Perhaps I am too cynical. Perhaps I over-react. Perhaps I lack the right attitude towards development. Perhaps I am an idiot. But I can still see—even without glasses.

I see tailors and wannabe tailors applauding one another for fashionably clothing the emperor, and the still naked emperor walking through the great CUD circus, bewildered and cold. I see Sickly Cows feeding on garbage and Fences eating grass as they mind meadows for milch cows and imported pigs. I see Big People piously pleading for the wrong rights they have given the Little People and righteously fighting for the wrong rights they have assumed for themselves. I see every monument to CUD standing on building blocks guaranteed to produce slummier cities and more and more people falling off the CUD expressway, watching askance the great CUD race continue in the name of those it has miserably failed. And I do not understand, nor has anyone been able to explain to me, how, if see what I see, is CUD so great. So I posit it is not.

Not being a proponent of CUD I do not have yet another ‘original’ theory for a new, improved model for urban development arising out of my limited understanding just to pander to my own desire to be original. I only suggest that since the path we have taken in the last few years does not seem to be going anywhere we want to, we should just get into reverse gear and reach a better point to trace a new path and face a changing world with different challenges. I only plead for restoring the correct rights, clearer responsibilities and, thereby, systemic sanity in development systems that seem to be hurtling at breakneck speed towards complete anarchy.

Not as a ‘solution’ but merely as an ‘example’ of imperatives logically arising out of the chaos chronicled in this book and out of possibilities already available in existing laws and policies, reproduced here is most of an informal note I had sent in early 2000 to a senior government official (who had asked for it in the context of critical comments I had been making through letters and newspaper articles about the DNSP, Indore, etc).

The first thing is land. If we are the state we claim to be, we cannot allow the inequity of a majority of the population having to live in a measly proportion of land. Many things need doing, starting with taking a different view of ‘public purpose’ and ‘greater common good’. (After all what can be greater than the majority population!) There just has to be land reservation for the poor in all layouts with very strict enforcement of the same. I personally feel exemplary punitive action for omissions on this count is called for.

I am convinced some land can also be found within existing layouts. It may sound bizarre but ‘employees’ housing can be sensitively designed in some unused, ‘left over’ spaces in upper income housing/other areas (where legal/policy provisions anyway required housing forcity service personnel to have been ensured), ‘employers’ being residents/users of those (inefficient) layouts.

A related thought is on unutilized public land. If an agency has not used what it was meant to, must it get an ‘extension’ for continuing inefficiency/speculation/whatever, especially if its own ‘employees’ (including ‘indirect’ ones like coolies/hawkers on stations) live in slums?

Something must also be done to restrict inefficiencies in non-poor/non-slum developments so we can economize on all land rather than just keep downgrading plot sizes for the poor. I recall the National Housing Bank had come out with guidelines on these lines.

Also, we need to get serious about voluntary resettlement. Try asking slum dwellers to apply for reserved plots in new developments, ‘employees’ housing as above, etc, instead of shifting entire slums to ‘planned’ enclaves of the poor, which can never be truly ‘integrated’. After such de-densification some existing slums may actually become ‘tenable’ for upgrading!

The second thing is planning and design. Right now we seem to be applying all our creativity to somehow making the poor fit into tiny units in both resettlement and low-income housing. This is a self-defeating exercise because all it leads to is a different kind of slums!

Over the years, professionals have glorified certain minimalist design paradigms without waiting to test their impacts. Sadly, these have been extrapolated into education and we have an entire crop of professionals who swear by them. I personally think those who wrote these Emperor’s New Clothes fairy tales should quit—but that of course is just a fairy tale ending!

On the other hand there are less pretentious low-income housing projects that don’t look so impressive in drawings but have worked. Perhaps we need to ‘replicate’ these simpler options rather than all the fancy designer low-income housing that has failed at great cost. The Master Plan (as revised in 1990) also seems to think so!

The above also applies to low cost/cost effective construction technology.

The third thing is institutional aspects. Some transparency (and before that clarity) is needed on who’s going to do what and when. At present the whole thing seems to be in the nature of a free-for-all, no-holds-barred sort of effort!

