A first-hand look at in situ development in Pune

In comparison to other major cities in the country, Pune has been fairly progressive in its approaches to slum development. The in situ slum redevelopment project at Yerwada in particular, has been among the noteworthy instances of participatory planning efforts under the Basic Services for the Urban Poor (BSUP) component of the JnNURM in the country. It has long been my favourite example to quote while discussing the possibilities of in situ development in Chennai. So imagine my excitement when I got to visit Yerwada! I happened to meet Mr. Sharad Mahajan of the Maharashtra Social Housing and Action League (MASHAL) at a conference in Pune, and he offered to arrange a field visit for me[1].

Interactions with MASHAL field officers and residents gave me many insights into the project. While some aspects of the project matched my expectations, others surprised me. Here are some of my initial learnings:

Background and project details

All the slums that are part of the project are officially recognized slums. Beneficiary households span six administrative wards. The municipal councilors from these wards (called corporators) came together to implement this project. The project only involved redevelopment of housing, and not the provision of any social infrastructure or basic facilities. Beneficiaries did not receive a patta for their homes. The provision of tenure security was also not included in the scheme. However, field officers revealed that the councilors are now making attempts to give patta to the residents.

Details of housing intervention

According to the field officers, about 70% of the houses in these areas were pucca (or made of permanent materials) at the outset. The project set out to help the remaining households, which were semi-pucca or kachcha (made of impermanent materials). A community meeting was held to inform people about the project, and to invite them to participate. The corporators also announced the scheme. The expenditure was Rs. 3,00,000 per house for a minimum house size of 270 square feet unit, of which 10% came from the beneficiary.  Residents had the option to have bigger homes, but they had to pay extra.

Interestingly, smaller houses were not given extra land to ensure a minimum house size of 270 square feet: they simply built upwards in the land he/she occupied prior to the intervention! For instance, if a beneficiary occupied 150 square feet of land, he would receive a three-storeyed house measuring 270 square feet. However, those occupying less than 100 square feet of land were not eligible for the scheme.

Partly as a result of this policy, no two houses in the intervention are the same. Architects worked with the residents of each house to design the house as per their needs. However, the design mandatorily included a toilet. The structures also had to be constructed with Reinforced Cement Concrete (RCC).

The project tried to employ contractors and construction workers living on the site. People could also bring in contractors of their choice from elsewhere. According to the field officers, there were some disagreements between the architects on the MASHAL team, and the people. The councilor functioned as a moderator in case of dispute. Residents I spoke to seemed happy about their new concrete homes which do not leak or flood. Some of them also have a toilet in their homes for the first time due to this intervention.

Beneficiary contribution

The scheme was voluntary. Some households, though eligible, did not participate in the scheme because they could not afford beneficiary contribution, or the rents they needed to pay while their house was being built. No assistance was offered to the people to be able to pay these rents. Some of the beneficiaries have also been unable to pay their contribution towards the house (this was required to be done in three installments of Rs. 10,000 each, upon the start of construction, construction of plinth and construction of roof respectively).  No penalty or interest is levied for defaulters.

Discussion

By being implemented in already recognized slums, this project may have only benefited those who have already been eligible to receive benefits from the government. Yerwada also seems like it was already a fairly well-developed slum with largely pucca houses at the start, and sewage, water and electricity connectivity. Thus, the scheme has not assisted the more vulnerable populations residing in poor living conditions in informal settlements. Despite the JnNURM’s insistence on the provision of tenure security, pattas were not given to people as part of this scheme, much like other BSUP housing projects in other cities. People do not possess any ownership documents, except for property tax bills and photo passes. The scheme also did not provide social infrastructure.

However, the project has been commendably participatory and flexible enough to accommodate the needs of each beneficiary in his/her house, and has even involved the residents of the site in the construction. The contribution of the government per house (Rs. 2.7 lakh) is over twice that of the contribution in the BSUP housing intervention undertaken by the Chennai Corporation (Rs. 1.3 lakh). The construction of 270 square feet has been guaranteed at this cost in the Yerwada project, while in Chennai, beneficiaries receive only financial assistance, and no guidance on design or construction of the structure. Our field work in Chennai has indicated that some households do not complete construction of houses because midway they find that they cannot afford the construction anymore. Some Yerwada beneficiaries also reported gaining access to a household toilet through the intervention.

