ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Urban Renewal: At Whose Cost?

Maharashtra's draft housing policy seems to cater more to the builder lobby than the poor. In order to ensure shelter for all, the provisions of the Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act must be strictly implemented, basti sabhas on the lines of gram sabhas must be set up and poor localities should be treated not as encroachments but as service guilds.

reforms are not “social” or “popular” but would further shrink the available space

Urban Renewal:

for the poor and the middle class in the cities. It is a step to boost growth in the real estate market, with unlimited FDI and

At Whose Cost?

Maharashtra’s draft housing policy seems to cater more to the builder lobby than the poor. In order to ensure shelter for all, the provisions of the Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act must be strictly implemented, basti sabhas on the lines of gram sabhas must be set up and poor localities should be treated not as encroachments but as service guilds.


n November 1, 2006 Maharashtra became the first state to have a housing policy by declaring the draft housing policy. Though this was consistent with the image of the state as progressive and proactive in its pro-poor housing policies it is also well known that the state government was compelled to take this step due to the conflicting pressure from both the poor and the profiteering builders-corporates. The draft prepared in “record” time of three months by a task force under the chairmanship of the chief secretary (CS) aims to “facilitate affordable housing to LIG and EWS”, “to pursue target of cities without slums”, “to deregulate housing sector and encourage public private partnerships in financing, construction and maintenance of houses”, to facilitate the redevelopment and renewal of inner city areas and so on.

The massive demolitions that took place in Mumbai, evicting more than 75,000 families and the struggle by the slum dwellers for their rights and justice are fresh in public memory. The chief justice of the Mumbai High Court directed the state to formulate an affordable housing policy, to be submitted to the same within three months by a committee formed under the chairmanship of the chief secretary and 19 other members. Also a note on suggestions by organisations was submitted to the office of the CS. This was followed by a seminar, convened by department of housing, GoM and organised by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in January 2006, which was attended by 135 participants representing over 40 organisations. It produced a good base of suggestions and recommendations.

The draft rightly acknowledges that shelter is a basic human need and it implies not only construction of bricks and mortar; it includes the supporting infrastructure, access to transport and employment opportunities and has to be a part of the development process. Having said this, it was expected that it would have reflected this understanding in spelling out its objectives, strategies and the road map. But sadly this has not happened. Firstly, the draft assumes the trend of urbanisation as inevitable and mentions in clear terms that the policy is “an attempt to start the process of reforms and liberalisation…” in the housing sector. Further it acknowledges that Maharashtra is one of the most urbanised states in the country, whereas nationally 27 per cent of the population is in the urban areas, for Maharashtra, the figure is 42 per cent. However, it falls short of further analysing these figures. The state has 26 per cent of the country’s total slum population that amounts to 22 lakh families. The situation is much worse if one takes the case of Mumbai, the financial capital of the country, where more than 60 lakh people reside in slums, greater than the population of Poland. The “successful” implementation of the existing housing schemes has in fact also been lambasted by the comptroller and auditor general in the latest audit report for “irregularities”, “under and nonutilisation of allotted funds”, “breach of guidelines”, and “excessive payments to implementing agencies in the schemes/ programmes meant for the slum dwellers”.

Missed Opportunity

The policy could have corrected these distortions. Instead, it is clear from the draft that it is geared towards not only facilitating but also orienting and supporting the profiteering motives of the private sector. It widens the scope for the nexus of builderscorporates-lending agencies to interfere in the constitutional, pro-people, democratic decision-making processes. The proposed foreign players, while the aim of affordable housing is kept elusive and a distant dream. The concept of “cities without slums” sounds hollow without a people-centric framework of decision-making and implementation. No city anywhere can be “slumless” if the draft of the housing policy such as this one, is formulated with builders/ corporates on board. Calling for a public debate can, most likely, be only a halfhearted exercise, carried out to complete the “formality” of people’s participation since the GoM had only the corporates and builders on board whose main motive is profiteering and politicking.

