Notes on the sec­ond panel dis­cus­sion

Domus - - CONFETTI -

(Amita Bhide, Prasanna De­sai, Pankaj Joshi and Sheela Pa­tel; mod­er­ated by Rahul Mehro­tra)

The sec­ond ses­sion of the con­fer­ence in­tended to scru­ti­nise the role of agents of de­liv­ery within the hous­ing ecosys­tem that in­cludes the ad­min­is­tra­tion and gov­ern­ment author­i­ties in the for­ma­tion of reg­u­la­tory poli­cies and schemes; the role of the pri­vate sec­tor and fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions; the role of com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tions; and the role of the law and the struc­tur­ing of le­gal fame­works in the dis­sem­i­na­tion of hous­ing since In­de­pen­dence. Fol­low­ing a set of pre­sen­ta­tions by Pankaj Joshi, Prasanna De­sai, Sheela Pa­tel and Amita Bhide, the ques­tions from the au­di­ence dwelled on no­tions of ci­ti­zen­ship, the def­i­ni­tion of in­for­mal­ity, the con­tested no­tions of ad­ja­cency ver­sus de­pen­dency, es­pe­cially when one sees large seg­ments of the former ‘informal settlements’ be­ing dis­placed to ex­tremely dense and ill-con­ceived hous­ing schemes on the fringes of the city, as well as the na­ture of the gov­ern­ment’s func­tion­ing – and whether the in­ten­tion of ‘de-cen­tral­i­sa­tion’ has re­ally man­aged to achieve its de­sired aims. Sheela Pa­tel, in her re­sponse, de­scribed ci­ti­zen­ship as an ‘iden­tity one ap­pro­pri­ates’, which Amita Bhide later elab­o­rated in a man­ner that can be de­scribed as some kind of ‘un­der­stand­ing of ab­sorb the forces of time and change, and no­tions as­so­ci­ated with it in terms of the for­mal/informal bi­nary. How­ever, as was pointed out by both Bhide and Pa­tel, more of­ten than not these le­gal­i­ties of in­clu­sion – the pieces of pa­per that prove your ‘ci­ti­zen­ship’ — are ac­tu­ally modes of ex­clu­sion in dis­guise, and qual­ify ac­ces­si­bil­ity to gov­ern­ment re­sources and ser­vices. As such there seems to be a game of le­gal and ad­min­is­tra­tive jar­gon that per­haps serves the pur­pose of vote-bank politics at its cen­tre that uses ex­clu­sion as a tool — as the evic­tion no­tices for 1985 (for sup­pos­edly ‘il­le­gal slum dwellers’), con­tra­dic­to­rily be­come ‘proof of res­i­dence’ in 1995.

This leads one also to the in­ef­fec­tive na­ture of pol­icy-mak­ing and ex­e­cu­tion wherein the in­ten­tion of mak­ing gov­er­nance more ac­ces­si­ble and ca­pac­i­tive by a sup­posed ‘de-cen­tral­i­sa­tion’ of the gov­ern­ment ma­chin­ery re­sults, again con­tra­dic­to­rily, in the cre­ation of ‘frag­mented ad­min­is­tra­tion’ with mul­ti­ple gov­ern­ment bod­ies with over­lap­ping re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, as such mak­ing the en­tire ex­e­cu­tion of ad­min­is­tra­tion a con­fus­ing, com­pli­cated and thus in­ef­fec­tive ex­er­cise. The way out of this that one can be­gin to see — and this is not a pos­i­tive trend — is that in­stead of stream­lin­ing ex­ist­ing gov­ern­ment ma­chin­ery, one wit­nesses a rise in paras­tatal agen­cies, i.e. gov­ern­ment bod­ies formed with in­de­pen­dent pow­ers that re­port di­rectly to the ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­fes­sion­als can make, or should be mak­ing, amidst the mael­strom of con­fus­ing and of­ten con­flict­ing poli­cies gov­ern­ing the con­cep­tion and de­liv­ery of hous­ing, the of­ten nar­row con­sid­er­a­tions of profit and ef­fi­ciency within which pri­vate de­vel­op­ers op­er­ate, and the my­opia that sur­rounds the op­er­a­tion of projects un­der the aegis of gov­ern­ment agen­cies, as well as the chal­lenges of mak­ing the bank­ing sec­tor an in­te­gral as­pect of hous­ing de­liv­ery.

