs and raise urban income levels, all of which are needed to finance those models in the long term.

Collecting data on poverty is not enough; we need to go beyond subsistence or vulnerability models of livelihood to measures of overall earning capacity. We need data on job creation and employment growth, whether formal or informal. We also need to capture income levels as well as, crucially, disposable income levels, since these represent the surpluses required to finance and maintain housing and services in the long term.

The cities agenda is a dual agenda: universal housing and services, but also universal employment and disposable income. Neither can occur sustainably without the other. To galvanise donors, governments and business alike requires that we promote both of these visions simultaneously. It also requires that we collect consistent and comprehensive data on both fronts, to measure our progress, to compel governments to act on both without undermining one or the other, to substantiate our claims for funding from donors, and to harness the good intentions of the private sector in the right way.

Read the full article here



Affordable housing in India

Here is an interesting article which traces the ‘choices’ for ‘urban poor’ homes in India – Homes no bigger than a bus.
The article takes one through the present real estate market and where does housing for urban poor finds a place in the same. Some of the excerpts from the article are:
“Yeh kamra toh shuru hone se pehle hi khatam ho gaya, bhai!” This piece of wit from the sidekick ‘Circuit’, of Bollywood blockbuster ‘Munnabhai MBBS’ fame, is being played out in the affordable housing sector today, where real estate developers are offering homes that measure a mere 250 square feet. “Which is, as big as a bus!”
“According to our estimates, the sizes of affordable houses in Gujarat have shrunk by at least 40 per cent in the last decade,” says Nirav Kothary, head of industrial real-estate division at Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), a global property consultant.
While experts believe that smaller housing units are an apt answer for India’s housing problems, a research study conducted by the Hyderabad-based Indian School of Business (ISB) in 2011, points out that families feel “uncomfortable” to live in houses that are smaller than 700 square feet.
Increasing land prices have also pushed affordable housing projects away from city centres. Mumbai and NCR have affordable housing projects located 65-75 km away from the city centre. On the other hand, Ahmedabad and Kolkata provide better proximity, with projects located at a distance of 15-20 kms. Bangalore, Pune and Chennai also have projects after a distance of 25-30 km from the city centre, states the JLL report.
The shortage of land has been exacerbated artificially by poorly conceived central, state and municipal regulations. As a result, land prices in India are much higher than intrinsic levels that can support mass real-estate developments.

The article also highlights how to make the housing project more affordable for the buyer; developers are adopting the following measures:
o Limited options: Units offered are mostly one room-kitchen and one-bedroom-hall-kitchen formats
o Reduced areas: Units have reduced saleable areas of 250-350 square feet for one-room-kitchen and 400-500 square feet for one-bedroom-hall-kitchen.
o Low construction cost: Structure is typically low-rise with ground+3 or ground+4 floors, without lift.
o Shorter period of construction: The low-rise structure and adoption of technologies such as aluminium formwork and building information modelling enables developers to complete the project within a short period of 18-24 months, thus decreasing the collection time and improve returns.
Read the entire article at :

Easier to dial than to flush! —Har Hath Mein Phone

Shared by Nidhi S. Batra

In what could turn out to be its calling card for the 2014 general elections, the government is finalizing a Rs 7,000 crore —Har Hath Mein Phone—scheme to give one mobile phone to every family living below the poverty line.

The scheme planned to empower the poor is likely to benefit telecom service providers and can also increase the GDP growth. The move is also seen as UPA’s motive to communicate with this important electorate who play a big role during polls.

United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health recent report highlighted the fact that India has over 545 million cell phone users as compared to about 366 million people having access to improved sanitation. This makes one wonder ‘why a country that is now wealthy enough cannot afford the basic necessity of a toilet, where 69% of the country still adheres to open defecation?

Why do the poor see the ‘mobile’ as an urgent need, rather than hygienic conditions of living? And why or rather how has this telecom sector been able to penetrate to large population, wherein the infrastructure just couldn’t?

For the poor, it can be argued that though policy makers see sanitation infrastructure with the express intent of reducing contamination, but for the poor it enforces a culture of hygiene that in turn imposes additional cess on their daily survival. Another interesting development was seen when hundreds of newly built toilets had been ripped apart by poor households in many parts of rural Madhya Pradesh. Such incidents reportedly abound across the countryside. The reason: possessing a toilet lifts the households above the poverty line (as it adds up the requisite points to jump the line) and strips the poor family of the lucrative monthly doles like assured employment and free food grains.

On the other hand, the de-regulation of telecom sector may have impelled the mobile phone market through private-sector investment but the subsidy-driven sanitation sector has failed to create a market for toilets. ‘Total sanitation campaign,’ the government’s flagship programme launched in 1999, has suffered on account of peoples’ apathy. Far from generating demand, it hasn’t even encouraged adoption of toilets that come with a subsidy of Rs 2,500 per toilet.