On the one hand promises are made to link employment generation with housing, while on the other the livelihood of lakhs is under threat and is being eroded. Be it the acquisition of fertile agricultural land for the corporate mafia under the Special Economic Zones Act or the eviction and removal of hawkers and street vendors either for road expansions or beautification drives, thousands are being rendered jobless. The working class, in the name of renewal is being ousted from the central locations of the cities and rehabilitated on the periphery, a manifestation of urban untouchability.

That the draft policy is a step towards furthering the distortions in land-use, planning and landholdings becomes clear from the proposed reforms. These include

– disincentivising retention of vacant land, development of lands reserved for public housing through public-private partnership, repealing of the Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act (ULCRA), using land as security for mortgage finance and doing away with the provision of the collector’s power to regulate land transfer from agriculture to non-agriculture. Such reforms are going to put landownership out of the reach of even the middle class, increase urban landlordism and further outgrowth of urban areas at the cost of peripheral rural areas.

The cabinet’s approval to the repeal of the ULCRA (as reported by the media) exposes the moral bankruptcy of the government, which, kneeling before the World Bank and builders’ lobby has taken this decision. Implementation of ULCRA can solve, once and for all, the issue of land availability but has been ignored in the

Economic and Political Weekly March 17, 2007

draft. All this is following the dictates of the WB and corporate lobby. In a report ‘Property Rights and Interlocking Policy Constraints Urban Land Markets: Reforming Mumbai’s Real Estate Raj’, the lobby terms ULCRA as “perfidious” and demands its repealing.

The proposal for doing away the responsibility of the collector for granting permission for any non-agricultural purpose dilutes the existing checks and balance mechanism. This ploy to convert the agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, is obviously for facilitating further takeover of adjacent rural areas and resources. This will be a criminal onslaught on the farming and fishing communities and will affect food security and livelihoods. The largest land grab under the Special Economic Zones Act, in which Maharashtra is leading with more than 45 proposals approved, is supported by the latest policy. The policy will further the regional disparity across the state, as the Mumbai urban agglomerate is all set to get the maximum benefits. The difference between the PM’s package of Rs 4,000 crore to the distressed farmers of Vidarbha and package of Rs 25,000 crore for MMRDA alone points to this, not to talk about further assistance and open ended private assistance in the name of J N National Urban Renewal Mission formulated with the technical assistance of the Asian Development Bank.

While violations of the development plan and relaxations of the land use reservations abound, any proposal of development through public-private partnership of the public houshing/housing the dishoused (PH/HD) plots is highly objectionable. The recent decision of the municipal corporation to hand over around 244 plots of gardens and playgrounds, of nearly 1,053 acres, to private players and builders has not proved enough and they are eyeing the lands beyond Mumbai city and suburbs. Liberalising development control rules is clearly a case of interference of capital in the legislative domain. What sort of amendments will be made in the Rent Control Act have not been spelled out, thus raising suspicion. With no mention of augmentation in the basic services like water, sanitation, health, education and food security, the draft remains incomplete and full of hollow promises.

Since the largest shortage of housing stock is faced by the poor, the slum dwellers and those engaged in unorganised sector, the intervention needs to be prioritised and this should be the category whose needs should be primarily addressed. Ironically, though the draft acknowledges the citizen’s right to housing, it further lays down the criteria of eligibility and before fixing the limit of three lakh houses, this contradiction needs to be rectified.

Shelter for All

The Constitution of India grants right to life, which incorporates guaranteeing shelter and other basic services including the right to livelihood. Various fundamental rights and directive principles that define a framework of equality and distributive justice necessarily draw an agenda of providing adequate, habitable housing to every citizen. It is in this contextual framework of values and principles that any policy/legislation should be formulated. The goal for a proper equitable housing policy can only be attained if the policy and the plans are made with the objective of utilising all our resources, land and human power effectively and efficiently. It also requires that the primacy to the poor and due recognition of value framework of equity and justice becomes the basis for development planning as a whole and housing projects specifically.

Every housing project in the city particularly in the HIG and MIG segment must provide a certain percentage for the housing of the poor. Housing for employees must be a necessary condition for upcoming and established large industries. Housing for employees should be seen as an integral aspect of the planning and financing of an industry or an organisation. The provisions of Inter State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979 that stipulate the responsibilities of the employers towards their employees are hardly complied with. The state government should also develop transit housing to check the proliferation of slums.

