Identical rows of dull grey buildings linearly spotted with dark windows announce the rehabilitation site from a distance. Located outside the fringe of Indore city, the site in Bada Bangerdha is surrounded on all sides by vast expanses of farmland, to be accessed only from a highway leading away from the airport. On entering the isolated cluster, multi-storeys burdened with wasteful aesthetics can be seen towering over children, adults and strays making their way around pools of sludge and litter. The stilt level, which is designated for parking, is busy with spores of activity. Grocery stores, vending carts and dry wood fires host discussions and disputes among open sewage chambers and piles of garbage. The stilts lead into courtyards open to a sky reflected on stagnant rain water. This intended common space is empty except for a couple of hours every alternate day when women hurry up and down the stairs with vessels of water sourced from the tanks installed here. The stairs are little more than skeletons of steel, secured only with stories of fatal accidents involving children and collapsing parapet walls.
Taking shelter from the flies and monsoon winds, we huddled under the lone bulb in Radhabai’s flat interviewing her as she effortlessly worked the pestle on a mortar. Her musty one bedroom flat was crowded by a double bed, a 6 foot almirah, utensils, drying clothes and a family of rats. Hers was one of the 1,300 families belonging to a Scheduled Caste (SC) community evicted and relocated here in 2015 from CP Shekhar Nagar, a 50-year-old settlement located centrally in Indore by the river Khan. As she recalled the turbulent period of eviction during which she lost her nephew under a falling beam, we went through a stack of documents that she had kept safe in a tin box. Among them was the familiar pink slip or ‘patta’ for their land in Shekhar Nagar.
Existing tenurial rights in Indore vs. Central schemes for urban housing
In 2003, under an amendment to the Madhya Pradesh Act №15 of 1984 popularly known as the Patta Act, all the families in Shekhar Nagar and similar settlements of the landless urban population were conferred leasehold rights for 30 years on the land under their tenements. However, following an order by the National Green Tribunal, the residents of Shekhar Nagar were evicted in 2015 and relocated to slum rehabilitation sites far from their land and livelihood. While clauses 3.A and 4 under the Patta Act direct restoration of possession upon dispossession for reasons of public interest, not to mention the first and second schedule of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013 detailing compensation for acquisition of land, with special provision if belonging to SC and ST communities, the families have been atrociously short-changed.
They have been provided dilapidated flats on conditional ownership isolated from the city, in exchange for a valuable piece of land in the heart of the commercial capital.
A few communities in Indore were allotted land under a provision in the Madhya Pradesh Municipal Corporation/Municipality — Nagar Palika Rules, 1998 for reservation of 15% land in a private colony for the housing of weaker sections of the society. This reservation, which was in exchange for the leasehold rights under the Patta Act on their previous land parcels, is not exempt from threat considering the prevailing pattern of evictions and relocation in Indore. The onslaught of centrally sponsored schemes for urban infrastructure and housing in the last decade, targeting the urban poor are a driving force behind this threat.
Built under the Basic Services for the Urban Poor (BSUP) scheme under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), many slum rehabilitation projects have populated the periphery of Indore. These projects however, lay vacant after the termination of JnNURM in 2014. A series of evictions were carried out to earn high rankings under new centrally sponsored schemes like Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) and Smart Cities Mission under the NDA government after 2014. The dis-housed families along with those from other evictions were relocated to the vacant BSUP projects, accounted under available housing stock for the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) — Housing for All (HFA), 2022 scheme.
The definition and consequent fate of slums under PMAY
In the meanwhile new slum rehabilitation sites are populating the periphery under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY). The PMAY details four verticals for the provision of urban housing mainly distinct in the manner of funding and partnerships. In-situ slum rehabilitation with private partnership is a supply side intervention prioritised among the four with a dedicated registration section only for ‘slum dwellers’.
According to the scheme, a slum is “a compact area of poorly built congested tenements, in unhygienic environment usually with inadequate infrastructure and lacking in proper sanitary and drinking water facilities”. However, the extent to which this definition is applied to arrive at a list of ‘slums’ or to recommend a suitable intervention, has been left to the interpretations of the implementing authorities. The PMAY implementing body in Indore listed 648 settlements in 2017 with varying tenurial, cultural and physical characteristics under the ambit of slums irrespective of the definition and based mainly on history of settlement and socio-economic status of the community. This is exemplified by the inclusion in the list of those settlements with leasehold rights from the Patta act and those conferred land under 15% reservation according to Nagar Palika Rules.
Over the years, these settlements like Nayi Basti and Maratha Basti, settled through the 1998 Nagar Palika Rules and now surrounded by other residential colonies, have acquired secure access to basic services and substantially improved their built environment. One such settlement — Daktar colony — has even registered the land with the families, moving another step towards secure title. Many settlements with leasehold rights given through the Patta Act have also managed to improve their built environment and secure services like Rahul Gandhi Nagar settled almost 50 years ago, owing to better livelihood opportunities nearby. Considering that the scheme mandates compulsory denotification after rehabilitation, the state of occupied rehabilitation sites presents an irony.
