Puppeteers on a string

The in-situ slum rehabilitation project at Kathputli can become a national model. Delhi must get it right.

Late in August, it was reported that the DDA, the Central agency and planning authority owning vast amounts of land in Delhi, had given the go-ahead for residents of Kathputli Colony to be shifted to transit camps. Last month, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit inaugurated a second such DDA project in Kalkaji. Kathputli is a 30-year-old Jhuggi Jhopdi Cluster (JJC) in west Delhi. Under the DDA's plan, the settlement is to be redeveloped with flats for current residents at the same site, known as in-situ rehabilitation, in a public-private partnership (PPP) model. To defray costs and earn returns, the private developer will be allowed to build a limited number of high-rise apartments on the site for sale at market prices. During construction, the residents will shift to a transit camp and return to separate high-rises within the settlement. The project was initiated in 2008 but has been delayed, affecting all stakeholders the DDA, the residents and the developer.

Despite these delays, Kathputli is seen as the pioneer in-situ rehabilitation project in Delhi one that officials desire to replicate, if successful. Until 2007, residents of JJCs were relocated, usually forcibly, to under-serviced resettlement sites such as Mangolpuri, where they were given a plot of land, beginning with 67 square metres early in the 1960s to just 12.5 sq m by 2007. Subsequently, a decision was taken to stop allotting plots and begin with built-up flats in current resettlement colonies like Savda Ghewra and Bawana, located in the northwest periphery of the city. Most of these colonies remain under-serviced, unsuited to home-based livelihoods and far from places of employment. Many flats remain unoccupied.

As an alternative, in-situ rehabilitation is gaining traction. Apart from Kathputli and Kalkaji, the DDA has other projects in the pipeline. The Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), the new agency under the state, is interested. Political actors too are coming on board. Recently, the state opposition party's president, Vijay Goel, promised a flat to every resident in Delhi's slums at their current site if his party comes to power. These aspirations also resonate with the policy ambitions in the Delhi Master Plan 2021 and Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), the flagship Central scheme for slum-free cities.

In-situ approaches could be an improvement over the older approach to redeveloping slums, but the experience of Kathputli to date is worrying. Reports indicate that some residents are now seeking a stay on relocation and a firm assurance that they will come back to the same site, pointing to loose ends in project implementation. This settlement is a complex site for in-situ rehabilitation. The 15-story high-rises will have to accommodate communities of artisans and puppeteers originally from Rajasthan and various other communities who have settled there. Given their livelihoods magicians, rope-walkers, puppeteers and acrobats living spaces need to go beyond a uniform design. To add to this, the DDA has exacerbated such problems by avoiding community consultation. Ramakant Goswami, Delhi's labour minister, acknowledged last year that Kathputli's residents were not involved in the early planning stages.

To begin with, the DDA did not disclose the results of the survey that identified those in Kathputli who would receive a flat. Historically, surveying has been problematic and exclusionary. A response to an RTI petition revealed that surveying began in 2008 and had already ended by 2012. Moreover, it showed that neither the final list of beneficiaries nor the parameters to decide who would get a flat had been prepared. The initial project report specifies resettlement for 2,800 houses. Summaries of later surveys indicated that anywhere from 2,800 to 3,100 households were considered potentially eligible at various points. Finally, in early 2013, a list was released in response to an RTI petition, where the number is close to 2,800. As one resident said, this kind of suspense was unnecessary.

The DDA also does not have a clear process for specifying what the residents would receive in terms of quality and location of housing, and seeking their informed consent. This lack of community interaction goes against their own Master Plan 2021's requirement that community-based organisations be "closely involved in the resettlement process". It is not the only agency ignoring community consent. Under RAY, a draft model property rights bill has been released, based on which states can design their legislation for slum rehabilitation. Until May 2011, the draft model bill required projects to obtain consent of a "majority of adult members" before schemes commenced. However, the current November 2011 draft merely requires that residents be "involved". Of course, a consent requirement alone will not be enough and could lead to other coercive practices. However, according to residents and housing advocates, the experience in Mumbai, where such a clause exists, is that such a consent clause acts as a "democratic check on the policy".

Kathputli and now Kalkaji may provide a template for housing and future slum redevelopment not just for Delhi, but on a national scale. This current experience, marked by considerable delay and opacity, has been cumbersome for all parties. A more participatory process with checks and balances may prove more successful. It needs to be designed and executed in ways that balance inclusion, fairness and effectiveness. An early and transparent listing of beneficiaries, with a forum to challenge exclusion, would increase chances of building consensus. A consent requirement, as in Mumbai, would allow agencies to move ahead only if the community is on board. Creating an effective participatory process with necessary support infrastructure will be a complicated task. But a happy epilogue to Kathputli's story is not possible without it. Here's a chance for Delhi to get it right, give residents of JJCs a say in their resettlement and stop treating the puppeteers of Kathputli like puppets.

Banda is with the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi. Vaidya is a doctoral student at Brown University, US.

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