Any hopes that people living in and around under-serviced settlements might have nurtured of their ever getting sensibly resettled in decent, planned layouts have been shattered. The Draft National Slum Policy that has been brought out by the Government of India has very little on resettlement - which will now happen only under rare conditions and strictest guidelines. Nor does the Policy really address the issue of availability of land, which is claimed to be the biggest constraint to resettlement of existing slums as well as to new housing to check further proliferation of slums. This glaring omission alone will result in "slum development" in the future. But far more serious implications for slummification come not out of errors of omission but out of errors of commission in this Policy.
Firstly, the Policy proposes an "inclusive" definition of slums, whereby all under-serviced areas - including unauthorised occupation of land (jhuggis, bastis, squatments, etc), congested inner city areas, unauthorised colonies on the fringe, villages within the urban area and on the periphery - are to be listed as "slums". By this definition, most of the built up parts of most Indian cities will soon become "listed slums" as a result of the National Slum (or should we say Slummification?) Policy!
Secondly, the Policy takes a very peculiar view of shelter consolidation in slums. Shelter consolidation at the initiative of slum dwellers is a well-known outcome of provision of basic services in slums - or rather, of the de-facto or de-jure security of tenure that comes with them. It is also well known that excessive shelter-consolidation is tantamount to transformation of kutcha slums to pucca slums. Nevertheless, the Policy, instead of seeing shelter consolidation as an outcome that needs to be regulated, sees it as a process that needs to be facilitated. In this regard it makes a number of provisions for techno-financial and other supports for slum dwellers. We can now look forward to all existing slums soon becoming pucca slums, duly facilitated in this by the National Slummification Policy!
Thirdly, almost in the vein of a politician's promise the Policy provides for declaring slums as "high-density, mixed land use" areas in Master Plans, etc. This means that all under-serviced areas (listed slums) will be able to have shops, workshops, manufacturing units, etc. Of course, they already have these, but now they will have them with the sanction of the Policy. Meanwhile, non-slum areas in the city will continue to be planned as before - ie, without mixed use planning. In the "slums" we can now look forward to greater concentration of all manners of retail and service shops, workshops, small businesses and industries owned by people from all over the city, who can not or will not set these up in their own housing areas. This phenomenon of unbalanced mixed land use, which has been called a "garbage dump syndrome", has so far been part of the problem. In one elegant stroke, the National Slummification Policy has made it a part of the solution!
But the greatest hazard of this Policy lies, perhaps, in the nature of slum improvement that it advocates. The emphasis is on provision of services like toilets and water supply on individual household level. This is based on the assumption that community facilities do not and can not work in slum situations. But do individual services work in slum situations? Consider the case of the citywide slum improvement project in Indore. This is a good case not only because it is perhaps the only one where individual infrastructure provision in slums throughout the city has actually been implemented, but also because it is claimed to be a grand success. In 1993 John Major visited the project and left pleased with the improvements. In 1994 the British Social Housing Foundation gave it the Habitat Award. In 1995 a British-sponsored international study team visited it and was impressed. In 1996 UNCHS named it a global best practice. In 1998 the project got the Aga Khan Award for architecture.
Nevertheless, an impact study carried out in 1997 found that while sewer and water mains had been provided, most people had not taken connections due to a number of very typical problems, notably lack of space for delineating wet areas and lack of sufficient water in the mains. Perhaps due to insufficient water being discharged into the sewers, there were several cases of choking of underground drainage, resulting in contamination of water and in sewage back-flowing on to the streets and in to homes. There was, naturally, no evidence of the promised citywide benefit of changing the nalla into a river. The "lake" created in a part of the nalla - at considerable cost and after evicting four slums in "wider public interest" - stank just as much as the nalla and had become a nuisance in terms of malaria and dengue.
Even without the official impact study, everybody in Indore knew what the sophisticated project monitoring data failed to pick up. In fact, on account of its scale - and the scale of the problems it caused (in 183 slums with over 4 lakh people) - the project appears to have constantly engaged the attention of the local media. As it grew from strength to strength in terms of awards, acclaim, extensions and increased funding, local press continued to report a worm's eye view of its real achievements - choked drainage, contaminated water, slushy streets and recurrent epidemics. Starting with the charade for stage managing John Major's visit and, barely months afterwards, deaths on account of water contamination resulting from the "innovative" infrastructure provision, the archives of any local newspaper provide a full account of the tragedy that unfolded as the project progressed. Albeit not from "experts" or the national media, in Indore it is well known that people were and are dying because of the project. Local bodies are unable to intervene. Slum dwellers have lost faith in government and professionals.
Professionals and administrators have not admitted to the failures in Indore and, therefore, no lessons have been learned from this 65 crores worth of disaster. But the reality of Indore exists for all to see as a sample output of the Policy for nation-wide urban slummification at huge expense. The National Slummification Policy is on its way. We might as well gear up for global attention - and attendant bilateral and multilateral investments - as we become the "Slum Capital of the World"!