It was very exciting to be able to visit a project I had only read about, and critically examine its merits and demerits. We will certainly study the Yerwada project further, as TC continues to push for in situ development of Chennai slums.

Written by Priti Narayan, researcher, Transparent Chennai


[1]MASHAL, an NGO, has worked for the development of 2,020 kachcha and semi-pucca houses in this project. Other NGOs are involved as well.

Update on the Perumbakkam project

Over 75% of funds provided to the city of Chennai under the JnNURM’s “Basic Services for the Urban Poor” component went towards constructing houses in Perumbakkam, a resettlement colony on the outskirts of the city located near the existing resettlement colony of Semmenchery. Members of the Transparent Chennai team along with architects Shilesh Hariharan and Roshan Toshniwal (who also works with us on transport and heritage issues) visited the Perumbakkam site on August 31, and spoke with an engineer there to gauge the progress of the project and to learn more about the government’s plans. This post is a summary of the findings from our visit.

Building designs:
The plan is to build 20,376 units in 158 blocks with 8 floors each. About 6,000 units have been built so far. This is the first time that the Slum Clearance Board is building high-rises, and the Board seems to be experimenting with designs, correcting faults from earlier designs in later buildings. Unfortunately, some residents of Perumbakkam will still have to live in the early faulty buildings.

Picture 1: A view of the Perumbakkam resettlement site.

Currently, there are two kinds of buildings. In the first, the stairs run around the lifts, of which there are two at the center of every floor. This is a fire hazard: in case of fire, the lift will act as a duct, and people will not be able to use the stairs. Moreover, the stairs are narrow (about 2.5 feet wide), too narrow for the number of people on each floor according to the architects who visited the site. Each floor has 24 units, twelve on each side of the lift and stairs. Although the team visited during the day, lighting and ventilation in the long hallway were very poor, with only two windows, each on either end of the hall. Units in this first type of building were slightly larger, with 390 sq ft plinth area.

Some of these issues were corrected in the second type of building. Stairs are separate from the lift. In order to better ventilate the building, there are open-to-sky spaces in the corridors outside of each home. The shared spaces (corridors and stairs) are wider, but the houses are smaller, spanning only 310 sq. ft. Despite the open-to-sky spaces, ventilation and lighting continues to remain poor. The architects noted that such open-to-sky spaces could be closed off by residents after occupation, and so may not serve their intended purpose.

Picture 2: Corridors in the second type of building, with open-to-sky spaces.

Because of the persistent ventilation and lighting concerns, new buildings that are to be built will now be half the width of the buildings built so far, with 12 apartments on every floor rather than 24. This means that the number of units in each building will be 96 rather than 192.

Services:
About 75-80% of “development works” have been completed: these include water networks and sewerage lines. They plan to expand the sewage treatment plant in Semmenchery to accommodate Perumbakkam residents, but have not received any bids on the tender for expansion. They also plan to hire an NGO for garbage collection. Water supply will come from Veeranam, as in Semmenchery. There are plans to build a 5-acre bus terminus, but until bus services are functional, residents will have to rely on Semmenchery buses. Schools will be built over the next 6 months. A PHC, police station, post offices and ration shops will be constructed, but only upon request by residents.

Picture 3: Ongoing “development works” at the site.

Governance:
The project is being directly reviewed by the Chief Secretary, GoTN. The Board will be responsible for maintenance for 10 to 15 years, and maintenance costs are being included in the cost of the project. Perumbakkam is not in the Corporation. It is a village panchayat in Sholinganallur Taluk, Kanchipuram district. Roads will be laid by the panchayat. This is significant because of reports from residents in Kannagi Nagar that services only improved after it came under the control of the Corporation.

Occupancy:
Tentative date of start of occupancy at the site is November 1. The first set of intended beneficiaries of the tenements is likely to constitute those affected by the Cooum project, Buckingham Canal and other waterway projects. Chennai Corporation is responsible for enumerating beneficiaries and doing biometric identification for them. Those displaced from roadsides and as part of the CMRL project are also on the list. There were about 3000 squatters on the Perumbakkam site before they were removed for the work on the project. About 319 of these families were rehabilitated in Semmencherry, while the rest will be allotted tenements in Perumbakkam. (They now live in nearby areas).

