According to the 2011 census, an estimated 65 million people, or 13.6 million households, are housed in urban slums. An additional 1.8 million people in India are  homeless.  Leave alone providing them decent housing, the urban poor living in shanties are continually deprived of  a roof over their heads, their livelihood and their children’s education as they are often evicted and pushed to the peripheries of the city to make way for high-rises and shopping malls.

At the same time, India had 28 lakh new cases of active TB and almost five lakh TB deaths in 2015.  What needs to be realised is that unhygienic, crowded living conditions and poor quality of housing are a major cause of TB. Unhygienic surroundings and lack of potable water and proper sewerage are also the cause of high incidence of diarrhoea, consequent malnutrition, stunting and wasting,  and high Infant Mortality Rates among young children.

Despite this, as per census 2011 data, the irony is that 11.09 million houses are vacant in urban areas. The rich have invested in the flats to sell them at a higher profit later and not because they need to or want to live in them.  The vacant houses include 224,000 built under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and 14,448 houses under the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) which slum-dwellers are probably refusing to occupy as they are not as per their requirements.

The housing for all promise

India’s ‘Housing for all’ project hoped to build 20 million dwellings with toilets, water and electricity by 2022 which were to be provided for 100 million low income households.  But this figure has been whittled down to 10 million units recently.

A good example of what is wrong with the plans for housing the urban poor is what’s happening in Karnataka. The Karnataka Slum Development Board’s Annual Report of 2016-17 says that there are 2,804 slums in the State.  The slum population in the State is 40.5 lakhs and the number of slum households is 7.46 lakhs, which is 18.58% of the State’s urban population. In 2016-17, 523 slum improvement works have been undertaken by the Board and a total of 7,405 dwelling units under the Centrally-sponsored JNNURM-BSUP and RAY have been constructed. 16,522 houses have been sanctioned under the Prime Minister’s Awas Yojana (PMAY) but this work is still under progress. 

But at this rate of construction per year, the shocking fact is that it will take the Slum Board 100 years to provide a house to all 7.46 lakh slum households in the State. So the promise of having slum-free cities is a distant dream, indeed. 

Meanwhile, the Karnataka Housing Board has allotted only 12,843 sites and 1,173 houses/flats over the last four years for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and Low Income Group (LIG) categories. The Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) is currently constructing 6,900 1-BHK units out of 13,500 dwelling units. Ostensibly,  in one of its layouts,  while it has allotted 1,500 plots of 600 sq.ft. and 1,200 sq.ft. (20’x30’ and 30’x40’ sq.ft.) to the EWS and LIG categories, it has allotted the same number of sites, 1,500, to the Middle Income Group (MIG) and High Income Group (HIG).  But the MIG and HIG plots are 2,400 and 4,000 sq.ft in size (60’x40’ and 50’x80’).   

An analysis of the proportion of land allotted in this layout to the affluent shows that it is five times the area of land that is allotted to the EWS and LIG categories. When 98% of the need for housing is for the EWS, how and when will such an allocation ever fulfil this requirement? 

When it is claimed that, land being so expensive, no individual plots can ever be given to the slum-dwellers and that they should be forever huddled into multi-storeyed housing where each unit is hardly 250 sq.ft, how does one justify the allotment of 4,000 sq.ft. to a single affluent family by a public sector housing body? And instead of stopping the allotment of such huge individual plots to the affluent, because land is scarce, and asking all of them also to go in for multi-storeyed flats, a minister in charge of urban development had instead proposed cutting down the percentage of land meant for open spaces, parks and playgrounds in every layout! And when 1.5 lakh flats for the affluent are already lying vacant in Bengaluru city, is it worth the time and energy put in by Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) to distribute a few thousand plots to the rich in a whole decade? 

Obviously, one needs better outcome-based planning and budgeting by our managers if the 98% need  for EWS/LIG categories is to be fulfilled.

Slum Act made complex

Mr. Isaac Arul Selva, editor of Slum Jagattu, a periodical by and for slum-dwellers, laments that the Karnataka Slum (Improvement & Clearance) Act of 1973 has failed to meet the objectives with which it was passed more than 40 years ago.  It still does not have an accurate figure for the number of slums in the State, citing lack of resources and personnel for conducting necessary surveys.  If slum-dwellers themselves file an application for notification of their settlement as a slum, as per Section 3 of the Slum Act, they have to run around for decades from the Slum Board to the DC’s office to get it notified.  Even after notification, it is not rare that the lands are re-acquired by the original landowners or by the land mafia. 

Even to get basic amenities sanctioned for their slum, slum-dwellers need to be living there at least for 30 years.  Another 10 years go by before the slum gets notified.  Five or ten years more are required before the slum gets priority status in the Slum Board’s list and the meagre finances at the Board’s disposal are routed to these prioritised slums.  It takes almost 50 years before a slum gets basic amenities, that is, if it is not evicted earlier.  The direction in 1996 to create a land bank for urban poor housing was killed even before it could take off, points out Mr. Selva. 

