Home / Politics / News /  The country must stop looking at slums as a problem

Mumbai: The latest census data shows that little under one-third of India now lives in urban agglomerates. But are we ready for a rapidly urbanizing India? Are enough investments being made by both public and private sector in physical and social infrastructure of our cities to sustain this kind of growth?

An expert panel comprising Partha Mukhopadhyay, senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research; Amita Bhide, associate professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences; Sanjay Ubale, managing director and chief executive at Tata Realty and Infrastructure Ltd; and Gautam Chatterjee, principal secretary, housing, government of Maharashtra, debated “Building sustainable cities: challenges for a new and rapidly urbanizing India" at Mint’s “Clarity Through Debate" programme in Mumbai last week.

Cordelia Jenkins of Mintmoderated the discussion

On why we have not been able to plan our cities

Mukhopadhyay: It is very difficult to do planning when population of cities is growing at 5% and 7% per year. But notion of planning as we see today is a recent phenomenon. It started in twenties and thirties of last century by European architects, when Europe had already gone through phase of urbanization through dirty industrialization. That’s why notion of separation of residential areas from commercial, industrial and other parts came in. And they depended upon private transport to achieve this segregation. However, today entire notion has changed, there is much more emphasis on public transport and private transport... is not the paradigm on which we can build our sustainable cities.

In many ways planned cities are perfectly dysfunctional cities. If one takes the example of Chandigarh, if you take government out of it, Chandigarh will collapse in a day. But just outside Chandigarh, we have Mohali and Panchkula, standard Indian cities, chaotic but vibrant and acting as the engines of growth of our economy.

Ubale: Chandigarh, Bhubaneshwar are some examples of planned cities, but we considered urban as something bad and emphasis was given on improving conditions in rural areas. We completely neglected urban areas and hardly any support was given by state or Central governments. This neglect of urban areas has led to unplanned growth of urban areas. And now what we are doing is responding to the situation, but there should be much more proactive planning of urban areas. Government must consider this fact that rapid urbanization represents people’s aspiration for better quality of life.

Chatterjee: The plans were prepared for Mumbai and other larger cities, but we managed to implement only 5% to 7% of what we planned for. And more interestingly, urbanization happened in areas for which we had not planned at all. It happened in small and medium towns. And while preparing plans, we also made a mistake of following European model of planning, but in India urbanization is happening through informal sector and we did not plan for small and affordable houses, where person working in informal sector can find shelter.

Bhide: We borrowed the notion and knowledge of planning from our colonial masters, they changed their planning systems, made them more consultative and participatory but we continue to follow same old tools of planning when it comes to urbanization.

This colonial model of planning creates conflict zones. It creates conflict like slums versus space for road or slum versus open space, etc. These plan don’t take into consideration ground realities, ignore already existing informal settlements and even after tenure of two or three plans has passed, we don’t execute the provisions of the plans and then blame slums for non implementation of those plans.

On if Metro rails are the best solution for mass urban transportation

Bhide: Currently debate around public transport is centred only around air-conditioned buses or air-conditioned suburban railway system to wean people away from cars. But there is no thought given to pedestrians and hawkers. We have not been able to solve the problem of where and how hawkers will be accommodated. Today in Mumbai, we see many small businesses thriving near modes of public transport, so one must take in to consideration all stakeholders while making planning for public transport.

Then, we also tend to ignore, that auto rickshaws can be used as an effective mode of pubic transport. According to research by some professors of IIT Delhi, auto rickshaw is one of the most excellent technical innovations humans have ever made as they provide affordability and efficient use of fuel.

There cannot be single strategy for providing better public transport, we must incorporate as many options as possible. Only then will we be able to provide creative solutions to issue of public transport in our cities.

Ubale: Let’s be clear about the fact that metro needs a Metro; Mumbai would have collapsed long back if adequate investment was not made in suburban railway system.

And there is a reason why we see over emphasis on road public transport. That is because state and city governments had no other way to improve public transport, railways fall in domain of Central government. When we talked about state government developing Metro system for Mumbai, the railways took an objection and insisted that only they have the right to build and develop railway systems. But then Tramways Act of 1902 had to be invoked to allow city and state governments to develop railway system.

There is a need to wean away those who use private mode of transport to public transport if we have to ensure sustainable cities. If we are able to attract the rich and affluent to public transport then we will be able to decongest our roads and provide more mobility to every one.

Mukhopadhyay: A city like Mumbai might benefit from Metro system as it is linear in nature. But in the case of a large circular city like Delhi, growth can happen in any direction and if the growth pattern doesn’t follow Metro then you are stuck. The cost is also a major issue about the Metro system. Roughly investment made in building Delhi Metro is equal to the first phase of national highway programme. Now, today even a city like Jaipur wants to have a Metro. Metro has become more of symbol of telling the world, “Look, we have arrived".

And railway is a technology which belongs to middle of 19th century and buses came on road nearly 70 years after that. So, bus-based solutions for urban transport are more modern, economical and flexible.

Chatterjee: We lost important years in domain fight. Suburban railway provided south-north connectivity but we did not give much attention to providing east-west connectivity in Mumbai. But now while attempting to provide east-west connectivity, we are facing lot of issues related to resettlement as many settlements have come up in that part of the city.

On affordable housing and inclusive cities

Bhide: We have to accept the fact that our cities are inclusive, our cities consist of poor people, 60-70% people work in informal sector. Unfortunately, our policymakers and planners do not take these realities and then these informal settlements become slums and symbol of poverty for people like us.

In 1964 first development plan of Mumbai came in to force but this plan did not take into consideration slums which already existed in areas like Jogeshwari because suburban train network used to cater only up to Andheri. But despite that, you had plans for areas beyond Andheri, so what this development plan did was that it set up these settlements in conflict with development plan and proposed land use of the area. What we create through our plans is create systems of multi-layered exclusion of underprivileged people.

Ubale: We see slums as something bad which needs to go away. Even efforts of activists working in the slum areas are also directed in the same direction. But slums have already solved the problem of affordable housing for you to a large extent.

However, the moment you try to formalize the slums by demarcating boundaries, trying to create property record for slums, you disturb the informal nature of slums. Why we don’t have communal riots in slums is because of the informal arrangement of coexisting made by slum dwellers among themselves.

Chatterjee: Unlike in the Western world, our middle class and higher middle class is dependent on services of maids, drivers, dhobis, etc. but we never think about their need for housing. Such a person can’t buy a piece of land for himself or herself at market rate; there comes the need of government intervention. Such persons need to be given land at reasonable rates to meet their housing needs.

Yes, to some extent slums have solved the problem and if we can provide slum dwellers with security of tenure and better civic amenities in these areas, problem will be taken care off.

Mukhopadhyay: Inclusive growth is not about only those who are already living in our cities, but what are we going to do about millions who are waiting to enter our cities? We need to make their entry into the city smooth and fast if we want our economy to grow at 10% and 12%. A car cleaner in my housing complex in Gurgaon has started his own travel agency in seven to eight years time and we need to create such opportunities for many more millions and until then our growth model won’t work.

And one irony of fast transport systems is that we tend to send poor, lower middle class and middle class further away from our city centres, if one can come to work in one-and-a-half-hour, he will go further away from the city and buy or rent house for himself.

Chatterjee: I agree with the point made by Mukhopadhyay about sending our working class people away from the city and compelling them to commute for two to three hours every day because affordable housing can be made available only away from city centres. It’s a weird solution.

Dharavi perhaps is the best example of inclusive growth—80% of the people living in Dharavi walk to work.

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