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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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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!


Written by Priti Narayan, researcher, Transparent Chennai

Mucking out the Cooum

Members from the Transparent Chennai team attended the public consultation on the Cooum River Restoration Project on 13th June 2013 at the PWD Office in Chepauk. The Chennai Rivers Restoration Trust (CRRT) had appointed LKS Group from Spain to come up with a plan to restore the Cooum River. The meeting began with a presentation that described the project, identified problems, and proposed solutions. This was followed by a Q&A session, where members of the public could raise questions and express concerns.

For the most part, the brief presentation by the LKS team consisted of context-less pictures showing pollution along and in the river, location of slums on the flood plain, and proposed solutions for sewage and garbage disposal with parks and cycling tracks for the public[1]. Three solutions were proposed for slums along the river – in-situ rehabilitation, rehabilitation within the same radius, or resettlement at a faraway location (in case the other alternatives were not viable). However, the presentation did not include detailed findings from studies or surveys with information like total project cost, percentage of slums that fall under flood-prone areas, or details of slums that could be rehabilitated in-situ and those that would have to be resettled.

Public opinion ranged from environmental concerns to concerns about measures to rehabilitate the affected slum dwellers; the need to prevent pollution of the river caused by sewage disposal; the need for measures to deal with vector-borne diseases; the lack of clarity on the expenditure on and the timeline of the project; and concerns about co-ordination between various government agencies in the implementation of the project. While a few people welcomed the idea of having a beautiful riverfront similar to Singapore and London, most people present at the meeting were concerned about the seeming inevitability of large-scale displacement of slum dwellers.

Many slum dwellers expressed support for clean-up of the river but voiced concerns about its effects on the lives of people living in informal settlements along the river. The recent history of slum policies in the city suggests that their concerns are valid: though the project charted out three solutions for affected informal settlements along the river, the third option of relocation has been the one most frequently adopted in recent times. Although there are schemes like the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) that prioritize in-situ rehabilitation, the TNSCB has not implemented an in-situ slum improvement project in Chennai in many years. Many slum dwellers are daily wage laborers, or work in the informal sector. Relocating them to far-flung resettlement colonies such as Kannagi Nagar, Semmencheri, etc. (which are ironically, also susceptible to flooding[2]) can destroy their livelihoods. Moreover, when people are relocated, the houses that they are allotted have historically had very poor living conditions, with limited access to basic services especially when they are first moved. Hence, members of the public insisted that the project must not rely on the relocation option.

Louis Menezes, a former IAS officer who once headed the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, pointed out that there is evidence to show that Metrowater is largely responsible for discharge of sewage into the river. He referenced a study conducted many years ago that found that the government is responsible for approximately 90% of the sewage outflow into the river, but pointed out that the Government has not taken any measures to stop its own pollution. He also claimed that the bigger institutions and companies that have encroached upon the banks of the river,and might also be contributors of pollution are usually untouched. Instead, slum dwellers are often erroneously assumed to be the main cause of pollution, and this has often been used as an excuse to evict them[3].

Attendees at the consultation also asserted that by not advertising the public consultation adequately, and by holding the meeting at a location that was far away from the affected sites, the public consultation was cooptation in disguise. The meeting did not include many of the residents from the river banks who would actually be affected by this project. There was only limited representation from community groups and NGOs, who spoke on behalf of the affected persons. Although this project would involve multiple government agencies like Metrowater, Corporation, and the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board, their representatives were also not present to answer public queries. There was also no time for the public to reflect on the details presented and revert with questions.

Unfortunately, when pressed for various project details, the consultants didn’t have answers to most questions that were raised but promised to revert with details, and make available project details at their office. The consultants said that as the project included many components, it was unable to provide cost estimates at this stage.

To us, as observers of the event, it seemed that the project proposal lacked a true public purpose as the focus was not on providing necessary services to those who live on the river banks such as water and sewerage connections, transportation to schools and places of work, health facilities, etc. Paths for walking and cycling and landscaped parks are important civic amenities, but they are not the most urgent current needs of city residents.

