India's urban poor worse off than rural poor: Poverty Allevation Minister

"About 300 million people live in towns and cities underserved by utilities, with inadequate housing and increasingly choking traffic. The condition of the urban poor is by many measures worse than the poor in rural areas, towards which special attention has been given during various five year plans," Selja, who also holds the tourism portfolio, told IANS in an interview.

"Within 25 years, another 300-400 million people will be added to Indian towns and cities," said Selja, pointing out that making India slum-free was more of "an aspirational goal".

The minister, who is an MP from Ambala, Haryana, said a major thrust was necessary in physical, financial and human infrastructure in cities and in governance and technical capabilities to promote holistic and inclusive growth of urban areas.

She said states had "only now" begun to appreciate the consequences of the inexorable growth of urban population on the economy, human development indicators and the social fabric as also its political ramifications.

At the beginning of the Eleventh Five Year Plan, there was an urban housing shortage of 24.7 million in the country, with a 99 percent shortfall pertaining to the economically weaker sections and lower income groups.

When asked about this, Selja said the National Urban Housing and Habitat Policy, 2007, has several features including spatial incentives like additional floor area ratio and transferable development rights.

Selja said the construction of 1.55 million houses had been sanctioned under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission  (JNNURM) in the last five years and the construction of one million houses would be taken up in partnership with private developers, state undertakings and urban local bodies.

The scheme will be dovetailed with the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) - the main instrument of the government to make the country slum free which is in the preparatory phase right now.

Asked if the government would be able to realise the target of making India free of slums in five years as mentioned in a speech of President Pratibha Patil in 2009, the  minister said the "goal is aspirational".

"The significance of the president's announcement lies in the importance the government is placing on the issues of inclusion and improving the lot of urban slum dwellers," she said.

Referring to the Deepak Parekh report, which went into the draft guidelines of RAY, she said it had mentioned that the target of removing slums cannot be achieved in five years.
"The states must come on board and assign property rights to slum dwellers. The central government will provide them all help to create slum-free India at the earliest," she said.

Kumari Selja said states such Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Orissa had done good work to prepare action plans under RAY for the removal of slums in their cities.

She said Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal were among the states that were lagging behind in preparing action plans.

Asked about the Pranob Sen report which projected the slum population at over 93 million (7.75 percent of country's population) by 2011, she explained that a cluster of 60 or more houses was earlier categorised as a slum, but the report had recommended that a cluster of 20-25 houses without basic amenities should be treated in the same category.

The minister said it was important to tackle the issue of existing slums and also underlying causes. "Unless you tackle the causes, new slums will keep coming up. RAY has adopted a city-based approach - whole slum, whole city," she said.

Selja said a model regulatory bill for the real estate sector would be ready in about three months. She said housing and real estate were state subjects and it was for the states to take a decision on the regulatory mechanism.

However, she said, once the model bill was in place, public pressure would mount on states for creating regulatory authority.

Asked if states were implementing the JNNURM norm to reserve at least 20-25 percent of the development land in public and private housing projects for economically weaker sections, she said Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh had made legal provisions while Andhra Pradesh had issued executive orders. The Delhi master plan 2021 has also provided such reservation.

"We are planning a legal framework by all states for reservation of land in all housing colonies under RAY."

She said taking note of the rapid urbanisation in the country, the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had launched JNNURM in 2005. The seven-year programme provides for allocation of central financial assistance to cities for infrastructure, housing and capacity development.

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