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.
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.
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.
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
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.