The monthly dues towards ownership of the houses are likely to be of the order of Rs. 250.

Written by Priti Narayan, researcher, Transparent Chennai
Photographs by Roshan Toshniwal, researcher, Transparent Chennai

That thing called Community Participation

The recent housing policy Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) envisions slum free cities by 2020. The policy requires that all the slums in a city be surveyed and mapped, before plans are made for the development of these slums. Enough has been written on this blog about how, despite the emphasis on community participation in the guidelines of the RAY, surveying is nearly complete in Chennai slums with no involvement from the people whatsoever. For instance, see here and here. Guidelines also state that people can create plans for their own slums and submit these to the government for implementation. Every time we urge people at our outreach meetings to seize this opportunity to improve their neighbourhoods, they in turn ask us how they could possibly make plans, and whether we could help them create one.

This is how we came up with the idea of a slum community mapping manual, using which people can map their own slums and represent themselves to the government to demand services under the RAY. With the help of interns Nidhi Subramanyam and Anna Alberts, we have come up with a toolkit that is simple and intuitive without relying on technology. The end product of this toolkit would be a set of hand drawn maps created through participatory processes that are up to scale, meeting all of RAY’s requirements. (Watch this space for more blogposts on how the manual was actually created). The toolkit would also enable residents to have structured and informed conversations about what local resources are required and where they could be located.

Recently we conducted a pilot of the toolkit at a slum in Nungambakkam. This slum is now facing the threat of eviction because part of the slum sits on a defunct storm water drain that the Corporation of Chennai now wants to revive. At an opportunity we got to talk about RAY and its emphasis on in situ development of slums, we pitched the idea of the mapping exercise. Both the people at the meeting and our partner organisation that works in the area were very enthusiastic about the possibility, and recognised that the maps could be a useful tool to fight against evictions.

After a meeting with the organisation to discuss the various steps of the meeting, and two more meetings with the community at the end of which the consent of the residents was sought, mapping work commenced. Things were initially very smooth, with people patiently answering all our questions and enthusiastically participating in the participatory processes… until the nearly-final stage of creating the various layers of basic facilities in the slum.

Image 1: Community mapping in progress

Chaos ensued as some of the attendees did not want to participate in an exercise whose outputs will ultimately go to the government. Distrust of the government is understandable, especially after all these years of eviction threats and government hostility in general. But what was surprising was that this objection came up so late into the process – after three outreach meetings and at least 30 people signing their consent for the mapping process! One of the residents even thought we were going to be giving away pattas (land title documents) and Rs. 1.5 lakh to every house as part of the initiative! If only we could!

Although we tried to convince the people that the maps will only be a tool to strengthen demands for in situ development of the slum by the government, it was in vain. Ultimately it was only when a member of our partner community organisation, who also resides in the slum, suddenly appeared on the scene and explained the objectives that peace – and hopefully, faith in the process – was restored. We were lucky to get most of our work done before chaos broke out, but all things considered, that meeting had definitely been derailed.

The pilot taught us a number of things. Firstly, that no matter how many outreach meetings one held before beginning the process, it is important to reiterate the objectives – and the limitations – of the exercise to people at each interaction. Second, it was underscored that we could not take on the task of mobilising the community, because no city resident is going to trust someone who has been working in their neighbourhood for only a week. It is absolutely essential to have a member of the NGO/CBO present during every step of the mapping process. Most of all, the meeting reminded us that all public meetings are volatile spaces where despite our best intentions, things may not go as planned.

This also raised larger questions about the role of NGOs and CBOs in slum areas, and about community participation in general. What, in the eyes of the government, constitutes community participation, and who is to make this happen at the individual slum level? What is the right way to obtain consent from a community, and how much consent is enough consent? What does the government expect from NGOs and CBOs? What results can they achieve, and can they all achieve similar results?

“Community participation” is a complicated affair in practice. It cannot be achieved simply by throwing a process, a CBO, and the community together. We are now working on hosting the final meeting in the slum to discuss the final maps, and starting the mapping process in a new neighbourhood soon. Meanwhile, we are also trying to recruit a student corps to take the work forward. More updates soon!