There just have to be measurable indicators for progress—and so there has to be a strategic plan, rather than just a policy. Also that must come from government agencies. Right now anyone seems to have the right to prepare an alternative slum strategy or even master plan. This is a sure recipe for anarchy—after all everybody has a noise level and a nuisance value.

NGOs must be involved, but cannot be allowed to call all the shots. Their strength is their grassroots ethos, which makes them great for monitoring and implementation (including project formulation). To let them take over policy and planning levels—to the exclusion of professionals—is justifiable only after stopping expenditure on professional education. At the rate we are going, we will welcome even open-heart surgeries by NGOs simply because they care! Also there are good and bad NGOs and we must distinguish between them. It is not enough to check accounts or otherwise assess ‘activity’. We need to assess their ‘impact’.

Elsewhere also, confusing of activity with impact must go. I hate to say this, but many ‘professionals’ in many premier agencies seem to have been reduced to ‘babus’ and ‘babuains’ in a job, not a vocation. The problem is partly personal but partly systemic. After all, performance nowadays is measured in terms of, say, number of times bottoms occupy chairs in training, number of publications in research, number of awards in projects, etc. Almost all heads of premier agencies I am familiar with spend all their time improving these ‘performance indicators’ of activity and no time on assessing impact or building a purposeful vision.

We also need to get much more serious about what we consider ‘good practices’ worthy of ‘replication’. All big time firms and agencies are too quick on the draw to glorify what they have done—and then there is no looking back. The Indore slum project is an extreme example but it is by no means the only one. The ‘disconnect’ between claims and ground realities is growing and this does not augur well. Systematic impact assessment has to be institutionalized. For starters, can we stop celebrating projects for the poor before they are completed/occupied and subjected to impact assessment, including user feedback? This is especially necessary because codes of professional conduct do not make professionals accountable to ‘beneficiaries’ who are not paying clients. And ‘globalization’ of the habitat agenda has made it incumbent upon agencies to competitively report ‘best practices’.

Most importantly, urban development agencies have to make ‘backlogs’ a priority in master plans (many of which are due for revision in and around 2000). They must put all except the most necessary new development on hold till those who have missed the bus of planned development are taken on board. Fancy ‘world-class’ commercial complexes and flyovers for future traffic counts can wait a few years. But the majority in the city cannot be left to enter the new millenium without any share in the benefits of our half-century-old planned development. They have already waited too long and, as our president lately reminded us, their patience must be running out.

The problem is not with identifying what to do. The problem is with how to make it happen. And this is not about ‘resource constraints’ or ‘technology constraints’ or ‘organizational constraints’ or ‘vested interests’ or ‘population excess’ or other oft-flogged dead horses. This, in my opinion, is a problem arising from two fundamental flaws in our thinking.

One is that we have rather conveniently taken quite seriously Lord Krishna’s exhortation to Arjun on the battlefield to do his karm (duty) without dwelling on its phal (result). Planting trees for all, digging borewells for ourselves, running gali schools for others’ children and suchlike are not enshrined in our Constitution as fundamental karms. Yet we have made them our karm in our view of development even as the phal (both good and bad) affects others as well. Almost every NGO, corporate, celebrity, ‘activist’, professional, bureaucrat transferred to a ‘development’-related post, or politician come to power seems to want to do more and more ‘original’ developmental karm. They seem to have become original thinking generals, fighting battles of their own choice in their own way for their own victory. But the Mahabharat is a poor analogy for urban development. In urban development, victorious generals cannot a victory make because the desired phal is about changing the battlefield and not about winning a battle on it. Yet in our chosen karmbhoomi (battlefield) we are all running in different directions, scoring little victories and claiming to do our karm. Is it surprising that we are running only to stand still?

