I have picked, as peg to hang this plannerly talk, the Delhi High Court judgement of end-November 2002 striking down Delhi's slum policy and permitting eviction without resettlement. I have done so for three reasons other than topicality. One, I think evictions interest all those who are interested, one way or another, in the slum issue. Two, city politics before and after the judgement shows how the slum discourse is stuck in what I call the 'endowment paradigm'. Three, some concurrent matters raising the issue of citizens' entitlements provide a different perspective, which I believe merits urgent attention.
First, the judgement of 29 November 2002, as reported by the press. In cases filed by some Factory Owners' Associations Delhi High Court struck down the government's slum policy, whereby squatter settlements were cleared only after residents were offered plots. The Court directed that no alternative plots be offered to those settled after 31.01.90. It directed a survey and cancellation of allotments in cases where plots had been allotted to later settlers or transferred by allottees. It directed the government not to develop any more plots for clearing squatters and to clear them all expeditiously.
What followed the judgement was, I think, predictable. Within the fortnight, Delhi Development Authority (DDA) had begun 'slum removal programs on priority' in mid-winter. There were reports of demolitions in Mandakini, Timarpur, Nangal, some with DDA officials 'justifying' particular cases in the most obfuscated ways in the name of planned development. There was, expectedly, no clarity on details of DDA's 'program' or on the basis for DDA's 'priorities'. And more than four lakh families in the 1100 squatter settlements in Delhi must surely have been in a state of panic.
Non-government forums announced a rally on 19 December and a workshop with Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) on 18 December. Already on 16 December MCD Commissioner was reported saying MCD would appeal against the order. On 17 December Delhi urban development minister was reported saying Delhi's Congress Government would also appeal against the order. On 18 December newspapers said the Prime Minister had assured two former PMs and senior Left leaders that BJP led Central Government would also appeal against the order. On 20 December newspapers said Delhi BJP president had also met the PM who, after hearing the arguments of Mr. Khurana, had directed union urban development minister to file a review petition or appeal in the Supreme Court.
In my simplistic opinion as a citizen, evictions in inclement weather are acts of state that have no place in civilised societies. In my studied opinion as a planner this has nothing to do with housing rights. Housing rights are violated not when people are evicted from squalid slums but when failures to house them in better ways force them to house themselves thus in the first place. When evictions become likely, I become cranky, fretting about my clients, writing intemperate letters to my government and inflicting plannerly tantrums on all. But when hasty consensus happens, I panic. As MCD, Delhi government, Central government, former PMs, present PM, Left parties, NGOs and Mr Khurana all lined up on the same side, my relief gave way to panic. It is my considered opinion as a chronicler that consensus amongst such unlikely bedfellows leaves people no choice on its content, only on who they might thank for the endowments that it purportedly brings.
The court order was based on a twin rationale. One, squatter families are encroachers on public land. Two, the policy is getting in the way of planned development on scarce land and increasing squatting by creating a mafia for sale of alternative plots. Arguably this rationale is not exceptionable. It remains unchallenged by all the consensus-walas that squatters are encroachers out of need, but encroachers nevertheless. And the policy is undoubtedly defunct. In 1990-2000 only 22000 families were re-settled, at which rate it will take two to three centuries to solve the problem. Moreover, current resettlement schemes in Delhi are only recreating a different type of slum problem.
Indeed, three months before the court struck down the slum policy MCD Commissioner had called for its review, saying that despite spending crores only a few clusters are shifted and conditions remain unsatisfactory afterwards. The Mayor had visited a resettlement area to give a new focus to the problem and three months later started public hearings to remove middlemen and touts and also led a delegation to Mumbai to learn from Mumbai's experiences with slums. Delhi government had also almost finalised the alternative of multi-storied units with help of corporate sector. In November union urban development minister had also said the policy was leading to economic and social dislocation and a proposal on the lines of Mumbai was on the anvil to involve builders for free flats. This followed his meeting in October with former PM VP Singh, who had pointed out hardships being faced by those relocated in current-style resettlement and the fact that existing policy was doing no good.