Though the Congress Manifesto before the 2013 elections promised to make the entire State slum-free and to issue title deeds to all slum-dwellers, this has hardly happened.  Section 4 of the Slum Act says that  the owner or occupier of every building situated in any slum area shall send a request for registration  of his building and that on receipt of such statement, the building shall be  registered in a register and a registration certificate issued to the owner or occupier of the building, as per Section 4(2).  However, in actual practice, nine different kinds of certificates are being issued by the Slum Board at different stages, such as an ID, possession certificate, intimation letter, etc., but not the legitimate registration certificate, denying title deeds to the land to the slum-dwellers, says the Slum  Janandolana - Karnataka ( Movement of Slum-Dwellers of Karnataka). 

Also, 50,000 applications submitted under Section 94cc  of the Karnataka Land Revenue Act for regularisation under the Akrama-Sakrama scheme and issual of title deeds to the slum-dwellers have not been processed according to Slum Janandolana - Karnataka. 

The cabinet, in fact, has taken a decision not to issue title deeds to slums within 3 kms of city boundaries.  Hence, though the Slum Act promises much to slum-dwellers, its implementation leaves much to be desired.  The Slum Janandolana - Karnataka hence is asking for several amendments to the Act to prescribe time limits for the entire process: time limits within which the DC should declare an area as a slum; basic amenities should be provided;  slum-dwellers’ houses should be registered and registration certificates issued; the slum re-developed or slum-dwellers rehabilitated at alternative locations.

Mr. Selva also reasons that without systemic collusion between Slum Board officials, the DC’s office, the police, land owners or land mafia, and elected representatives, it is not possible to legally evict slum-dwellers.  If the Slum Act is implemented honestly, it is extremely difficult to evict slum-dwellers or de-notify slums.  But this is happening regularly indicating collusion, he opines.

What went wrong with the good housing schemes

Several housing policies have been framed  since 2002 at the national and state levels which have remained on paper.  Recent policies, such as the one on “Housing for All”,  have accepted the failure of governments to provide houses for the poor and have practically given up the idea of the State providing them.   Instead they are looking at governments as mere ‘facilitators’ and ‘regulators’ who will provide all incentives to the private sector to build houses for the urban poor in public-private-partnership mode.  “But no private builders are coming forward to fulfil this need as they are aware that they cannot provide houses for less than 10 lakhs and there are no urban poor who can afford to buy them at that rate,” says Mr. Selva.   

JNNURM launched in 2005 and RAY in 2012, have also asked the States to make their cities slum-free by drawing up Slum-Free Cities’ Action Plans (SFCAP). The slum rehabilitation plans were to integrate the individual slum plan with a seven-point charter of providing the required social infrastructure for day-care centres for children, schools, hospitals, livelihood centres and social security, etc., to go along with the housing.

The RAY guidelines stated that the “State Slum-Free Plan of Action” would need the State  to prepare legislation for the assignment of property rights to slum dwellers /urban poor as the first step”.  The Plan of Action would be required to commit to a whole city.  The right to land and security of tenure of the urban poor and their right not to be evicted were given prime recognition in RAY. Countering States’ perpetual cries about lack of land for the poor, RAY required states to create a mandatory land bank for the EWS. 

JNNURM required States to pass laws reserving 15% land or 25% dwellings in every new public and private housing project for the EWS and LIG which several States failed to do. RAY again required States to do this during the preparatory stage itself between 2011-2013. 

Noting States’ reluctance to provide ownership right to slum-dwellers, RAY asked the States to legislate mortgageable property rights to slum-dwellers. While under JNNURM there was no option to give ‘right to a piece of land’ which is what most slum-dwellers wanted,  RAY sent a “Model law on property rights to slum-dwellers” to the States which defined ‘dwelling place’ as either a dwelling unit or ‘a piece of land’ which would allow slum-dwellers to own the land and build their house on their own, if States so legislated.

But none of these laws were passed by Karnataka.  Instead of passing the law,  the State government resorted to begging private builders to agree to allocate 25% of their flats/houses to the urban poor, which the builders point-blank refused to do, stating that the value of their high-end flats for the elite would come down if the elite were made to live cheek-by-jowl with the urban poor.

Nevertheless, despite many favourable provisions in RAY, the State government officials in Karnataka ignored them and continued to claim that RAY allowed only multi-storeyed housing and PPP models, and that RAY offered right to tenure only for ‘dwelling units’ and not a right to ‘a piece of land’. 

Despite the progressive provisions of RAY, slum-dwellers' federations in Karnataka also mobilised slum-dwellers to reject RAY. As no awareness programmes for slum-dwellers on what exactly was contained in the guidelines of RAY were ever conducted, slum-dwellers went by what municipal officials and activists told them.   Despite acknowledging the weaknesses in the State’s Slum Act and its poor implementation, activist-spokespersons for the slum-dwellers said, “We want the State government to implement its own Slum Act and its other circulars issued over time promising property rights to slum-dwellers. Hence we reject RAY.”  Thus, it was tragic that due to misinformation given by officials and some activists, slum-dwellers’ organisations decided to go on a week-long rally all across Bangalore city and several districts calling for rejection of RAY and implementation of the State government’s circulars instead, despite their own experience of the poor implementation of the Slum Act and circulars based on it. 