The other, and in my opinion greater, flaw in our thinking is that we do not put enough premium on equity. We teach our children to say yes to trees and no to polybags, but do we teach them to say yes to equity and no to inequity? We use efficiency and capacity as criteria for appraising, monitoring and evaluating interventions (whenever we do these things), but do we use equity as a yardstick ever? We don’t. If we did, we would not have to fight wasteful interventions going on around us on contrived ‘technical’ criteria. Flyovers that our politicians are gifting to city after city would flunk on grounds of pandering to the wants of the rich even as the needs of the poor have yet to be met. Resettlement in puny plots in faraway locations would flunk in comparison with plot sizes and locations of those doing it. Slum improvement ‘successes’ would flunkon the criterion of land share. Analysis of financial statements (on items like proportion of money spent on travel) as a basis of rating NGOs would flunk for not including a comparison between improvement in the status of the saviours and the saved. But, in reality, all these don’t flunk. They not only make the grade, they also set standards for the future. The wall of inequity we are building (meanly claiming to do so with the wholehearted participation of those left on the other side of it) is growing higher.

And the writing on the wall is clear, though we miss it, because it is writ, after all, on the other side.

In the beginning of 2001, when I started writing this chronicle, slum dwellers near my house (who had been there since before the government ‘developed’ the area and built flats like the one I live in) were writing to ask the government to stop ‘development’ of more flats before first settling them. They were also writing to the chief minister to change the procedure that was forcing majority of 500,000 families in Delhi to sign false affidavits just so they might keep their ration cards. Hawkers near my house, who had just learned that for ten years there had been statutory provisions for their benefit, were writing to the government to ask it to implement laws for settling them before implementing laws for removing them. Slum dwellers in Indore were writing to the Aga Khan Foundation (which was to again give its triennial honours) asking that nominations for settlement projects be first put up for public objections by their intended beneficiaries. All these people and others too were clearly angry. And in their anger I see most unpleasant glimpses of the future. Lest you think these are freak personal instances, consider the following calendar of what I consider significant events in the year 2000, along with examples of the reactions I know they evoked.

In January, addressing the nation on the eve of the golden jubilee of Republic Day, President K. R. Narayanan cautioned: ‘Many a social upheaval can be traced to the neglect of the lowest tier of society, whose discontent moves towards the path of violence’. He warned that the fury of the patient and long-suffering people would be unleashed if the three-way fast lane of liberalization, privatization and globalization failed to provide ‘safe pedestrian crossings’ for unempowered India.1 (I mentioned this a year later in the fifty-year old ‘slum’ near my fifteen-year old government-built flat. An elderly lady said, ‘Perhaps we should write to the president and tell him the government has not noticed us for fifty years…and wouldn’t have noticed us for another fifty if the value of this land had not gone up.’)

In February, Bangkok prepared for a weeklong UN conference. Thailand’s prime minister said the meeting must address ‘impact of globalization’ and ‘widening gap between rich and poor countries’. As he spoke, workers were lining up hundreds of potted teak trees and ferns to hide a slum across the street, presumably to ensure that delegates would not have to see the gap between the rich and the poor in Bangkok.2 (A friend from Indore said, ‘The same will be necessary in Indore if the UN ever decides to hold a conference in what it believes is a slum-free city on account of a project it believes is a global best practice. More necessary, in fact, because slum residents here will most certainly protest.’)

In March an irate mob of around 5,000 slum dwellers from Sanjay Gandhi National Park vandalized the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress offices in Mumbai to protest against demolition of their houses. Days later, more than 300 of them created a ruckus in the Bombay High Court and, after trying in vain to pacify them, the division bench had to order the police to evict them from the courtroom.3 (A colleague from Mumbai said, ‘I wish they’d done this to politicians for helping them settle there instead of for failing to help them remain. That might have reminded politicians that their job is to help people get what is rightfully theirs, not to help them break the law to keep them open to electoral blackmail.’)

In April, former prime minister V.P. Singh, in an hour-long address to 2,000 jhuggi dwellers facing eviction in Delhi exhorted them to wield lathis for their rights. He said the government was deaf to pleas and would attend to their problems only if they got united and showed their might.4 In an unprecedented development, Sahyog, an NGO, became the target of public ire in the hills and, in an uncharacteristic show of unity, local politicians and eminent citizens all condemned it.5

(An old teacher said, ‘Fifty years ago we needed to get united and show our might against foreign rulers. Now we need to do exactly the same against our own governmental as well as non-governmental organizations. It is sad that we don’t have options for better uses for strength in unity.’)