In effect, in the weeks preceding the court order striking down Delhi's slum policy there was a consensus that the policy was defunct. Yet in the following weeks there was a consensus against the order that struck down the defunct policy. This sort of thing is typical of the endowment paradigm, consistently well illustrated by Delhi's slum policy. This policy was gifted to Delhi's slum-walas in 1990 during VP Singh's tenure as PM. In 2000, by when VP Singh himself was pointing out that the policy has failed, Delhi government magnanimously extended the cut-off date for eligibility under it to 1998. Though it did nothing beyond announcing this favour, and has lately expressed regret about this omission, the Central government magnanimously ruled that even those ineligible under the policy would get puny plots.
MCD's Slum Wing has been serving as executive arm for politicians and, in recent years, NGOs desirous of becoming purveyors of favours. Its most significant contribution to the endowment paradigm is that it has persuaded everyone that the problem is insurmountable and what is needed is not better policy but more favour. I, for one, am not surprised that the number of jhuggies, that had gone up by just 35000 in 1987-1990, suddenly doubled to 4.8 lakhs in 1994 as a result of MCD's listing for plots. The Court's remarks about a property mafia spawned by the policy and the Mayor's expression of intent to cleanse MCD of middlemen and touts are amongst recent references to the rackets that more than explain these statistical puzzles.
What is noteworthy is that pathetic implementation makes purported mafia gains from resettlement rather notional. But the politics of favours that it has spawned is very real. Every plot, every tap, every toilet, every school, every bus-route, every NGO intervention, every thing is dispensed with generous flavour of favour. A flavour spread beyond slums to make city politics euphemistically called governance stink. Rally calls exhorting slum walas to get organised for what our welfare state anyway owes them and bhagidari exhortations to RWAs to help with services that residents have already paid for are different yet identical you are here maps of where people have come to stand, with ubiquitous garland in hand for some elected representative, appointed servant or even self-appointed saviour, in this politics of favours.
The endowment paradigm is unacceptable, and not only because we are democracy not feudal empire. In the matter of slums, in my plannerly opinion the discourse is so stuck on a road to nowhere only because it is has been glued there by slum saviours so addicted to bestowing favours that they refuse to accept the possibility that the poor might have rights. I find this view incomprehensible, but being only a planner I am not competent to comprehensively challenge it. With respect to Delhi's Master Plan, however, I do keep pointing out that the poor do have statutory entitlements in benefits of planned development, entitlements that benefit them as well as the city. What we need to worry about is not rights per se, but that these entitlements are being consistently denied and downsized by all who are in charge.
The Master Plan is primarily a land use drawing a city map showing different uses in different colors with an explanatory text. It is somewhat like a budget for land, indicating how resources and needs can be matched with due regard to equity and carrying capacity for balanced sustainable development. Please do not think of the Plan as a plannerly artefact. Please think of it as a carefully considered framework defining planned development in the widest public interest in terms of citizens entitlements, which flow from Delhi Development Act as well as from Delhi's land policy.
Delhi Development Act, 1957 is the Act by which DDA was created, solely for development according to Plan. By Plan, the Act contemplates Master Plan and Zonal Plans which detail it out. The Act lays down procedures to prepare/modify Plans, including central approvals and participation of public agencies and public. Schemes that DDA prepares and approves internally are mere implementation tools with no legal standing of their own. A DDA scheme not in line with the Plan is illegal. Likewise, the Act empowers DDA to act against violations only for development as per Plan and not, say, to clear land for unplanned development or raise misuse charges for Plan violations in the name of revenue generation.
In 1962 along with the Plan government adopted a policy of socialisation of land through public acquisition of all the land required for the Plan. Equity and low-income housing are explicitly stated objectives of this policy through which land was vested in DDA only to facilitate Plan implementation. The Act does not contemplate land ownership by DDA, only development according to Plan.
