For a slum-free In­dia, we need a new cat­e­gory of ur­ban zon­ing

Im­prov­ing slums to be­come neigh­bour­hoods is a re­al­is­tic ap­proach to im­prov­ing so­cial out­comes

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - Comment - SWATI RA­MANATHAN Swati Ra­manathan is the Co­founder of Jana Group, and the Chair­per­son of Jana Ur­ban Space The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

“Slum-free city” is a term that is of­ten used in In­dia’s ur­ban pol­icy halls. It re­flects both an im­por­tant as­pi­ra­tion but also a cru­cial pub­lic obli­ga­tion – of our ur­ban lo­cal bod­ies, but also of state and cen­tral gov­ern­ments. But what ex­actly does it mean to be slum-free? And by ex­ten­sion, if a city has to be slum-free, what hap­pens to the slums them­selves, when their liv­ing con­di­tions im­prove? What are they called? Put an­other way, when does a slum stop be­ing a slum? Sur­pris­ingly, there is no pub­licly stated pol­icy on this key ques­tion. Nor is there enough data on the path out of slum­hood to neigh­bour­hood.

Cen­sus 2011 pro­vides a fair amount of in­for­ma­tion on In­dia’s slums (some of this data has been chal­lenged, but leav­ing this aside): the def­i­ni­tion (min­i­mum 60 house­holds); the num­ber of In­dian ci­ties that have slums (2,600) the num­ber of slums across the coun­try (33,500); the pop­u­la­tion in th­ese slums(65.5 mil­lion): the in­fra­struc­ture avail­able (56% with ac­cess to wa­ter, 90% use elec­tric power), and so on. But there is no in­for­ma­tion on slums that are no longer slums, those neigh­bour­hoods that were slums in 2001 and grad­u­ated into… what?

This isn’t a triv­ial ques­tion. It forces us to de­fine the de­sired end-state of a slum in very spe­cific terms, so that slums can tran­si­tion to this end-state, and peo­ple in the house­holds there get ac­cess to the min­i­mum qual­ity of life that they de­serve as cit­i­zens.

At the heart of this end-state def­i­ni­tion for a slum is an is­sue of ur­ban plan­ning and zon­ing – that of defin­ing an ac­cept­able plan­ning paradigm for an in­for­mal set­tle­ment that does not fit into any of the slots in the cur­rent for­mal plan­ning frame­work: there is no de­mar­ca­tion be­tween res­i­den­tial and com- mer­cial; the build­ings aren’t set back from the street or from their neigh­bours; and the road width (RoW) is be­tween 5 me­tres to 1 me­tre - nar­rower than any of the main­stream ur­ban roads, which go from ar­te­rial (42-60 me­tres) to sub-ar­te­rial (30 - 42 me­tres), to col­lec­tor (30 -18 me­tres) to lo­cal (9-18 me­tres) and the small­est, sub-lo­cal ( 6-9 me­tres).

So how could an ex-slum fit into the for­mal fab­ric of a city? Are the build­ings that stand cheek-by-jowl, on 10x10 sites to be con­sid­ered le­gal, il­le­gal, or quasi-le­gal? Can a for­mal re­tail store such as a D-Mart ac­tu­ally rent a space in­side one of th­ese ex-slums? The an­swer is that slums are in a reg­u­la­tory limbo. They are the twi­light zones of ur­ban plans.

What we need is a new cat­e­gory of ur­ban zon­ing, called High Den­sity Low In­come that al­lows for nar­row lanes, build­ings with no set­backs and higher FSI (floor space in­dex, which de­fines the area that can built on a plot, across floors), mixed use to en­able for­mal com­mer­cial space to co­ex­ist with res­i­dences, com­mon (and pos­si­bly high-rise) park­ing so that res­i­dents can park their 2 (and some­times even 4) wheel­ers, and walk to their neigh­bour­hood homes.

With such a new zon­ing pro­vi­sion, we can con­ceive a three-pronged ap­proach to slum­free ci­ties: first, pro­vi­sion of clear, free ti­tle to the res­i­dents, so that they en­joy the same priv­i­leges that the mid­dle-class and rich do, of us­ing prop­erty as a tan­gi­ble as­set; sec­ond, to up­grade the in­fra­struc­ture and ser­vices in the slum, pro­vid­ing wa­ter, power, and sewage con­nec­tions to in­di­vid­ual homes, the col­lec­tion of solid waste, street light­ing and neigh­bour­hood se­cu­rity and po­lice sup­port; and third, the cre­ation of high-den­sity, low in­come zon­ing that al­lows in­di­vid­ual prop­erty own­ers to up­grade their homes with­out risk, rent out their prop­er­ties to for­mal com­mer­cial es­tab­lish­ments, that then pro­vide ser­vices to the neigh­bour­hood, and of­fer lo­cal em­ploy­ment.

Ear­lier this month, an “Op­por­tu­nity At­las” re­port was re­leased in Amer­ica — a joint ini­tia­tive by the US Cen­sus Bureau and Har­vard and Brown Uni­ver­si­ties. Us­ing hyper-lo­cal so­cio eco­nomic data, the study cov­ers 20 mil­lion chil­dren, and finds a sig­nif­i­cant link be­tween where chil­dren grow up and the out­comes of their lives in adult­hood: across in­come, crim­i­nal con­duct, teen preg­nan­cies. The study con­cludes that grow­ing up in bet­ter neigh­bour­hoods, with bet­ter in­fra­struc­ture, around peo­ple who have jobs, is more likely to help chil­dren of low-in­come fam­i­lies es­cape poverty and im­prove so­cial mo­bil­ity out­comes .

While there is no sim­i­lar study for In­dia’s slums, it is hard not to be­lieve that this would be true here as well — that there is an in­escapable link be­tween our pin codes and our destiny. Im­prov­ing slums to be­come neigh­bour­hoods is a re­al­is­tic ap­proach to im­prov­ing so­cial and eco­nomic out­comes, and ac­tu­ally cre­at­ing a slum-free In­dia. The destiny of mil­lions of slum dwellers de­pends upon our pol­icy mak­ers get­ting this right, and soon.


A view of the Dhar­avi sky­line in Mum­bai. Can a for­mal re­tail store such as a D­Mart ac­tu­ally rent a space in­side one of the ex­slums in our me­trop­o­lises?

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