RAY in the state

Transparent Chennai was recently invited by the Information Resource Centre for Urban Deprived Communities (IRCDUC) to provide training on slum policy and the implementation of the JnNURM and Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), to their community trainers in Madurai and Coimbatore.

It was a chance for TC to share with a new audience what we have learned about the spirit of these schemes and what they set out to do, and how both the JNNURM and the RAY have been implemented in Chennai so far. But this training also turned out to be an opportunity for us to learn, from residents themselves, about how differently schemes are implemented from city to city, even when many of the same institutions are involved.

What was striking was the completely different approach taken to the survey of slums under the RAY in these cities compared to Chennai. RAY guidelines clearly state that the community must be involved in the surveying and mapping processes. According to the Central government, NGOs and CBOs (Community-Based Organizations) must be consulted in the preparation of the list of slums, demarcation of slum boundaries, identification of vacant land, and rough mapping of slums. At the end of the surveying and mapping, the compiled information from the slum must be ratified by members of the community and by CBOs[1].

As we have written before, this process is not being followed in Chennai. A private consultant Darashaw is undertaking the surveying and mapping of the slums in Chennai. After the surveys have been completed, the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board has organized meetings where councilors and MLAs from each zone are invited, and the list of slums from each ward is presented. The elected representatives are then given the opportunity to point to missing slums. While early meetings included details on the number of families surveyed in each of these slums, and the proposed plan of action for each slum under the RAY, the recent meeting held in Zone 14 did not include this information. The Slum Clearance Board has not yet presented the survey findings to the community at large. People across the city continue to remain in the dark about why surveying is done, and fear that any enumeration activity will lead to an eviction. In fact, some slums have resisted enumeration precisely for this reason.

In contrast, it was heartening to see that the processes followed in Madurai and Coimbatore are closer to the process recommended by the RAY guidelines. According to the attendees of our training programme, the surveys in all Coimbatore slums involved an NGO. Teams formed by members of Arivoli Iyakkam – an NGO that I was told has a presence in most slums of the city, Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) officials and Corporation officials, along with members of the community completed the surveying process. The list of slums and households prepared by this group was then ratified by the respective ward councilor. In Madurai too, college students collaborated with self-help groups from each slum to complete the survey. In areas without self-help groups, the Slum Clearance Board itself completed the survey.

One wonders: why could a similar process not be followed in Chennai as well? Despite the presence of strong NGOs operating in at least some parts of the city, the TNSCB and the consultants have not engaged them in the surveying process. Community members aside, even local councillors were often not aware of the ongoing RAY survey in their wards. People are continuing to panic about enumeration in their areas, especially in light of the Cooum River Restoration Project, and the unoccupied tenements in Perumbakkam. The Board may not have the capacity to survey slums in a city as large as Chennai, and that may explain the hiring of a consultant for the purpose. But did the existence of a consultant prevent the Board from following a more consultative process in the surveying?

As for the training programme in Madurai, our partners informed us that the attendees appreciated the session. A committee on the RAY has also been formed in Coimbatore as a result, and further training on the RAY is likely to be scheduled. Watch this space for updates!


[1]http://mhupa.gov.in/ray/Planning_guidelines2012.pdf

Written by Priti Narayan, researcher, Transparent Chennai

WAE in Ward 57: The Beginnings

Coordinating the Ward Accountability Experiment (WAE) in Ward 57 (Royapuram) has been a trial by fire. Now it seems that after many months, a semblance of a process has been set up, but many hurdles had to be crossed before we got here.

The opportunity to conduct the WAE in Royapuram came after our pilot study in Ward 176. The pilot had revealed the presence of large variations in garbage concentration and collection across the ward, with 50 per cent of the garbage lying on only eight streets, and a concentration of garbage in the three recognized slums in the ward. Having seen the results, an NGO, which eventually became our partner in the exercise, had expressed an interest in conducting a ward-level study that showed variations in access to basic services, and between wards in different parts of the city. The WAE seemed to be a good fit within the proposed study.

The opportunity seemed to be a promising one for two reasons. First, it was a chance to collaborate with like-minded organizations to provide a holistic picture about service delivery in a particular ward, and to compare between wards. More importantly, our partners had been organising low-income residents in Ward 57 and through them we could access a ready audience for our research. It was with this understanding that the study was taken up in that particular ward.