The revised Master Plan for 2001, approved in 1990 and currently in force and being revised for 2021, requires 25% residential development in the form of plots for the poor. The Plan estimated that during 1981-2001 13 lakh families would be added to the city (including 3.25 lakh ie, 25% poor families) and 3 lakh houses would need replacement (including 1 lakh squatter houses already existing in 1981). Though hardly any housing for the poor was developed, the Plan did anticipate that 4.25 lakh poor families would need housing by 2001. Delhi has 4 lakh slum families as per the census. Contrary to popular perception, therefore, Delhi's low-income families are by no means un-anticipated. As an aside, I'd like to mention that the census has also demolished the perception that migrants cause slumming. The proportion of migrants in slum and non-slum areas is comparable. It is the non-slum migrants in PSUs, MNCs, national/trans-national institutions, etc who were not anticipated and were meant to be diverted elsewhere in the National Capital Region (NCR) for regional dispersal, which is crucial to the survival of Delhi through carrying-capacity based development and for the development of NCR. Squatter families in Delhi were anticipated and are in slums only because statutory housing provisions have not been implemented.
This is the most crucial point missing from the discourse on slums and housing rights. In effect, this means squatter families are implementation backlog on planned development. Since the Act governing planned development does not contemplate public land ownership and since land was vested in government for planned development through a policy with explicit focus on low-income housing, arguably squatters cannot be simplistically characterised as encroachers on public land. Such a view obfuscates culprits and victims with grave implications for justice, politics, society, etc, on which I am not competent to comment. As a planner I can only say that the fact that this view, far from being challenged, is being promoted by all lies at the root of slumming Delhi. I wish to draw attention to just three ways in which this is happening.
Firstly, this view is abetting sub-standard housing. The Plan envisages integration of the poor, not their segregation in large areas meant just for them. This is explicated in the stipulation that their 25% housing be ensured not at city level but at level of 1 lakh population, eg, a neighbourhood of the size of DDA-developed Vasant Kunj on the southern fringe of Delhi. The Plan stipulates minimum plots of 25 sqm, subject to maximum density of 250 dwellings per hectare. While it permits smaller plots in certain situations, it also does not preclude larger plots for choice. Practically all slum resettlement is in violation of the Plan and sub-standard in relation to its norms for plot sizes, density and location. And, since the Plan specifically cautions against such development, current resettlement schemes amount to misuse of public land to develop new slums at public cost. That this is happening is only because state policy viewed slum citizens as encroachers deserving at best sub-standard re-settlement, rather than as implementation backlog meriting priority in standard settlement. Surely, a policy taking such a view of citizens in utter disregard of statutory provisions and state failures and forcing people into sub-standard housing at public cost deserved to be struck down.
Secondly, the view of squatters as encroachers who must be confined in city space has implications for the whole city as land equity and carrying capacity concerns are intrinsically connected. In 1994, for which MCD figures are last available, there were 21.5 lakh people in squatter settlements over 968 Ha of land. Corresponding figures for the city can only be estimated (since this was not a census year and year-wise data on land development is not available) and there might have been 100 to 110 lakh people in more than 50000 Ha in Delhi. In 1994, therefore, squatter families accounted for a fifth of the city population and occupied a fiftieth of the city's total land. Such crowding, apart from what it does to those crowded in it, makes the city squalid. Also land stolen from the poor is land spared for unplanned up-market infrastructure-stressing uses that breach carrying capacity. The oft-repeated contention that there is no land to resettle slums is not tenable. The Master Plan is the only framework defining land availability and its provisions for plots for the poor translate at least to about 2000 Ha in bits and pieces all over the city's residential development. If the 1990 policy had connected with the Plan approved later the same year, Delhi's slum problem may well have been solved. The greatest damage that the policy has done is not by its non-implementation but by de-linking the slum problem from its statutory solution embodied in low-income housing provisions of the Plan, to permit land meant for the poor to be stolen for profiteering in breach of carrying capacity.