In May, in Mumbai, well-established but still unauthorized hawkers shouted slogans and pelted stones at a BMC demolition squad. Police had to resort to a lathi charge. Though no one was injured, the windscreen of one encroachment removal van was shattered. BMC only decided to intensify its removal drive by deploying more people, including commandos.6 (I mentioned this a year later at a meeting of hawkers in Vasant Kunj while discussing the draft of the report they had commissioned for DDA. Some one said, ‘Is that what they spend so much money to train commandos for? What do we live in…the world’s largest democracy or a police state?’)

In June, the year’s summertime health intervention (made jointly by the Delhi government and dozens of NGOs) in Delhi’s slums covered not water- and vector-borne diseases but AIDS awareness. There was no real basis to suggest either that slums were a priority for AIDS interventions or that AIDS was a priority for health interventions in slums. The minister in charge of both health as well as urban development portfolios had a personal opinion about the ‘suspected sexual behaviour’ of slum dwellers. (Slum dwellers were reported saying of the NGOs involved, ‘These people come and sit here for the money. They do not care whether we are sick or not.’ Others, affronted by the minister’s remarks, were demanding that he ‘apologize from the heights of Qutub Minar to the poor in Delhi for categorizing them as scum.’)7

In July, RWAs in Delhi, having got a reprieve in the matter of illegal additions to flats, told Jagmohan they would help him by forming an ‘anti-squatter forum’.8 (By then, in the drive against ‘urban indiscipline’, parliament was later told DDA had ‘taken action to remove 2,790 unauthorized constructions, 70 illegal constructions in flats and 107 encroachments on plotted area’. On the other hand, more than 10,000 squatter families had been relocated.)9 (In the fifty-year old ‘slum’ of Rangpuri Pahari, where fifty houses had lately been demolished with notice even as illegal additions in the neighbouring fifteen-year old flats had been given a reprieve, someone said of flat owners showing such enthusiasm against squatters, ‘Who do they think they are? Will any one let us form an “anti-illegal-additions forum” against them?’)

In August, when we celebrated fifty-three years of independence, in Indore, patients of the TB sanatorium were discharged to make way for a management institute that would train bright managers for the future. In Delhi it was reported that several secondary schools had built facilities to run management colleges, etc, on land meant to be used as playgrounds, even as lease conditions requiring schools to offer free seats to poor children in lieu of cheaply allotted public land were nearly never met.10

In September, a number of DDA employees were suspended when it came to light that they had connived with property dealers to sell at premium rates in the open market thousands of flats that ought to have been allotted at cost to the general public.11 (In Rangpuri Pahari, where residents had begun to write to the DDA for cheap plots in the vicinity under Plan provisions, someone said, ‘That’s why DDA prefers flats to plots. That’s why we “need” to be shifted from places where flats will sell well. Obviously, DDA cares more for its corrupt employees than us or its law.’)

In October, the sanatorium in Indore was demolished. In a war-like operation, explosives were used and a massive police escort deployed to complete the job within a day, which started mere hours after the court had vacated the stay. (A friend who called in the morning to let me know, tearfully said, ‘They have already started… It had taken them days to start readmitting patients after the court had ordered that… But this time they have already started…’)

In November, the industrious in Delhi took to the streets and protested not just the closure of their units but also the entire urban development process (especially the Master Plan) that had brought them where they stood. The apex court only said they were ‘hooligans’. (Being a planner specialized only in housing, I had to refer to the Master Plan to understand this. I ran my analysis through senior colleagues and later through some lawyers. To my dismay, they did not fault it. I was left wondering how this could be happening then... What kind of welfare state have we become?)