However, after their initial involvement in kicking off the project by setting up a meeting with community leaders in the ward, our partner organisation found it difficult to sustain the efforts required for organising the residents. We went ahead with data collection using paper maps with a bunch of super-enthusiastic summer interns. Although this stage was undoubtedly fun, Royapuram with its narrow streets and acute garbage problems was not an easy area to map, especially in the burning heat of May. Digitisation of the mapped data however, was neither easy nor fun, since there were a lot of data points crowded in each map (Photograph 1), often making it difficult to digitise.

Photograph 1: A scan of one of the paper maps used to collect data on surface garbage, construction debris, public toilets and water points


After digitisation we managed to have a meeting with our partner to discuss the final maps, agree on outputs from the exercise and decide on a future course of action. However, they were not able to organise a public meeting with the people and the councillor in the ward, one of the most critical outputs of the process.

The collapse of our partnership then meant that we had to establish relationships with the communities in the ward many months after the commencement of the exercise. It was a cumbersome, time-consuming process to start outreach activities so late into the exercise, unlike our later studies in Wards 5 and 173 where our community relationships were built right at the outset. After several failed attempts, we finally managed to schedule our first meeting in the Kalyanapuram slum of Ward 57, thanks to a cooperative councillor and enthusiastic slum leaders.

But the goal was not just to conduct that first meeting – although the meeting is a story in itself – but to set up a regular interface for the people and the councillor to discuss the issues in the area and to use data they create to identify solutions to the problems they collectively articulate. More on that in this series on our work in Ward 57!

Written by Priti Narayan, researcher, Transparent Chennai

Rajiv Awas Yojana Consultation #2: Councillors take charge!

Ward councillors recently took a TNSCB meeting by storm by emphasizing on in-situ rehabilitation of all slums in their wards. As a participant in that meeting, I found myself cheering these councilors on, clapping enthusiastically and yearning to recount the experience. So here goes:

Some background information first: Consultants Darashaw & Company Ltd. has been hired to do the surveying and mapping of all slums in Chennai city, as required under the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY). They have nearly completed their work in Zones 13 and 10. Community guidelines of the RAY require that the residents of slums be involved in the survey process and that the survey be presented before the communities for ratification[1] before it is finalized. However in Chennai, these steps have not yet been followed. In one of our meetings with the Board, we were told that a “public” consultation would first be held with ward councillors where the list of slums identified in the zone would be presented, along with the Board’s tentative plans for their redevelopment. Admittedly, we were apprehensive because a meeting with councillors is not quite the same as a public meeting with community members participating. Also, one hears many horror stories of councillors acting against the interests of the poor people in the ward. However, our fears were laid to rest during the first consultation done for Zone 13 that was conducted in a democratic and transparent manner, and during which the TNSCB officials made an explicit commitment towards holding a larger public meeting with residents upon the completion of the survey (see earlier post from Nithya for more details on this meeting!).

I attended the Zone 10 meeting, which was held on March 19, 2013. The tone of the meeting was set early on, with councillors interrupting the TNSCB chairman’s speech to ask the Board to cut to the chase and present the Zonal data which was of relevance to them. As the survey data from each ward was presented along with maps, the councillors took charge of the meeting and assertively voiced the needs of the people. (They had earlier been given the list of surveyed slums in their ward, using which they had obviously done thorough homework).

Ward 127 Councillor K. Malai Rajan went first, and insisted that the residents of Koyambedu Colony be rehabilitated in situ, assuring the Board that the land lay on village naththam poramboke (common lands) that can be given to residents. He made a similar demand for New Colony which lies close to a riverbank and was slated for relocation by the Board in the RAY survey. Finally, the Board officials agreed to conduct a joint inspection of the area to determine further course of action. He also pointed out that the residents of Kulasekarapuram which was developed under the TNUDP, had not received sale deeds yet, and urged the Board to look into land transfer issues to speed up this process. He identified slums that had been left out in the survey and made relevant points about the need for the Board to create awareness on the RAY and its potential benefits among the people so that they do not resist the surveying process.

