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Slums: (The Janta Colony)

Is the state the owner of ‘public’ land? Or does it hold the land in trust to be used for constitutionally appropriate purposes?

Slums, in common parlance, are settlements where the urban poor live. Epithets such as ‘squatters’ and ‘encroachers’, and attributes such as ‘illegality’ and ‘ineligibility’ characterise perceptions about the lives and habitations of slum dwellers. While casting the slum dwellers into a stereotype, dirt, criminality, pilferage and their abetment of slumlords to seize public lands for unconscionable gain, are most routinely caricatured. These are the descriptions imposed on slum dwellers by those who do not live in their midst

The other perception is that it is the area of the service providers, the migrant labor who help in building and running the city. They plan the entire construction of the city but their needs and residence was not taken into account when the city was getting constructed.

In law, a ‘slum’ is something else. A ‘slum area’ is “any area (where) buildings in that area:
(a) are in any respect unfit for human habitation; or
(b) are by reason of dilapidation, overcrowding, faulty arrangement and design of such buildings, narrowness or faulty arrangement of streets, lack of ventilation, light or sanitation facilities, or any combination of these factors, detrimental to safety, health or morals”, once it is so notified in the official gazette. The mere existence of these characteristics will not do; it has to be notified to be a slum area.

If it is unfit for human settlement then reports about the testing, repairs, stability has to be prepared with details about the dampness, natural light, fresh air/ventilation, water supply, drainage and sanitation, facility for storage, preparation and cooking of food and disposal of waste (both solid and water).

There is a Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act, 1956 to deal with the slums. It has provisions for clearing the slum land and protection of the tenants. However most of the benefits and provisions are for the slums which are basically old settlement when city planning was not that popular and hence cannot be extended to modern slums which are basically encroachment on public land.

Then there is 138th report of the Law commission of India 1990 dealing with the pavement dwellers and encroachers. It provides for the re-induction of the tenant after repair, refurbishment or reconstruction of the dilapidated or dangerous structure.

Most chawls are privately held or are leased out. The owner operates them for sheer profit and is not interested in providing for the basic amenities giving rise to disease and epidemics. A friend rightly said that PG (paying guests in Bangalore are no better even though they charge 3k p.m.)

In 1990 35 million citizens lived in slums and quite often their structures were razed to the ground without offering them any alternative. The evictees include women and children who have no where to go.

It’s ironical that the urban poor have no access to Ration Card India’s PDS. What use of the scheme which caters to the poor and BPL people but not the slum dwellers. Authorities cite that these cards have repeatedly been used to get the ‘free for use’ land legalized. Net result the municipality ignores their presence rather than doing the duty of providing sanitation, water, electricity.

An interesting development in Delhi happened. MCD needed land for garbage disposal and landfills. The land in Delhi is owned by DDA and it asked for 40Lakhs per acre (market rate). The court intervened and said it was the duty for the Delhi govt. to have adequate landfills immaterial of who pays the price. Within 2 weeks such sites were identified and transferred without a single penny exchanging hands.

The ability of the govt. to make accommodation for the residents has become a function of their paying capacity. They often state lack of funds for relocation when it comes to slums, but still have sufficient funds to construct multi-storied apartments, tech parks (which they are unable to sell anyways) According to the 10th plan 90% of the urban housing shortage is due to the slums. The reasons it cited were
1) High cost of land.
2) Non availability of credit/funds.
3) Lack of implementation of the suggestion of cross-subsidization of the affluent constructions and commercial property to provide economical housing.

Demolition is used more for political motives, demonstration of state power, and are illegal in accordance to ICESER and does not serve the dream of housing for all. To fulfill the promise of enabling citizens live in security, peace and dignity, facilities must be created to provide legal security of tenure, availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure, affordability, habitability, accessibility, location and cultural adequacy for the lower income groups (bottom of the pyramid)

Even when relocation is provided for, as in the case of Delhi 2004, the allotment was as individual land instead of buildings, even though govt. clearly knows that more people can be accommodated in a building rather than individual strips of land (which by the way was little bigger than a double bed which we people sleep on) The site was 25 kms. Away for the place of employment and hence rendered them unemployed.

Eviction does not make the BPL vaporize, they just move to another site waiting for another eviction order.

2 replies on “Slums: (The Janta Colony)”

This is very true. Something has to be done to house the urban poor. And something has to be done to make sure that the rural masses get employment in their villages or town.Concrete action is necessary here.

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