But now these same organisations are lamenting that officials are not implementing the State’s circulars assuring them rights to land, etc., and that it is not possible to get the circulars enforced in a court of law as they are only circulars and not laws.  And in a major turn-around, they are now saying that what they need are laws that can be enforced and not circulars! 

Be that as it may, their legitimate demand now is for a law ensuring Right to Housing, as part and parcel of the Right to Life under Article 21 and the Right to a Decent Standard of Living under Article 39.

But as luck would have it, due to alleged pressures of the State governments on the Central Ministry, revised guidelines for RAY were issued in October 2013 which were regressive and nullified the several good points that were there in the initial guidelines, almost justifying the activists’ rejection of RAY!  “With property rights as entitling facilitation and in-situ slum improvement as a housing improvement strategy, RAY would have gone  far”, says an expert.

How about subsidised housing rental

Studies note that “migrants to urban areas form the single largest population segment that needs housing in the cities”.  They may already have a house or a piece of land in their native villages or towns and may not need (or be interested in) ownership housing in urban areas. What they would look for is decent, affordable rental accommodation. Subsidised rental housing contributes towards preventing future growth of slums by providing affordable housing option to poor migrants. These poor households live in squatter settlements indicating that even rental housing is unaffordable for them in mega cities like Bengaluru.  Studies note that “even when subsidies for housing loans and tax concessions are given, this segment cannot afford to own a house due to low disposable income, irregular income, ever increasing real estate prices, etc.”

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation is considering introduction of subsidies through its draft National Urban Rental Housing Policy of 2015 in the form of direct benefit transfer, that would be provided to EWS and LIG households towards their rent payments.  This draft Policy introduces the concept of providing housing vouchers to the urban poor, equivalent to a certain cash amount to partially offset the cost of rent incurred by them. However, the draft policy defines the Centre’s role as a “facilitator” and “enabler” for promoting rental housing which would only “encourage States to provide subsidies for low-income tenants”, in effect, washing its hands off providing the subsidies for rent.  The State governments appear to be blissfully unaware of this policy as they have framed no schemes for subsidising rents for the urban poor.

Right to housing for all

The UN Report on “Housing as a Right -2017” (the full report is available here and the deliberations of the Coalition of Housing Rights Groups that met on 8th January 2017 both seek to build upon the orders of the Supreme Court of India in the matter of ‘right to housing’. The Supreme Court of India in 1995 in the Chameli Singh Vs. State of UP, emphasised “the centrality of the right to housing as precursor to all rights”. Successive judgements of the Supreme Court have reiterated similar concerns, says the Coalition.

The Coalition notes that “the proof that very little has been done in over two decades by various governments, is borne out by the fact that the need for housing has more than doubled to 58.6 million units (Special UN Rapporteur report of 2017)  from 23.90 million in 1991 (Government of India – National Buildings Organisation, Ministry of Urban Affairs & Employment). It also proves that all the governments over the decades had ignored the order and sentiments of the highest court of India”.

One of the strongest recommendations of the UN Report is a need for a national legislation to address problems relating to housing rights. The Coalition of Housing Rights Groups, also addressed “the challenges posed by rampant evictions, denial of land rights, livelihood opportunities and basic services to poor communities living in informal settlements which goes unchecked in the absence of any legal prudence”.

UN Report on Housing as a Right - 2017 recommends that “strategies developed by States and local governments to achieve target 11.1 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the New Urban Agenda should include a full range of taxation, regulatory and planning measures in order to re-establish housing as a social good, promote an inclusive housing system and prevent speculation and excessive accumulation of wealth”.

In tune with the above SDG and in an effort to fulfill, at least to some extent, its promise in its manifesto, the Congress government in  Karnataka is launching a 1-lakh housing scheme for BPL families of Bengaluru, to be constructed within the next 18 to 24 months.  1,100 acres of land recovered from encroachers is to be used for the purpose.  So, if one lakh houses can be built in 24 months, the requirement of 7.46 lakh houses could be met, not in 100, but in 15 years, if there is necessary political will to make cities slum-free within a time-frame. 

Nevertheless, slum-dwellers do not want their houses to be built by the government as they are unsure of their quality, given that many such houses have fallen down within short periods of being built, killing many of the residents.  They do not want private builders to build their houses either, as governments often give the private builders 40% of the land free in return for the builder putting up multi-storeyed structures for the slum-dwellers on the remaining 60% of land.  What the slum-dwellers demand instead are rights to the land on which they would build their houses themselves.  They could do this in one year and not the 15 or 100 years that it would take the government to do. 

The measure would be in keeping with the Right to Housing and the need to compensate them for the denial of their right to own land over the years.