After him, one after the other, every councilor made specific demands for the slums of their ward. Repair of existing TNSCB tenements, civic issues such as drainage problems in these tenements and the need for declaration and property title for slums that have existed on private lands for many years were some of the common issues raised by them. Some of them even pointed to vacant lands owned by the government in their wards, which could be used to relocate people living on so-called “objectionable” or “untenable” land. But most importantly, all of them emphasized on the need to involve councillors in plans and processes concerning the slums in their ward, and on cooperation and concerted action from the Corporation, MetroWater and the Board to solve issues in these areas.

The Board for its part provided a democratic space at the meeting that allowed criticism, and responded to the points made by the councillors. Ultimately, attendees agreed that a committee would be set up to look into the issue of slums on private lands, and to facilitate meetings with MLAs as well to discuss strategies for slums.

This meeting was promising: one hopes that the voices of the people will be heard resoundingly at the forthcoming public meetings, and that the Board would be empathetic to their needs. We at Transparent Chennai are keeping our fingers crossed.


[1]The Rajiv Awas Yojana Guidelines for Community Participation states that this ratification is necessary to ensure that no households are left out and the data collected is accurate. In addition, it states that “in slums where the survey has been carried out by agencies without the participation of the community, it is imperative to get the data verified and validated by the community.” This must be done by means of camps and meetings organized by the ULBs. Accessed at http://mhupa.gov.in/ray/Planning_guidelines2012.pdf

Written by Priti Narayan, researcher, Transparent Chennai

Food for Thought

After an afternoon of kindly requesting officials at the Corporation of Chennai for data on basic municipal services, we stumbled upon the Herbal canteen at Ripon building. The food was absolutely delicious. While we had planned to sample only one plate of vadai, we found ourselves devouring two plates each. The canteen also seemed to be managed well, looked clean and hygienic and was very affordable. If the standard of the Herbal canteen is anything to go by, Amma canteens (comparable in terms of menu and price) are probably just as fabulous.

Enough has been said about the phenomenon that is the Amma Canteen. For instance, sample this, this, and this. The Corporation of Chennai is opening new canteens at breakneck speed. This programme, launched in February 2013 with 15 canteens, now has about 200 canteens in the city with one in every ward. [1] With a double-digit food inflation rate making essential food items unaffordable for many, these Amma canteens are a welcome alternative, especially for the urban poor. The food is healthy and nutritious: on the menu are items like herbal tea, sambar with assorted vegetables and ragi puttu. But what really are the hidden costs of Amma canteens?

Our field work at Transparent Chennai has unintentionally proven revelatory about what these canteens mean to the existing municipal infrastructure of the city. For instance, when we were mapping and surveying night shelters for the city’s homeless, a regular user of the Nandanam shelter on Chamiers Road told us that the Corporation was seriously considering converting that shelter to a canteen before they identified an alternate location. At another Corporation shelter for the homeless on Third Line Beach road we learnt that one dormitory had been converted into a canteen. In another instance, a typically devoted AIADMK councillor casually mentioned the pressure he was facing to open a canteen in his ward. We also noticed that a conservancy office in Alwarpet has recently been converted into a canteen. There was also an article about a public toilet in Thirumangalam that was renovated and converted into an Amma Canteen. The report states that the Corporation was in a hurry to open a canteen as soon as possible and this led to an allegedly unused public toilet being converted.

Spurred by the tremendous response the canteens have received from the public, there are reports that the government is considering opening them all over the state. This level of efficiency in the implementation of a government initiative is unprecedented and raises questions about why we do not see a similar drive and efficiency in other development programmes.

Another matter of concern is one raised by the renovation of existing public facilities to adapt them for a use other than their original purpose. This entails a significant cost, not just the actual costs of renovation but also the loss of important public buildings, such as libraries and even the Tamil Nadu Secretariat. Public infrastructure must be planned according to the need and demand for them by people who need them most. The possible difficulties involved in identifying and acquiring land in every ward for a canteen and the pressure on existing Corporation infrastructure may be very real. Yet allowing transient political priorities to supersede planning processes involve real costs too, costs that must be made a part of the cost-benefit calculation of any infrastructure and service initiatives.