With all the allegations of the government being responsible for polluting the Cooum, and squandering away public money for beautification projects, we need clear details before we will actually see clear waters in the Cooum.

[1]The Hindu.
[2]Economic and Political Weekly, 45, 21.

Written by Nidhi Subramanyam and Diana Evangeline, interns, 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

Written by Priti Narayan, researcher, Transparent Chennai

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

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

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


Kannagi Nagar was a strange, mythical land in my head, and the frequent newspaper reports about deplorable conditions there and all that people that we knew from slums in the city said about it only added to its aura. As someone working on slum issues in the city and concerned with resettlement politics and policies, I had to go check it out for myself. Vinaya and I, along with friend-philosopher-guide Saravanan of course, set out to Kannagi Nagar to meet Venugopal, a community leader there who promised to show us around.

Surprisingly, it took us only about 45 minutes on a traffic-free Sunday morning to get there, which doesn’t seem like a lot.However, access isn’t straightforward. With traffic, it takes much longer to get there. And the settlement itself is far away from the nearest main road, the OMR. Even though there are direct buses to Kannagi Nagar, we were told that the frequency is not adequate.

Were the conditions in Kannagi Nagar better or worse than I expected? The residents were in the middle of a water crisis. They had not seen water in their community pipes for six days then, and had only recently staged a road roko to demand water. Even when it was available, we were told that the water from Metro Water was often polluted and unusable. Other grievances included malfunctioning streetlights, inadequate schools for all the children, and inadequate ration shops and supplies for the 15,000+ families living there. What we could see for ourselves were the pathetic condition of the roads there, covered with potholes and cracks, and the open clogged drains.

However, the most shocking revelation was the absence of even one government health facility in Kannagi Nagar. The people we met told us that residents are forced to go to the one private hospital in the neighbourhood, which they often cannot afford. Pregnant women are reported to have delivered on their way to the government hospitals in the central parts of the city.

For me, the other striking thing is the lack of Kannagi Nagar-wide solidarity that exists among the people. Perhaps this stems from the fact that people from different areas under different circumstances have all been moved to the same resettlement site to live together. The different parts of the site are still referred to as “Ayanavaram”, “Pudupet”, “Saidapet” and so forth, each with their own community leader. The lack of solidarity could also stem from the face that residents from different parts of the city were treated differently by the state. Some of these evictees were promised free houses, but after a few years, were required to pay dues towards the house under the threat of confiscation. In contrast, those evicted for the Metro Rail project were given Rs. 44,000 as compensation to move. While many residents complain about the conditions there, they often don’t feel the need to come together as a whole others to protest or demand improvements.

To me, it seemed that both resilience and resignation were evident among the early residents. They animatedly recollected that the place resembled a jungle ten years ago when they first moved there. Residents faced repeated flooding and severe lack of access to basic services. They told us that life started getting better only after five years, and we wondered how they survived those five years. In general, those parts of Kannagi Nagar that were settled earlier seemed in better repair, with neatly laid, cleaner roads and trees, even though the houses were smaller than the more recent ones. (In the older homes, two households also shared a toilet-bathroom, as opposed to a bathroom to a house in the tenements built in Kannagi Nagar later).The people spoke quite matter-of-factly about still travelling to areas in the city centre like Mylapore for work.

The four hours we spent in Kannagi Nagar have yielded some answers, but lots of questions that need to be delved into further. For instance, does monetary compensation make resettlement acceptable to people? Is the access to services in resettlement colonies better or worse than in slums in the city? Do the advantages of tenure security and concrete houses outweigh the other disadvantages associated with resettlement? What are the impacts of displacement of this nature on poverty levels? Fodder for further research, undoubtedly!

Written by Priti Narayan, researcher, Transparent Chennai


As an action research group, Transparent Chennai is interested in research that can inform practice, research that has the potential to bring change on the ground in some way. This means that researchers are also involved in outreach so that civil society organizations use our research, and so that we produce research that is relevant for them. As part of our ward-level accountability work, we have reached out to student volunteers, met with councillors, held public meetings and so forth. But as part of our work on slums, we recently helped organize a demonstration to raise awareness about the lack of official recognition for most slums, and we may have crossed over from researcher to activist territory. And that was a totally different ballgame altogether.

