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Councilor Meetings on RAY mapping: Promising first steps from the TNSCB, but more work needed!

May 21, 2013 by

The Transparent Chennai team has been monitoring the progress of the Rajiv Awas Yojana – the central government’s “slum-free cities” program – in Chennai. Although the program was announced in 2009, it has been slow to be implemented in the country, including in Tamil Nadu. If implemented according to the spirit of the RAY guidelines (a very big IF), I think that the program has real potential to improve policies towards slums in the city.

Each city and state has to prepare a ‘Slum Free City Plan of Action’ before they can access funds under the program. In Chennai, in preparation for creating this plan, zone-by-zone surveying and mapping of all slums, whether declared or undeclared, has begun. As far as we know, three zones are nearly finished with their work. In order to comply with the requirements of the program, the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB), which is the agency responsible for implementing the RAY in the state, has begun holding meetings for councilors and MLAs to share and vet their survey findings from zones where they are nearly done.

Because Transparent Chennai had invited representatives from the TNSCB to our public meeting on the RAY last December, we have been invited as observers to the three meetings that have already taken place. We will be posting reports of each meeting, and are happy to provide more information by phone (call our office during working hours at 044.2830.3400, and ask to speak to Nithya or Priti).

First councilor meeting in Zone 13
We were informed about the first meeting in advance by phone and letter, but the date was changed a number of times making it difficult to plan our attendance. Finally, the meeting was held on Saturday morning on February 16th at the Hotel Raj Palace (near Andhra Mahila Sabha). Invitees included staff from the Slum Clearance Board and councilors and MLAs from Zone 13.

The meeting opened with an address by the Managing Director of the TNSCB, Mr. Chandrasekar, IAS. He provided attendees information about the RAY and about what activities had taken place in the city so far, and told them about progress and pilots in Trichy and Madurai as well.

The meeting was then led by Mr. Shanmugasundaram, the State Level Coordinator for the RAY. Mr. Shanmugasundaram provided details about the process of the RAY (how would planning be done, how would projects be put together?). He then provided details about the results of the survey on a ward-wise basis, using both maps and tables. In each ward, he presented the name of each of the slums counted, a brief description of each (as a tenement, MUDP/TNUDP slum, riverside slum, etc.) and also presented the suggested strategy for dealing with these slums (either delisting, tenable – in situ rehabilitation, and partial or complete relocation). After the presentation from each ward, the ward councilor – if present – was invited to give his or her feedback. Not all councilors were present, but those that were present were given ample time to speak.

Additionally, two MLAs attended the meeting, M. K. Ashok from the Velachery constituency, and R. Rajalakshmi from Mylapore constituency. Ms. Rajalakshmi appeared only briefly because she had other obligations. Mr. Ashok stayed for most of the meeting, and was articulate about the concerns of slum-dwellers in his constituency, saying that they should not be moved from where they were living.

Given the difficulties that slum-dwellers and CSOs in the city have faced in the past in accessing information from the TNSCB, I was impressed with the frankness of the presentations by Mr. Shanmugasundaram and by the Managing Director of the TNSCB, and their public commitment to having a public meeting to which the concerned slum residents would also be invited.

However, it was clear at this meeting that councilors and MLAs had not been given the information about the surveys done in their wards and constituencies before the meeting, which means that they did not have a chance to prepare their responses. It was also not made clear at the meeting how feedback from this meeting would be incorporated into the planning process for the RAY. For example, what would happen if councilors stated that certain slums were missing from the survey, or that the number of households counted in the survey in each slum was actually less than the true number of households that lived in the slum? Would the numbers be rectified?

There were more complex questions too – What would happen if councilors did not agree with the plans put together for each of the slums? If slum-dwellers or councilors preferred to develop their slums in-situ (in the same place as they currently sat), would that be permitted?

One thing that does seems clear from this meeting is that close engagement from slum residents and councilors will be required in order for the RAY to be implemented in Chennai according to the spirit of the RAY Guidelines. The RAY asks cities to do some difficult things – doing things like setting aside vacant land in a ward for rehabilitating slum-dwellers is likely to face resistance from other departments and agencies, and the TNSCB will require citizens and elected representatives to put pressure on these other agencies to give up their land. Without our vigilance, it is unlikely that the RAY will yield significant benefits for slum-dwellers.

Written by Nithya V. Raman, director, Transparent Chennai