Thirdly, the view of squatters as encroachers not deserving land has made the discourse futile since a land-less solution to the problem is impossible. The emergent consensus on the Mumbai alternative wherein builders commercially exploit part of a squatter site to provide free flats on the rest is especially worrying. Apart from being patronising, this model is conceptually inadequate as it won't work without commercial potential and will always result in sub-standard development, inequitable in terms of land share and unsustainable for being in excess of planned infrastructure capacity. It is also empirically unproven, having hardly worked in Mumbai. In Delhi it amounts also to double profiteering in view of the land policy. Under this policy, DDA was to create at city rather than site level benefits of cross-subsidy for the poor. While it developed remunerative uses, it failed to develop uses to be cross-subsidised. This amounts to profiteering on public land by DDA. To now give part of the land meant for non-remunerative uses to builders for remunerative development to cross-subsidise low-income housing amounts to double profiteering. Despite all this, and the court order of November, DDA issued on 10 December a notice inviting NGOs of repute (defined as those having an annual turnover of 1 crore!) to build substandard tenements for slum dwellers.
The continuing discourse around such problem-sustaining alternatives has put us on the fast lane to total slumming and also placed problem-solving entitlements at risk in the on-going Plan revision, as evident from the lack of accountability demonstrated in the case of Vasant Kunj, where citizens' groups have been seeking implementation of their Plan entitlements. Vasant Kunj was designed for 20,000 families, including, as per Plan, 5000 poor families. Even as upper income flats, already in excess of norms, continue to be built, no cheap plots have been developed. The skew in favour of up-market housing has stressed water and led to slums. The area's poor families, estimated to be less than 5000, live in 50-year old settlements of Rangpuri Pahari just west, the 8-15 year old settlements like Arjun Camp in a pocket towards the middle and in isolated clusters elsewhere.
In July 2000 fifty homes were demolished in a settlement in Rangpuri Pahari. Since the area falls beyond urbanisable limits in the J-zone, designated rural/green belt in the Plan, residents began to seek details of DDA's scheme and request implementation of their entitlements in it. In March 2002 DDA started building HIG flats on adjoining land. Residents of flats and villages joined the slum residents to ask for techno-legal basis of the scheme in view of location in J-zone, water crisis in an area duly notified by the Central Ground Water Authority and outstanding Plan entitlements of area residents in villages and slums. In June it was learnt that the scheme had started without mandatory land use change and MoUD was approached. In August a PIL was filed. In September the High Court ordered the illegally started scheme stopped and enquired into. DDA brought out a Public Notice inviting objections to proposed land use change. More than 1700 families objected on grounds related to Plan entitlements. Work on the site stopped only in November. The fate of the public objections and the enquiry is not clearly known.
Also in August 2002 Arjun Camp moved Court in face of demolition plans. The few who were offered resettlement challenged the legality of the policy and asked to be settled, instead, in conformity with the Plan on a Janta housing site within Vasant Kunj. The rest challenged the eligibility criteria. Many flat residents supported slum residents not out of charity but because they fear the Janta housing site will be used for up-market flats that will exacerbate the water problem while leaving the slum problem intact. On 16 August the Court asked DDA to reply in six weeks. In an application filed following demolition threats on 21 August the Court gave leave to approach DDA for clarification on entitlements, etc, requiring DDA's immediate compliance. Representations were accordingly made and, as demolition threats continued, numerous letters also written, to which DDA did not respond. On 10 December the court gave DDA two more weeks to reply, which it has not done yet.
These matters illustrate how the slum problem is embedded in the larger problem of subversion of planned development. Planned development is not a phrase open to willful interpretation by anyone who happens to be in charge. It is duly defined in law as development according to Master Plan. In its reply in the Rangpuri Pahari matter DDA justified its HIG scheme on grounds of enthusiasm to clear housing backlog and protect land from adjoining encroachments. According to the Plan, however, it is 50-year old adjoining settlements that are housing backlog and DDAs illegal HIG scheme in excess of norms that is encroachment. In the case of Arjun Camp also many think DDA plans to build more unplanned flats and officials have been saying the 10-12 year old slum is to be removed for a park for 6-8 year old flats. Mandatory monitoring provisions, however, do not permit this order of priorities. In both cases DDA is (mis)using its powers for willful development, abdicating its responsibility of development according to Plan for housing the poor and minding carrying capacity for all.