What also can be seen is an ad­min­is­tra­tive thrust to­wards the ‘own­er­ship’ of a house — as op­posed to many prac­tices abroad wherein one sees the pro­fu­sion of rental hous­ing ty­polo­gies and the gen­eral pref­er­ence of rental hous­ing over own­er­ship. So­cial­ist democ­ra­cies within main­land Europe have man­aged to deal with their hous­ing sit­u­a­tions through the adop­tion of this model which calls for chal­leng­ing and of­ten re­mark­able de­sign strate­gies — as hous­ing projects in France, Hol­land, Spain, Ger­many and Aus­tria among other coun­tries, bear wit­ness — some­thing that Swastik Har­ish made a note of, sup­ported by Alpa Sheth’s ve­he­ment pro-rental stance. This throws a num­ber of ques­tions on the role of how de­sign prac­tices need to then re­frame their po­si­tions as ‘hold­ers of ex­per­tise’ in a sit­u­a­tion where there seems to be a schism be­tween ‘ex­per­tise’ and ‘de­liv­ery’ or ‘demo­cratic prac­tice’ — as noted by Gau­tam Bhan in his elab­o­ra­tion of the rift be­tween in­su­lar

Aro­mar Revi, at this point, brings in the im­por­tance of ‘de­sign think­ing’, a fairly re­cent prac­tice devel­op­ment that asks the ‘de­signer’ to step out­side of their frames of com­fort and en­gage with the real world to achieve real so­lu­tions that are less the out­come of a de­signer’s ‘ego’, and more a syn­the­sis of the of­ten di­verse em­pir­i­cal con­straints to achieve a ro­bust and prag­matic de­sign so­lu­tion that takes into con­sid­er­a­tion the needs of the en­duser through a de­ci­sive em­pa­thetic stance. Along with the repo­si­tion­ing of the ‘de­sign pro­fes­sional’ that this en­tails, this also seeks one to re­con­sider the no­tion of ‘de­sign’ as a ped­a­gogy first — that is man­i­fest then within di­verse prac­tice spa­ces. This also means an es­chew­ing of hi­er­ar­chi­cal stances and an em­brace of see­ing the de­signer within the larger net­work of other prac­ti­tion­ers in­clud­ing builders, ma­sons, etc. The chal­lenges thus arise out of the ne­ces­sity to vet the de­sign and ma­te­rial pa­ram­e­ters in the long-run as well as when adap­ta­tions and al­ter­ations be­come nec­es­sary, some­thing brought up by Swastik Har­ish, which de­mands a long-stand­ing as­so­ci­a­tion of the de­signer with the project in def­er­ence to cur­rent prac­tices.

The chal­lenge is also the is­sue of scale, where there are many ex­am­ples of de­sign­ers en­gag­ing with com­mu­ni­ties to build houses in num­bers not ex­ceed­ing a few hun­dred to a few thou­sand — the chal­lenge of trans­lat­ing these suc­cesses to hun­dreds of thou­sands needs to be ad­dressed firmly; first is the recog­ni­tion of it as an ar­dent need, as Bhan notes, and then the sys­tem­a­ti­sa­tion of it, as Revi points out, not only within the ‘for­mal’ sec­tor but most im­por­tantly within the sec­tor that in­volves tra­di­tional build­ing cul­tures and na­tive build­ing knowl­edge, oth­er­wise la­beled as the ‘informal’.

The notes on the first three panel dis­cus­sions are pre­pared by Suprio Bhat­tachar­jee.

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