Urban development for the poor

Transparent Chennai recently held a meeting to discuss how urban development can better benefit the urban poor. The meeting was attended by researchers, activists, government officials and concerned citizens, who all contributed suggestions on how new urban development programmes can be designed. The Hindu and Dinamalar covered the event.

The Charter of Changes

Transparent Chennai organised a public meeting on Saturday 14th June 2014 to discuss the lessons learnt from the JNNURM and RAY and compile a charter of changes required for urban development to be pro-poor. The event was attended by over fifty participants including residents from slums, government officials and representatives of civil society organisations.

How can urban development work for the poor?

Transparent Chennai is organising a workshop to provide feedback on new urban programs in India based on Chennai’s experience of the JNNURM / RAY.

Where: Bhagirathi Hall,
Institute for Financial Management Research (IFMR),
24, Kothari Road, Nungambakkam, Chennai: 60003

When: June 14, 2014, from 11 am to 2 pm.
Lunch will be provided.

Please confirm your participation by calling Aishwarya Balasubramanian at 9790809879 or emailing her aishwarya.balasubramanian@ifmr.ac.in

Learning exchange in Johannesburg

Transparent Chennai’s researchers Satyarupa Shekhar, Prabu Raja and Vinaya Padmanabhan were invited to Johannesburg, South Africa between the 9th and 15th March 2014 for a learning exchange with the Southern African AIDS Trust, a not for profit organisation working on sexual and reproductive health rights and gender-based violence. The team from TC shared insights from their work on neglected civic issues in Chennai with community based organisations from 5 countries. They also organised a hands-on workshop on using data to tell powerful stories for advocacy and to strengthen planning.

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.


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.

Positive change by data and accountability

Interventions by Transparent Chennai to create data for change and to increase the ward councillor’s accountability has led to better services in a slum. Mint reports on our activities in the Kalyanapuram slum.

A review of slum interventions in the city

The slums team at Transparent Chennai is supporting the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) in preparing a report for the State Planning Commission to assess the impact of all kinds of interventions into slums in the city. The goal is to identify the strengths and weaknesses in each approach – be it in situ development or relocation – to make possible recommendations to the government on future interventions.  This study becomes relevant against the backdrop of schemes like the JnNURM and the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), through which crores of rupees have been made available for developing housing and basic services for the urban poor.

We at Transparent Chennai have been working on 3 case studies

1)      In situ slum development at Sastri Nagar, Pulianthope

Sastri Nagar in Pulianthope was once vacant land occupied by people from different parts of Chennai. Under the Slum Improvement Programme (SIP) and as a part of MUDP part 1, Sastri Nagar was one of 77 slums that were developed in situ by the TNSCB. The 530 beneficiaries received Rs. 6,000 to build their houses. Basic services such as sewerage connections, roads, water, etc. were also installed.

2)      In situ tenements on Ekambaram Pillai Street and Munusamy Pillai Street,  Ambedkar Paalam, Mylapore

The Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board built tenements with water and sanitation facilities for residents of slums on Ekambaram Pillai Street and Munuswamy Pillai Street in the Ambedkar Paalam area. People got these tenements on lottery basis. Those who did not get houses in the tenements were given measured plots within the site to build their houses.

3)      Sites and services at Muthamizh Nagar, Kodungaiyur

Muthamizh Nagar in Kodungaiyur which was developed by TNHB as part of the Sites and Services scheme is an integrated site with water connections and toilet facilities. About 70% of the houses on the site are for those belonging to Economically Weaker Sections (EWS).

Preliminary observations from the field visit:

Among the three sites we studied, the Sites and Services project at Kodungaiyur alone was a relocation scheme: people from various parts of the city moved to this area. Most of the residents whom I spoke to said that owning a house was a dream come true for them. This scheme, which gave people plots with sewerage and toilet facilities, also allowed people to build houses as per their requirements as and when they can afford it. In addition to the land, people were also given loans to build their homes, which were very helpful because they might not have met the requirements of a bank in order to take a loan at that time, when they only possessed an allotment letter and did not own a fully built house against which they could take a loan. Since people have built their homes, paid their full dues and obtained sale deeds, they are now eligible for bank loans, and have become creditworthy.

The huts in Sastri Nagar, Pulianthope were developed as-is-where-is, and people were provided with Rs. 6000 to build their houses. Most people I spoke to said that this sum of money was insufficient to build a house, and had to additionally borrow money from lenders. The houses measure 10×8 and look very cramped; however, most people have managed to build first and second floors for their own use, or for rental income.  Moreover, from the interviews we also found out that almost no one in Sastri Nagar possesses a sale deed due to incomplete payment of dues. Most people also do not know how to go about obtaining one (although five people have somehow managed it), and thus are unable to take loans against their houses.

The tenements in Ambedkar Paalam also measure 10×8, but there is no scope for expansion of the house. At first, the houses had individual water connections, but later, the connections became defunct. Hence now, people have to draw water from the common water pumps on the ground floor. Residents living in the top floors are facing a difficulty of climbing up and down with pots of water every day. Aged people also find it tough. Pattamma, a 60 year old resident of this area recently moved from her tenement in the 4th floor to a shack in the area for rent as she was finding it hard to climb up and down the stairs. None of the people here have obtained their sale deeds, as they are all still paying their dues. They feel that the individual plots given to people who lost the lottery are much better than the tenements as there is a scope for customization and expansion of the houses, and the potential to get an individual water pump per house.

From my observations and interviews so far, beneficiaries of the Sites and Services scheme seem to be doing better than people in other sites in terms of upward mobility. The site has witnessed tremendous development with land costs going up multifold since the scheme. The children of many of the residents we spoke to possess college degrees and are now in salaried employment in private companies. Sale deeds have given people tenure security as well as financial security. Though this is a relocation scheme, it was voluntary, so there was none of the trauma associated with forced relocation. This suggests that relocation itself is not a bad idea. It depends on who benefits from it (in this case, tenants who voluntarily moved here), and how the site is developed: whether it provides access to basic services, good education and livelihoods, etc.

Under RAY, it is important to plan slum development programmes depending on the pros and cons, and successes and failures of past schemes, which is what we attempt to do in this study. These are only preliminary observations and analyses: an examination of all the completed case studies, as well as case studies from elsewhere in the country and the world, will throw more light on what type of recommendations can be made to the government on future programmes in slums.

Written by Aishwarya Balasubramanian, researcher, Transparent Chennai

India’s Invisible Population

No slum in Chennai has been officially recognized in the last 28 years, resulting in a gross lack of basic services for slum dwellers. Researchers Nithya V. Raman ad Priti Narayan write about this invisible population and the government’s inadequate and unviable response to this crisis, in this op-ed published in The Hindu.

Summary Analysis of Slum Policies and their Implementation: Research note prepared for workshop on July 21, 2012 (English)

Source:Transparent Chennai
Author:Transparent Chennai
Download here:Summary Analysis of Slum Policies and their Implementation: Research note prepared for workshop on July 21, 2012 (English) (2123)
Description:Collected research on the history of slum policies in Chennai and the record of their implementation prepared for a workshop held at IFMR on July 21, 2012 (English).