[1]http://www.indianexpress.com/news/idli-for-everyone/1111396/

Written by Priti Narayan and Vinaya Padmanabhan with inputs from Harsha Anantharaman, researchers, Transparent Chennai

The Speaker Series: Talk on the history of radical mapping and participatory mapping

The Speaker Series at Transparent Chennai was revived after a brief hiatus, and how! Research scholars Joanna Guldi and Zachary Gates held us in thrall with a brief, riveting history of radical mapping and participatory mapping last week. I would be speaking for most people at office if I were to say that despite already being mapping enthusiasts and advocates, the talk taught us a lot more about the true potential and significance of maps in capitalist society.

Maps have played an important role in building common consensus, pointing to the existence of enclaves of abundance for the rich, and highlighting the need for a “new commons”. But did you know that while the global movement of participatory mapping gained steam in the 20th century, the foundations were perhaps laid many years ago. The rise of popularity of the “walking tour” in the early 1920s was particularly crucial: it made history accessible to all, and became a tool using which neighbourhoods could be understood and re-imagined. Post the 1976 UN Habitat Conference, participatory mapping methods were recognised, and in the 1990s, became very prominent.

The instances of indigenous and marginalized peoples in Canada, Scotland and the Philippines using radical participatory mapping methods to complement their oral traditions and to better represent their conceptions of ownership and use of lands were fascinating. Maps, which were typically used by the elite to marginalize vulnerable sections of the population, have been used to represent a different history of resources, boundaries, land use and planning. This was exemplified by the instance of the Inuits successfully reclaiming their lost land and the slum dwellers of Hyderabad mapping their slums to prevent evictions in the 1980s.

The discussion after the talk also got us very excited on new participatory methods we could incorporate into our work, like the transect walk and juxtaposing community information layers on surveyors’ layers to enrich maps prepared for government programmes. Watch this space for updates!

Written by Priti Narayan, researcher, Transparent Chennai

Reports from a recent conference and heartening remarks on slums from Ajay Maken, Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation

I recently attended an international conference on the Governance of Megacity Regions, hosted by the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) in Mumbai. The conference was organized around the findings of CPR’s recent study titled ‘Governance of India’s Megacities: Needed transformation’ and designed to facilitate discussions on critical issues faced in metropolitan regions in India and elsewhere. The conference was attended by researchers, academics, and government officials from the US, the UK, Indonesia, Canada, Singapore, Brazil, and South Africa, who shared their experiences of metropolitan governance in their countries. Each city discussed in the conference had unique problems but I discovered that the problems of fragmentation, ambiguity and conflict in jurisdictions between the various tiers/agencies of the government exist pretty much everywhere.

Most importantly for me, it was heartening to see the Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation Ajay Maken spend so much time contributing to the discussion. He also took every opportunity to make the case for in situ development of slums. Arguing that slum dwellers make an important and under-recognized contribution to the economy of the city, he highlighted the problems with locating them outside the city. He also argued that to a slum dweller who has moved from the villages to the city looking for opportunities, the place of residence is of much less priority than the opportunities for decent livelihoods that are available only in the core city. In his vision, the city is an organic, symbiotic space that houses both service users and service providers from different classes side by side. Much of what Mr. Maken said resonated with the things that we at Transparent Chennai also believe.

Mr. Maken shared a number of policy strategies he felt were important for the Indian context. With specific reference to in-situ rehabilitation of slum dwellers, Mr. Maken felt that land use convertibility must be made easier by relaxing land use norms in various cities so that the needs of each unique city could be met. He said that density and FSI must be eased in order to increasing housing stock for the urban poor, especially in cities like Mumbai. Most importantly, he made a case of acknowledging the reality of city growth in India. Urban planning as it currently stands in India, does not accommodate informality, but he believed our planning instruments must be changed to include the informal organically into the city by better management of our resources.

His talks reinforced our belief that in the face of the Rajiv Awas Yojana, the climate is ripe for in situ development of slums. This is what TC has been pushing for in Chennai, especially since this city has a history of successful in-situ rehab under the World Bank funded MUDP and TNUDP projects. More to come on our efforts to make that happen here again!

Taller buildings in low-rise neighborhoods that have come up as a result of an increase in FSI.
Photo by: Nithya Raman.

Written by Priti Narayan, researcher, Transparent Chennai