Unclear Responsibilities for RAY Implementation Put Bilaspur Slum-Dwellers in a Difficult Position

By Eric Kasper and Deepika Pandey

As noted in previous blog posts Slum Dwellers Disenchanted With Government Schemes , One Step at a time, and Information gap and disillusion as barriers , PRIA is working with other grassroots NGOs to help organize slum dwellers in 2 cities of Chhattisgarh – Bilaspur and Raipur – along with Patna and Jaipur. We chose to organize in these communities because these cities will be implementing the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), a scheme for creating slum-free cities. Building community capacities for meaningful participation in RAY is one of the main short-term goals for our organizing efforts.

Among the myriad possible challenges in implementing this scheme, one that has become a pressing concern in Bilaspur is coordination and clarification of responsibilities among different governing bodies. Many of the Bilaspur slums are hoping to participate in RAY, which will be implemented by Bilaspur Municipal Corporation but they live on land belonging to the Railway Department.

Since the slums reside on land owned by a central government department, it’s not clear if responsibility for their rehabilitation lies with the Railway Department or the Bilaspur Municipal Corporation. The BMC does not have clear authority to make decisions about what happens to the railway slums, but the Railway Department has no clear obligations under RAY to deal with the slums either.

The wording of the RAY guidance is vague. Landowning ministries are encouraged to “explore” options for innovative “pilot programmes.” This lack of clarity about the responsibilities of Central Government Departments and Ministries was addressed in a press release from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (HUPA) on 19 December.

We are told that a meeting was held with State Ministers in charge of Housing to discuss issues like this one and that this issue was “taken up in the meeting of Committee of Secretaries having representation of various land-owning Ministries such as Railways, Forest, Civil Aviation, Defence etc.” Several other meetings have also been held, but we are not told about any conclusions that may have been reached.

We are simply told that the “Central Government Ministries and Departments have been requested to take up slum survey and other preparatory activities and prepare pilot projects for seeking Central assistance support under the current phase of Rajiv Awas Yojana.” It’s not clear whether this request will be enforced. Nor is it clear whether, in case a department feels no particular motivation to participate in this project or has no innovative ideas for how it might be successfully carried out, sound courses of action might be suggested.

In Bilaspur, the slum-dwellers occupying Railway Department land are willing to be relocated. But the Railway Department has shown little willingness to negotiate about their compensation. The process of carrying out a survey, finding land for relocations, negotiating the lease rights or property rights to the new land (would it be other Railway land or would BMC be responsible for providing land?), working with private-sector contractors to design new housing with community participation, and arranging for access to basic services would require years of effort. The incentive seems to be to get rid of the slum dwellers before the Department is required to deal with them under RAY. How can the other parties with interests in effectively working toward a slum-free Bilaspur tip the balance away from eviction?

For their part, the slum dwellers are doing all they can. At the Slum Improvement Committee orientation organized by PRIA and SYM, the slum-dwellers pressed for answers from government representatives. They urged their elected leaders to advocate for their interests, and they held rallies to draw public attention to the issue.

As reported in the clippings below, they have even given a memorandum to the Collector of Raipur District Thakur Ram Singh, Railway General Manager Arunendra Kumar, and DRM K.C. Trivedi requesting not to be evicted before participating in the Rajiv Awas Yojana and threatening a fast and self-immolation if made homeless. Nevertheless, they are still in dire straits, with eviction without compensation an imminent threat. How could this situation have been avoided? How should the RAY policy be clarified to address these kinds of situations?

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