By Raksha Sharda
Very recently, President Pranab Mukherjee awarded Ahmedabad the glory of being one of the best cities under the Basic Services to the Urban Poor (BSUP) and Interest Subsidy Scheme for Housing the Urban Poor (ISHUP). But does the city deserve this award? Ahmedabad is the largest city in Gujarat and the seventh largest city in India. The total population of the city is around 5.5 million, of which about nine lakh reside in the slums with 710 in the city. In order to bring about a holistic approach for improving and upgrading the infrastructure facilities of slum settlements a flagship scheme — Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) — was initiated by the Government of India in 2005 identified cities, including Ahmedabad.
The physical progress of the JNNURM has been good with 33,824 dwelling units (DUs) being approved, of which 33,074 DUs have been completed and 21,611 DUs have been occupied. But has the situation of slum dwellers with regard to the availability of basic civic amenities improved?
It is the physical environment, in terms of housing conditions and availability of basic services that determines the productivity and quality of life in urban areas. Though the first half of the last century witnessed a peaceful, inclusive development of the city, with the dawn of the new century, the city turned out to be the place of conflict and exclusion as the urban poor were being displaced from their informal shelters and livelihood, all in the name of “development”.
A United Nations expert group has created an operational definition of a slum: “An area that combines to various extents the following characteristics: inadequate access to safe water; inadequate access to sanitation and other infrastructure; poor structural quality of housing; overcrowding; and insecure residential status”. Quality of life, health, productivity of slum residents can be enhanced only with the provision of better living conditions. This would also help them in breaking the vicious circle of poverty with positive spill-over effects on the economy as a whole. Of the slum dwellers, children are most affected. Life in the absences of basic civic amenities like proper sanitation facilities, safe drinking water, adequate housing, electricity, street lights is not only detrimental to health but also the safety and dignity of the community. With lower degree of immunisation children are worst affected and are prone to falling sick, which increases the medical expenditure of slum dwellers forcing them deeper into poverty and indebtedness. Lack of safe drinking water and poor sanitation leads to a range of diseases.
Initially, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation had declared 1976 as the cut-off date for recognising a demolished slum dweller as ‘eligible’, which means a Project Affected Person (PAP) entitling the concerned person for rehabilitation. But in March 2010, an additional layer of eligibility was introduced by the state government through the promulgation of Regulations for the Rehabilitation and Redevelopment of the Slums, 2010. A slum dweller to be eligible for rehabilitation is one who is “not a foreign national and is the occupant of hutment for a period of minimum 10 years and has a domicile of Gujarat for 25 years or his descendant”. For proof of occupancy, any two of the following documents are required: copy of ration card, copy of electricity bills or proof of being included in the electoral rolls or any other proof as decided by the prescribed authority. This criterion is going to exclude large number of present slum dwellers from any chance of alternate housing in case of their displacement. Many slum dwellers have not been allotted houses under BSUP because they do not have proof of being in the city in 1976, leaving a large number of slum dwellers with no choice.
As per a report by the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT), on account of various development projects like Kankaria Lake Development (KLD) project, including some of the JNNURM projects many slum dwellers have been displaced from various sites and have been dumped in the remote area of Ganeshnagar, near the Pirana waste treatment plant, on the outskirts of the city. This shift cannot be termed as redevelopment as the slum dwellers were compelled to shift to an underdeveloped site. There is no water, drainage, street lights etc. There is no school for children and no dispensary. This displacement has affected the livelihood and earning of the slum dwellers and has also increased their cost of commuting to the city for work. This displacement took place after Ahmedabad was declared a megacity in 2005. Such displacements have a greater impact on the lives of children and on their livelihood. So are we really heading towards inclusive development?
Efforts have been made to provide durable housing facilities to the slum dwellers as the construction of houses has been done through Mascon Aluminum Foam Work technology an earthquake resistant technology which requires least maintenance cost. Other than Ahmedabad, only Mumbai and Chandigarh have used this technology for urban housing schemes. Under the Interest Subsidy Scheme for Housing the Urban Poor (ISHUP), the rate of interest for home loan is five per cent, but the effective rate of interest for home loan is subsidised and will be around three per cent in Ahmedabad. For the very first time such a measure has been taken by the Central Bank of India which will provide housing loans for a period of 15-20 years, with a maximum limit of `60,000 to urban poor. Despite such positive efforts, the living condition of slum dwellers remains unchanged.
Availability of basic amenities is a right of every citizen, including slum dwellers. However, as per the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation survey, only 6469 households in slums have private water connections out of total 176754 slum households in the city. To add to this plight, there are 254 households per public standpost, which distributes water from one or more taps to many users and 506 households per public toilet. Only, one-fifth of the slum population have private toilets, 45.41 percentage of slums have drainage facility, 61 per cent of the households have electricity connection and only one-fifth of the population has access to primary medical facilities. What about the remaining per cent of households or slum dwellers? Who is answerable for the inadequate provisions of such basic facilities? It is not that the slum dwellers have got used to living in such ramshackle conditions but just that they do not have any other option.
Raksha Sharda is the policy and advocacy officer of the National Campaign Humara Bachpan