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!
Written by Priti Narayan, researcher, Transparent Chennai