Like the Factory Owners' Associations, Vasant Kunj's slum residents have challenged the legality of Delhi's slum policy. But unlike the Factory owners, they have done so within the ambit of the Master Plan, thereby ensuring that their claims do not inadvertently jeopardise any one else's entitlements. I would like to believe that had DDA replied in the Arjun Camp matter or otherwise placed in court a wholesome view of the Plan, the November judgement might have been differently informed in terms of what lawfully constitutes planned development and purpose for which scarce urban land was acquired. After all, it is not for some factory owners to point out Plan entitlements of slum dwellers and how their implementation is linked to protection of others' entitlements in respect of quality of life. Or to place before the court the view that since Delhi Development Act contemplates only development according to Plan and not public land ownership, backlog on planned development cannot simplistically be considered encroachment on public land. This sort of thing is for slum citizens to raise and, if they are not, for any reason, represented in the discourse, it is for their governments and authorities to raise on their behalf.
What is worrying is that all respondent agencies in the matter besides others now engaging on it are aware of the Vasant Kunj case. But the endowment paradigm is so deeply entrenched that an entitlements perspective is rejected as being utopian even by the good guys. Even those prepared to see Plan entitlements continue to see them as just one alternative, missing the crucial point that all alternatives must be evaluated against existing entitlements, that there is no basis to offer people as favour less than what is theirs by right.
It is left to people themselves to keep drawing attention to what constitutes planned development in face of its subversion by custodians of the Plan. What is scary is that even after people do so, attention is not quite drawn. On Monday this week, there was bulldozer and police force at Vasant Kunj Police station to demolish Arjun Camp and neighbouring clusters. Political leaders approached by residents over the weekend had all expressed inability to help, blaming one another and the court order. On Monday morning people filed in the Police station a copy of a letter faxed to DDA, reiterating the position they had taken in similar circumstances in October, viz, demolition would amount to frustrating process of law in respect of the court's orders of August and Public Notice of September. In respect of the order of November they said that (a) the court had not quite ordered mid-winter demolition, (b) the contention of the Arjun Camp case was in line with the judgement, and (c) on December 10 the court had not dismissed the case, but asked DDA to reply. Moreover, since MCD, Delhi government and Central government had all announced intent to appeal, there was no cause for precipitate implementation of the order in mid-winter anywhere and certainly not here as even the issue of urgency of purpose was sub-judice. The SHO was requested to ensure that DDA officials, before they undertook demolition, took personal responsibility. Copies of this letter were also delivered to political leaders. The demolition was averted. For the residents for whom this was for the seventh time the relief was routine. The discourse, sadly, has entirely missed the significance of the first bulldozer-reversal after the November order.
As a planner, I am trained to try and see how small pieces fit into big pictures, how the short-term sits in the long-term and such-like. And I see a twist in the tale of slumming Delhi.
The court striking down our defunct policy while our Master Plan is sub-review has uncluttered the discourse. The consensus against the court order, maybe also the Arjun Camp episode of Monday, has perhaps removed the distorting urgency of imminent demolitions. What now?
Delhi could, like it is doing in the matter of industries, let its lawyers and judges grapple with the problem, while its intellectuals intellectualize it, bureaucrats bureaucratise it, NGOs internationalize it and politicians politicize it in election-year and let it drift to becoming intractable. I see clear and present danger in the hasty consensus poised to replace our defunct policy with Mumbai's more defunct 'model'. This will make Delhi a waterless slum as slum land as well as land meant for the poor becomes available for realtor-style development to accommodate 23 million people, a projection that all seem to have accepted even though it is twice the city's carrying capacity.
Or Delhi could get back on track to planned equitable sustainable development wherein even the poor are citizens and carrying-capacity is not just a phrase. Simply by ensuring that alternatives are carefully considered and do not downsize entitlements to cover up implementation lapses and land grab. Simply by insisting that the on-going Plan revision follows due process for sensible systematic assessments and for democratic public participation, rather than election-year politics, less than fully informed court orders or 'alternatives' based mainly in global simplistic fashion.
Whatever Delhi does at this point will change its slumming trajectory. Whether the change will be for better or for worse is something for Delhi to decide, its chroniclers to watch and its planners to fret about. Hence this fretful plannerly prose.