Land rights key to slum-free cities

Open any newspaper and you will find full-page ads featuring high-rise apartments in gated enclaves offering 100 amenities, including swimming pool, gym, club-house, jogging track and what-have-you.

But one also reads that 1.5 lakh such flats built for the affluent are lying vacant in Bengaluru. The affluent have invested in these flats to sell them again at a profit, and not because they need to live in them. This, even as there are 3,21,296 urban poor households in the same city, often with up to 10 members living in 100 sqft shacks. They are deprived of even a meagre roof over their heads and their livelihood as they are often evicted and pushed to the peripheries of the city to make way for more high-rises and shopping malls.

There cannot be a more graphic illustration of the growing inequality in society. Activists see this as a replication in urban areas of the practice of segregating lower caste settlements from those of the upper castes in rural areas.

In contrast to this reality, the Congress manifesto of 2013 had promised to make Karnataka a slum-free state, provide a house to every family within five years and provide title deeds to all slum-dwellers in declared and undeclared slums. In addition, the Congress manifesto before the BBMP elections in 2015 promised to reserve 25% developed land in Bengaluru for the weaker sections, provide temporary sites with basic amenities in city outskirts for poor migrant labourers. The Bengaluru Declaration of July 2017 also promises a Right to shelter and housing, especially for the marginalised.

But what has been the fruit of these promises? The Karnataka Slum Development Board's annual report of 2016-17 says that there are 2,804 slums in the state, out of which 597 slums are in Bengaluru City alone. The slum population in the state is 40.5 lakh and the number of slum households is 7.46 lakh, 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 Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) have been constructed.

However, the staggering fact is that, at this rate of construction per year, it will take the slum board 100 years to provide a house to all the 7.46 lakh slum-dwellers in the state. Is this the result of the Slum-Free Cities' Action Plans the that state was supposed to frame under JNNURM-BSUP and RAY? So when will one see the dream of having slum-free cities, as promised?

Meanwhile, the Karnataka Housing Board has allotted 12,843 sites and 1,173 houses/flats over the last four years for the poor (EWS and LIG) categories. The BDA is currently constructing 6,900 1-BHK units out of 13,500 dwelling units. Obviously, with these strategies alone meeting the 98% mark for EWS/LIG categories will be a non-starter. So, what of all the high-sounding 'outcome-based planning and budgeting' and 'performance management systems' developed by our netas and babus during their endless meetings?

Perhaps, to make good the unfulfilled promises in the manifestos at least to some extent before the coming election, the government has announced that it will build one lakh houses for BPL families of Bengaluru, within the next 18 to 24 months, on 1,100 acres of land recovered from encroachments.

Misread needs

The initial public-private-partnership plan in which the builder would be given ownership of 40% of land in return for building one lakh flats on the remaining 60% was thankfully later given up and the scheme handed over to the Rajiv Gandhi Rural Housing Corporation for constructing four-storied flats.  

The danger inherent in this is that the multi-storied houses may not be what the poor really want. And the flats may not go to the genuinely poor with politicians securing them for their adherents, kith and kin. But the plan shows that if one lakh houses can be built in 24 months, the requirement of 7.46 lakh houses could have been theoretically met, not in 100, but in 15 years. Hence what has been lacking, despite the promises made in manifestos, is the will to make cities slum-free within a time-frame.  

However, instead of getting the houses built by a government agency, if land rights to this 1,100 acres of land are given to the slum-dwellers - which is what they desire - they will build the houses themselves in one year! The measure would recompense them somewhat for the denial of their right to own land over millennia.

But there is growing realisation that providing ownership housing is not the only solution. Temporary migrants to urban areas may not need ownership housing as they may have houses back home. What they need is decent, affordable rental accommodation.

There is very little awareness of the National Urban Rental Housing Policy of 2015 drafted by the Centre which introduces the concept of the state providing subsidised rental housing or housing vouchers to the urban poor for a certain cash amount to partially offset the cost of rent incurred by them. Such social rental housing would prevent the very growth of future slums.

(The writer is Executive Trustee of CIVIC Bangalore)

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