In December, while those whom DDA had failed (industries, slums dwellers, etc) continued to be punished, only seven DDA officials were arrested in the ‘housing scam’ and Jagmohan said DDA had illegally expanded a golf course.12In another case of this weird ‘disconnect’, two months after it had dramatically demolished an eighty-six-year old sanatorium, Digvijay Singh’s government in Madhya Pradesh bagged one Global Development Network Award (out of 267 entries from over fifty countries) for some ‘innovative effort’ for ‘improving health and medical services in partnership with the people’13. Also in December, while our parliamentarians were considering giving themselves a salary raise, the comptroller and auditor general’s (CAG) report on four government programmess targeted at the poor said that, despite Rs 13,790 crore being spent every year, intended benefits seemed to have failed to reach the target groups, and that ‘unless effective remedial measures are taken, the non-existent relationship between input and output is likely to continue’.14 (Commenting on the news reports about the CAGreport, a disgusted slum resident said, ‘Why don’t they just stop spending on us? We get nothing worthwhile anyway. At least that way we’ll not be blamed for being a burden on the exchequer.’)

Isn’t it obvious that the boat is leaking, the captains lying? Isn’t it obvious that urban development-walas must set their house in order? Isn’t it obvious that we must make urban development a vocation instead of a business and get down to it in earnest? Isn’t it obvious that it is more urgent to roll the wheels we have than to invent new ones that may or may not be better? Isn’t it obvious we (whether in politics or professions, in corporate or voluntary sectors, in government or activism, in media or consultancy) must realign so it becomes clear who all have an (vested) interest in problems and who all have an (real) interest in solutions?

What are we waiting for? A bloody revolution?

  • 1. ‘Reform benefits must reach poor: President’, Hindustan Times, 26.01.2000
  • 2. ‘As workers hide slums, Thailand urges "ambitious" world trade agenda’, Times of India, 10.02.2000
  • 3. ‘Slum-dwellers vandalise BJP office in Mulund’, Times of India, 10.03.2000; ‘Angry slum-dwellers bundled out of court’, Times of India, 14.03.2000
  • 4. ‘Wield lathis for your right, VP exhorts jhuggi dwellers’, Hindustan Times, 17.04.2000
  • 5. AIDS booklet leads to controversy in Almora’, Hindustan Times, 23.04.2000; ‘Row over AIDS study: 11 NGO members held’, Hindustan Times, 27.04.2000
  • 6. ‘Khairnar strikes at hawkers' stalls at CST’, Indian Express, 06.05.2000; ‘BMC to set up commando force to evict hawkers – Khairnar’, Indian Express, 10.05.2000
  • 7. ‘An AIDS camp few are aware of’, Indian Express, 03.06.2000; ‘AIDS campaign boomerangs, Walia's apology demanded’, Indian Express, 08.06.2000
  • 8. ‘Jagmohan discusses illegal constructions, squatters’, Indian Express, 30.07.2000; ‘Residents' groups to form forum to check squatting, slums’, Times of India, 30.07.2000; ‘Anti-squatting forum to be set up’, Hindustan Times, 30.07.2000; ‘Jagmohan to MPs: Come, see what I have done for poor’, Asian Age – Delhi Age, 08.08.2000
  • 9. ‘Jagmohan to MPs: Come, see what I have done for poor’, Asian Age (Delhi age), 8 august 2000.
  • 10. 'Schools utilise DDA land for commercial purposes’, Hindustan Times, 15.08.2000
  • 11. ‘Housing scandal: Eight DDA officials suspended’, Hindustan Times, 29.09.2000; ‘Mafia, middlemen nexus in DDA’, The Hindu, 30.09.2000
  • 12. ‘DPCC launches ‘nyaya yudh’ for unit workers’, Hindustan Times, 15.12.2000; ‘MCD plans to relocate 30,000 slums’, Hindustan Times, 08.12.00; DDA housing scam: Seven officials, 2 realtors arrested’, Hindustan Times, 01.12.2000; ‘Jagmohan: DDA illegally acquired land for expanding its golf course’, Hindustan Times, 22.12.2000
  • 13. Global award for Digvijay govt’, Daily Pioneer; 19.12.2000
  • 14. ‘CAG: Benefits of growth haven’t reached poor’, Hindustan Times, 26.12.2000