Some background information first: in July, Transparent Chennai, in association with the Unorganized Workers’ Federation, had organized a workshop on slum policy in Chennai, its implementation thus far, and what sort of implications this history could have on future projects like JNNURM 2 and RAY. We presented some research we had put together on these issues, and a number of slum dwellers shared their experiences. At the end of the meeting, many attendees including members of slum-based organizations, researchers, concerned citizens, activists and students saw the need to change policies and showed enthusiasm to carry this work forward as a network of organizations.

A core committee was formed, and met every Friday at our office. The first thing we did was to get our objectives clear: what were our main demands? Official recognition of slums (declaration), provision of basic services such as water, sanitation, etc. for slum dwellers in situ without relocation, and ensuring that money pumped for schemes such as JNNURM and RAY was used in keeping with their objectives of increasing access to basic services among the poor. What would we call ourselves? The Right to City Movement – Chennai for all, in the hope of creating a truly inclusive city. So far so fun.

What do we do next? The initial idea was to host a large public conference aimed at improving the JNNURM II or the RAY – with 1000 attendees, a sort of bigger version of our workshop which would make the government and the media sit up and take notice of the issues. Some students attended the during the workshop, so Transparent Chennai decided that we could get them to do some basic data collection on access to services in slums and present it at the conference.

It was only a little later that we realized we did not have enough time to pull off a conference of that magnitude by the beginning of the September. Getting a hall for the day was proving impossible, and so was trying to get the data collection exercise to work in tandem with the slums outreach within the limited time. Thus the idea of staging a demonstration came up at the next meeting. But if we thought the public meeting was going to be easier to execute, we had grossly underestimated the work required.

What does a peaceful demonstration require?

  1. 1) Police permission which can only be obtained in person with a written letter at the Commissioner’s office.
  2. 2) “Bit notices” or leaflets and posters announcing the demonstration and explaining the issues in Tamil.
  3. 3) Distribution of leaflets in slums, and pasting of posters in slums and public places a day before the event.
  4. 4) Getting a banner made for the demonstration venue.
  5. 5) Organizing a press meet to announce the demonstration.
  6. 6) Inviting the press to the press meet and for the protest.
  7. 7) Announcement of the demonstration to our students group and confirmation of participation (because we had already done considerable student outreach, and gotten 150 people to sign up!).
  8. 8) Getting posters and placards ready for the day of the demonstration.
  9. 9) Compilation of a list of “goshams” or chants for the day.
  10. 10) Figuring out the logistics of the demonstration: the shamiana, chairs, microphone system, carpet, water, etc.
  11. And all of this had to be done in about ten days total. Phew.

As is with democratic processes, there were delays in getting the bit notice and poster drafts approved by the committee that only met once a week. But our student gang and interns chipped in for a few hours late one evening, to make posters and placards as they ate Kurkure, and made 50 super creative posters in just three hours!

Our partners took care of outreach in slum areas for us. Transparent Chennai team members did play a part in it too! The day before the demonstration was spent in our campaign vehicle: an auto with our poster stuck on the back that went all over town, sticking posters in slum areas and talking to people about why slum declaration was important and why they should come to this event. Saravanan of the Jai Ambedkar Welfare Society was our friend, philosopher, and guide through the whole process.

And so we did it! Over 250 to 300 people attended the protest, including around 30 students who held up their signs proudly in the hot sun for hours and stood with the slum-dwellers who had come from all over the city: Ambattur, Sholinganallur, Zoo Maidan, Greams Road.

Because of the mix of people who had come out for the event, all of the big four English newspapers in town covered us, a rarity for issues facing slum-dwellers, and so did the TV stations.

So, for a little while, researchers turned into organizers and activists. While it was certainly a little frustrating in parts, it was a great learning experience for us. Now for that conference… onward and upward!

Written by Priti Narayan, Researcher, Transparent Chennai