One can analyze here the current practice of notifying settlements which transcend the scheme’s definition of a slum only to denotify them after their condition has been worsened by unnecessary intervention in the name of rehabilitation.
This can take ahead the critique that tenure security and livelihood are stronger factors ensuring adequate housing rather than insufficiently serviced multi-storey buildings and their motto of seeming urbanity.
Tenability and viability — the deciding factors
Once listed, whether a ‘slum’ is selected for in-situ rehabilitation or not is based entirely on its ‘tenability’ and ‘viability’ as repeatedly mentioned by the guidelines. The terms are vaguely qualified and scarcely quantified with cut-off dates, verified homelessness and financial viability. Cut-off dates in their exclusion of constant migration to urban areas, in-principle violate the constitutional right to live and work anywhere in India. In addition to this, PMAY does not recommend a flexible cut-off date principle like its predecessor, Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY). Taking this exclusion further, the guidelines require the families to not own a pucca house anywhere in the country in both urban and rural areas. It is important to note here that the much older Patta Act, limited the clause only to urban areas and extended its scope to lack of ownership of land as opposed to ownership of a house as under PMAY.
Apart from what is mentioned in the guidelines, the location of the settlement and tenurial status of its land and tenements play an important role in deciding its tenability and viability respectively. If the eviction of Shekhar Nagar due to its location close to the river exemplifies the former, shrinking the land under settlements under the ruse of unlocking its potential exemplifies the latter. The in-situ rehabilitation vertical emphasises on this potential of land ‘locked’ under slums and the possibility under the scheme to leverage this potential to use land as a resource for rehabilitation. In the context of settlements in Indore with a relatively secure tenure like those on the 15% reserved land or those with 30 years lease hold rights, this is a false portrayal of financial viability. The potential of these lands being locked under the settlement is definitely not a deprecating factor, but must be seen as a great opportunity to make inclusion a reality.
Attempting to unlock land value for private investment from outside the community can only strengthen the patron beneficiary binary and further deepen spatial and social discrimination.
The scheme suggests that if a settlement is deemed tenable and viable, it will be considered for in-situ rehabilitation irrespective of the status of its services and built environment. Even if the scheme requires the beneficiary to first register under the scheme before implementation, being listed under a slum increases exposure to threat of eviction from other directions, watering down choice to majority consent from the community. For such settlements which are deemed untenable and unviable and hence disqualified for in-situ rehabilitation, the other supply side intervention, affordable housing in partnership becomes the immediate option, under which they can be rehabilitated anywhere in the city. Distance not being prescribed, this has caused severe distress due to loss of livelihood in addition to loss of land. The residents of Sekhar Nagar who were employed in waste collection earned close to Rs 250 per day. Proximity to the busy market areas near the centre sustained this margin of profit. After relocation to the isolated multi-storey buildings 15km away with scarce means of public transport, they are forced to spend half of their day’s earnings on travel expenses.
Where is the city headed?
PMAY designed two other verticals on the demand side to distribute subsidised loans and grants for individual house construction. However, being available over and above land title and arrangements for the remaining cost, a majority of families from the weaker section of the society are not in a position to avail them. This is even more so due to the implementing authorities, who are leveraging the absence of definition of a valid tenure to disqualify all previous provisions of tenure, when instead this can be seen as an opportunity to include more families under the demand side verticals. The authorities have clearly demonstrated such behaviour through the invasive list of ‘slums’ to be primarily qualified for in-situ rehabilitation and leaving them little choice. Alienating beneficiaries further from the process, there is no information in the public domain grouping settlements under each of the four scheme verticals. This is not very surprising given that even the list of slums has been produced only after filing an RTI after commencement of construction of new projects for rehabilitation, with families from one settlement, Naya Basera to the north west of Indore already living in transit camps.
It should not be overlooked however, that centrally sponsored schemes for urban infrastructure and housing, beginning from JnNURM and RAY and the current PMAY and AMRUT, have also recommended and even mandated progressive interventions. While JnNURM referred to tenure as a basic service and pushed for housing close to livelihood, PMAY mandates community participation in the process. Unfortunately, the landscape of Indore is increasingly being dominated by the exceptions to these clauses in the name of public interest or environmental distress or development or financial viability.
Adding to the exceptions, the conveniently moralistic interpretations of crucial indicators such as tenure, tenability, viability and slums are driving Indore’s urban poor to distress.
The city is falling victim to a harmful trend of delineating weaker sections of the society to isolated pockets only to be relocated again with further expansion of the city, diverting the question of ownership with false conditional promises.
Ooha Uppalapati, Associate — Architect Planner