Poor localities in urban areas need to be seen not as illegal encroachments or inhuman settlements, but as service guilds. This perception must be based on the real valuable contribution of the poor dwellers, without appropriate, just remuneration. Unhygienic conditions, a major criterion to define a slum is a result of inadequate services – sanitation, infrastructure, health and shelter and related also to poverty. The slum dwellers deserve and should be granted adequate space – physical (land), economic (budget allocation) and political (decision-making) as a policy decision, taking cognisance of their numbers, social and economic needs and contribution.

No authority or society can aim to allow perpetuation of slums. However, slum demolitions or clearance should not be an activity recognised as legal and only “slum development” should be part of the metropolitan region development plan. Slum development can have the multicomponents of slum improvement that would include augmentation of basic civic

services like water supply, sanitation, access roads, etc, and slum housing implemented through government supported selfhelp groups of slum dwellers assisted with part subsidiary and part loan at the lowest interest rate depending on their income category. Rehabilitation should occur on the same land and on alternative land only in exceptional situation. The state exchequer must be the main source for mobilising funds. The employer’s contributions, employment guarantee scheme, special schemes for SCs/STs should be brought together and used optimally. Financial institutions like the National Housing Bank and HUDCO should be mobilised. Since the infrastructural projects especially highways, flyovers and other road network have benefited the private car owners the most, cess on vehicle owners can be imposed as a source for financing the housing for the poor.

There is an immediate need to implement the provisions of the 74th constitutional amendment and bring in decentralised people-centric planning, empowering urban local bodies but having stipulated representation of the urban poor on board. On the lines of gram sabhas, in urban areas, basti sabhas should be the first unit of decision-making, with each developmental plan, policy and scheme being proposed, discussed and approved by it only. The processes of centralised planning and decision-making, especially evident in case of development authorities like MMRDA, HUDA, etc, need to be reviewed in the context of their encroaching on the domain of municipalities and municipal corporations.

While carrying out the obligation of shelter for all, another major constraint can be availability of land. However the principles of equity and justice come handy as a solution. The ULCRA still in place in Maharashtra, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh with the objective of preventing concentration of urban land in the hands of the few and to bring about an equitable distribution of land provides us with the

Economic and Political Weekly March 17, 2007 solution. Surplus land beyond the permissible limit of 500 sq mts should be acquired by the respective state governments and handed over to collective bodies for implementing housing schemes.

Even though the policy is for the whole state it does not give due space and importance to rural issues. Rural Housing is interlinked with the issue of land reforms and land rights in the present-day context of non-implementation of land reforms. The need is for speedy and strict implementation of land reforms, whereby the landless are allocated surplus land as per the rules.The proposal of doing away with the collector’s permission for any transfer of land use from agriculture to non-agriculture is unacceptable. This would be a compromise with the interests of tenants and adivasis as they are generally not recorded in the official records. This decision will further the process of urbanisation.There is a need for social mobilisation and the socio-cultural milieu of the local populations should be considered while planning and designing habitats and houses. People should be involved in the designing processes and the house design should take into consideration the livelihoods/occupational characteristics of the residents. Housing development should be integrated with NREG schemes and participation in the implementation of Indira Awas Yojana should not be done away with. Traditional knowledge and skills should be used and all the labour employed in habitat projects should be as far as possible from the same gram sabha.

The technology employed must be such that local available resources (both human and material) are harnessed optimally, especially in the rural areas (e g, grass, mud, available wood, bamboos, etc, should be used even if regular, employment-generating maintenance becomes necessary). Instead of capital-intensive and mechanised technology, labour intensive and environmentally conducive ways and means need to be employed. Given the trend of urbanisation, the need is for re-prioritising our goals as well as the means employed to achieve them. These initiatives should aim towards fulfillment of the obligations of the state and the society towards its citizens and not be a ploy to maximise or earn profit over the needs of people. Any deviation from such a path would be an invitation to disaster and turn the goal of inclusive cities into mere rhetoric.



Economic and Political Weekly March 17, 2007

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Back to Top