Women lead re­vamp of slums in Gu­jarat

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

When Rami­l­aben Arvind stud­ied the plan to move out of her one­room home in a con­gested slum into a mod­ern apart­ment for no ex­tra cost in In­dia’s Ahmedabad city, she im­me­di­ately agreed. But first she had to get 67 other fam­i­lies to say ‘yes’. Arvind, head of the slum’s com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tion, had to con­vince res­i­dents to let their homes be de­mol­ished, to move else­where for two years, and trust that city of­fi­cials and the de­vel­oper would de­liver flats at the same location at no cost.

“It was dif­fi­cult - not ev­ery­one trusted the Ahmedabad Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion or the builder. Or me,” she said, stand­ing in the apart­ment she moved into two months ago. “I had to spend a lot of time with each one of them, beg­ging, plead­ing, even threat­en­ing. I even told them: if you don’t get the home as promised, you can take my home.”

Arvind’s home is among the more than 3,500 slum homes in Ahmedabad that have been re­de­vel­oped as part of a state pro­gramme to up­grade cities. A fur­ther 4,000 slum homes are be­ing re­de­vel­oped through a part­ner­ship of the city, builders and the com­mu­nity. While pre­vi­ous pro­grams to up­grade slums gen­er­ally en­tailed re­lo­cat­ing un­will­ing res­i­dents to of­ten badly built hous­ing on the out­skirts of the city, the 2010 pol­icy en­cour­aged in­situ re­de­vel­op­ment - or re­hous­ing res­i­dents in the same spot.

Slum re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion poli­cies have failed else­where be­cause de­vel­op­ers and res­i­dents could not agree terms. Ahmedabad has suc­ceeded by in­volv­ing slum res­i­dents and non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions (NGOs), and by in­creas­ing the area that de­vel­op­ers can build, al­low­ing taller, denser build­ings, part of which can be sold at mar­ket rates to re­cover costs. “Ahmedabad city has a long his­tory of work­ing with NGOs on slum projects, so it is only nat­u­ral that they are in­volv­ing them in this,” said Chi­rayu Bhatt at the Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Plan­ning and Tech­nol­ogy. “Now, even de­vel­op­ers are en­gag­ing with NGOs, and that is in­stru­men­tal in mov­ing these projects for­ward.”

Trust

About a third of In­dia’s 1.25 bil­lion pop­u­la­tion lives in cities, with the num­bers ris­ing ev­ery year as tens of thou­sands of peo­ple leave vil­lages to seek bet­ter prospects. Up to 37 mil­lion house­holds - a quar­ter of the coun­try’s ur­ban pop­u­la­tion - live in in­for­mal hous­ing in­clud­ing slums be­cause of a crit­i­cal short­age of affordable hous­ing. In­dia has a short­age of about 20 mil­lion ur­ban homes, and Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi has made affordable hous­ing a pri­or­ity, set­ting a 2022 tar­get for ‘Hous­ing for All’.

Up­grad­ing slums would help meet that goal, but de­vel­op­ers else­where have balked at terms, or res­i­dents have held back, fear­ful they may lose their homes. In­volv­ing non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions has worked for Ahmedabad, the eco­nomic hub of western Gu­jarat state. “We were in­volved right from the start, co­or­di­nat­ing with city of­fi­cials and de­vel­op­ers, and mak­ing sure res­i­dents had a say,” said Bharati Bhon­sale, a pro­gram man­ager at Mahila Hous­ing Trust (MHT), a non-profit fo­cused on women. “Be­cause res­i­dents al­ready knew us and trusted us, the process was far quicker and eas­ier,” she told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

MHT sees women res­i­dents as es­sen­tial to en­abling up­grades and re­de­vel­op­ment. It trains a woman like Arvind in each slum to be a com­mu­nity leader, ed­u­cat­ing her on is­sues and rights, on deal­ing with city of­fi­cials and com­plet­ing pa­per­work. “Women are the most af­fected by the hous­ing sit­u­a­tion, by the lack of fa­cil­i­ties, so they are more in­vested in any process that can lead to bet­ter hous­ing,” said Bhon­sale. “When the process in­volves just adding fa­cil­i­ties, women will say yes even with­out con­sult­ing their hus­bands. When it in­volves a de­mo­li­tion, a tem­po­rary re­lo­ca­tion - the men make the de­ci­sion, but it’s the women who con­vince them to say yes.”

Wide Pas­sage­ways

The new apart­ments that Arvind and her neigh­bors moved into are 28 sq m each, com­pris­ing two rooms, a toi­let and a kitch­enette. All ten­ants re­ceived own­er­ship ti­tles that have the name of the woman house­holder as well as the man. They are free to trans­fer or sell their flats af­ter 20 years. The flats have good qual­ity floor tiles, plenty of nat­u­ral light and wide pas­sage­ways where women some­times drag their string cots in the af­ter­noon to nap or chat with each other.

Arvind leads the res­i­dents’ association in the build­ing, named De­vipu­jak Na­gar Co-op­er­a­tive Hous­ing Society, over­see­ing main­te­nance and other is­sues. “This is a new life­style for them, so they need to learn many things: from how to use a lift, to why they should not throw trash out the win­dow,” said Bhon­sale. “They adapt very quickly, and with that, their as­pi­ra­tions grow: they buy nice fur­ni­ture, a TV, send their kids to a good school. For the kids too, it’s a big boost to their con­fi­dence to say they live in a hous­ing society rather than a slum.”

This model does not work ev­ery­where: the pol­icy is only for slums on pub­lic land, and is not fea­si­ble for small plots. Be­sides, res­i­dents need proof of oc­cu­pancy for 10 years. Progress has also been slow, cov­er­ing about a tenth of the city’s nearly 700 slums so far. “The pol­icy is a part of the so­lu­tion, not the only so­lu­tion to do­ing away with slums en­tirely,” said Bhatt at CEPT. “Over the long run, what we need is more low-cost hous­ing so peo­ple are not com­pelled to live in slums in the first place.” For Arvind though, the wait was worth the while. “It feels good to live in a proper home at last. Now we have ev­ery­thing we need,” she said. — Reuters

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