Sudhirendar Sharma, a water expert, very rightly states ‘The virtue of living ‘below poverty line’ is without doubt compelling; a one-time toilet in contrast is a poor substitute. The tragedy is that neither has the technology of toilet been examined as a reflection of perceived needs nor has it been seen as intent to fuel demand through institutional innovation for fighting poverty. Unless the issue of toilet is perceived in its totality, it will be easier to dial than to flush’

The Urban Future and Prosperity of the City

As the world builds and consolidates the foundation of the urban future, urgent steps are required to rectify past imperfections by recognizing fully that development is an evolutionary assignment that cannot be entirely resolved in one decade and by one agency acting alone.

The Sixth Session of the World Urban Forum will be held in Naples, Italy in September 2012. This Forum is conceived as a platform where various segments of society can discuss, learn, practice, agree and disagree on different ways to build and sustain a more prosperous urban future for our cities. Four broad thematic areas in the WUF6 will constitute entry points for the overall discussion:

  • Urban planning, Institutions, Regulations and Quality of life  
  • Equity and Prosperity Productive Cities
  • Productive Cities
  • Urban mobility, Energy and Environment

A background paper for this WUF highlights some of the ‘urban’ issues our cities are facing. Below are excerpts from that background paper and are aspects to chew upon and work upon.

Cities are the past, the present and the future of humanity.  The need is to envisage an urban future where economic growth and prosperity proceed with equity; one where human exploitation of the natural environment is carried on sustainably; one where poverty, inequality and employment/underemployment are attenuated by strong human‐centered policies; and all rooted in the right institutional contexts. Toward achieving this, there is a collective need to address the following questions:

  • If we all agree that the future of humanity is urban, then what are the broad defining parameters of that urban future?  
  • What key decisions and actions should be taken now to reorient city development towards the desired urban future? What are the key levers for change? How should we invest on that urban future?
  • What are the implications for that future in relation to the current trajectory of urban development that we are pursuing? What needs to be changed as well as reinforced?
  • How can prosperity be enhanced, sustained and optimally shared without generating adverse social, economic and environmental effects?;  
  • In the current continuum of the urban development model being followed, are there positive and negative lessons that can be shared?;
  • What role should UN‐Habitat play in steering the world towards the desired urban future; and how should it relate with other key actors with respect to the evolving urban agenda?.

This urban growth will see some continuing trends and some hard realities. The trends that shall continue in the 21st century are:

  • Urban growth will concentrate in the cities of the South
  • Role of Local Governance will be further strengthened  
  • Urban growth is slowing and will become increasingly diversified  

The contrasting realities of the 21st century shall be:

More united or divided cities? ‐ An uncertain future.  

  • Cities that improve inter‐connectivity and create new forms of interdependence between cities enhance urban infrastructure to induce industrialization, trade and mobility. They create conditions to improve quality of life and ensure the fair distribution of resources and opportunities for more united and prosperous cities.
  • In contrast, those cities that despite their potential to generate wealth, fail to create conditions for the equitable distribution of income, resources and opportunities might become more divided cities. It is very likely that these cities will perpetuate poverty and extreme inequality, various forms of exclusion and marginalization, in addition to serious environmental problems.   
  • The current century will be known for widened inequality, deepened poverty and greater exclusion. Different forms of deprivation and social marginalization will emerge and the conventional forms of poverty will intensify. At the end of this century, if no corrective action is taken, the world may have 1.4 billion urban dwellers living in slum‐ like conditions. Asia alone will account for more than 700 million people living in chawls, iskwater, and katchiabadis, as informal settlements are known in this region and this number of inhabitants is larger than the whole population of Europe today.
  • A critical underlying issue is whether wealth distribution and equity will go hand in hand with economic development or whether more prosperous cities and countries will protect their gains, resulting in a “zero‐sum game” instead of a “win‐win” situation with benefits for everyone.
  • National and international institutions promoting the integration of innovative policies related to wealth and income distribution as well as better urban design in tandem with affordable housing and improved quality of life will have a critical role to play in this regard

8 states replicate MP’s Public Service Delivery Guarantee Act

The objective with which the Madhya Pradesh Government had implemented Public Service Delivery Guarantee Act seems to be moving towards its fulfillment with eight states replicating it. The eight states which have replicated the Act are Bihar, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand. Not only the states, even the Union Government is contemplating to enact a similar Act, is being said. In all, 52 services of 16 government departments have been placed under the ambit of the Act implemented in the state since September, 2010. The departments include energy, labour, public health engineering, revenue, urban administration and development, general administration, social justice, SC/ST welfare, food, civil supplies and consumer protection, forests, home, farmers’ welfare and agriculture development, woman and child development, transport and panchayats and rural development. Till July 2012, as many as 1.25 crore applications received under the Act have been disposed of and services were made available against 99 per cent applications. Online facility for moving applications has also been made available since August 7, 2011. As many as 24 lakh applications were received online of which 99 per cent were disposed of, the release said. The Act provides that if notified services are not provided to an applicant within time-limit, he or she can make appeal against it at two levels. There is a provision of Rs 5,000 fine on the officer delaying the second appeal.