By Shubhagato Dasgupta, Anindita Mukherjee, Baisakhi Sarkar Dhar
Slums are not a new phenomenon. They have been concomitant to increasing urbanisation and industrialisation as populations boomed . These pockets of informal settlements are characterised by overcrowding, insanitary, unhealthy, and dehumanising living conditions, insecure land tenure, lack of access to basic civic services, education, and health care, among others. While the challenges faced at the slum level are not new, the ongoing pandemic has exacerbated their substandard living conditions while preventing them from practicing seemingly simple preventive measures such as frequent handwashing and maintaining social distancing, threatening more than one billion people worldwide in slums as well as in the non-slum urban areas at large. Those living in slums and informal settlements are also most vulnerable to the economic consequences of a widespread lockdown. The COVID-19 pandemic, through its various peaks, has further heightened the need for a more robust and immediate solution for improving living condition and access to service in slums. Integrating slums within city fabric by slum upgradation has the potential to be one of the crucial interventions that can foster inclusive and resilient cities as we ‘build back better’.
The approach to slum upgrading has changed considerably from the 1950s to the 2000s. Beginning in 1972, the World Bank launched urban upgrading projects to improve services, infrastructure, and housing in hopes of reducing poverty and meeting basic needs (Corburn & Sverdlik, 2017). In the 2000s, the slum upgradation programmes became more comprehensive, calling for an enabling approach combining good policies, community participation, engagement of the private sector and strategies to prevent future proliferation of slums. Through the years, slum upgrading initiatives in countries across the world like Bandung, Indonesia, and Vietnam, among others, have been considered relatively successful; however, upscaling projects from small neighbourhoods to the city and to the state scales remained a challenge.
Slum upgrading is a complex phenomenon as several interrelated components requires to be addressed to implement it successfully. It is not simply about providing basic infrastructures or housing but also about integrating the economic, social, institutional, and community activities that are needed to turn around downward trends in an area . The two most important factors for a slum upgrading programme to be successful are strong political will on behalf of the government and a strong buy-in from communities. However, in most cases, achieving some coherence in the community, finding solutions for a wide range of needs and sustaining political will across government terms remain primary challenges.
Odisha’s approach to the challenge
Although one of the least urbanised states in India, Odisha grew at a rate double that of its overall population during the 2001-2011 period. Moreover, one in every four urban dwellers in Odisha was living in slums (Census 2011) and lacked access to basic infrastructure while occupying only 2- 4% of the urban land . Against this background, Odisha embarked on its journey of providing land rights to slum dwellers and enacted the Odisha Land Rights to Slum Dwellers Act in September 2017, followed by launch of Jaga Mission or the Odisha Liveable Habitat Mission in 2018. By 2021, the GoO distributed more than 70,000 Land Rights Certificate (LRC) across 109 small and medium urban local bodies (ULBs) while according more than 99,000 Land Entitlement Certificate (LEC).
However, as mentioned above, mere according land rights do not improve the living quality in these urban informal settings. The continuum of land rights, from de-jure to de-facto presented a range of opportunities to incrementally transform urban slums and the lives of the people who live there. Accordingly, a ‘Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Slum Upgrading and Delisting in Odisha’ designed to integrate the urban poor settlements into the mainstream city fabric and transform the slums into liveable habitats called Biju Adarsh Colonies (BACs). It was launched on 28th September 2020 amidst the pandemic, and the work was initiated immediately. It intended to benefit the slum dwellers by jointly identifying with the communities the key infrastructure gaps and subsequently filling those gaps by process of upgradation. It focused on improving access to six civic infrastructures i.e. i) in-house water supply, ii) paver roads, iii) pucca stormwater drainage, iv) street lights, v) individual household toilets (IHHL), vi) in-house electricity, and common social infrastructures i.e. vii) Parichaya, signature community centres viii) Open space development including ix) development of childrens’ play areas. The state government’s effort through asset creation and improved service delivery aimed to address the demands of urbanisation and bridge the gap between developmental outcomes and the growing needs of people in the state. This, in turn, translated into increased infrastructure resilience and reduced vulnerability towards health risks like the ones posed by the ongoing pandemic.
Community engagement has been one of the key features of the programme. By stimulating and fostering the capacity of community-based organisations namely the Slum Dwellers’ Association (SDA) and Self-Help Groups (SHGs), the government ensured that not only they become the beneficiaries of the development but also becomes the partner in the process of development instilling a sense of ownership of the process. Moreover, the projects supported climate-sensitive infrastructure development by mandating paver blocks for new roads, LED bulbs for Street Lighting, construction of toilet with Septic Tank, and encouraging the use of solar-powered street lights. These technologies are expected to result in positive environmental impact by subsoil percolation & groundwater recharge, energy conservation, reduction in carbon footprint, groundwater contamination, waterbody contamination, and eventual decline in health hazards.
Complementarity of other infrastructure programmes
Convergence with other ongoing state and central government schemes has been another key constituent of the program. Various government schemes like Urban Wage Employment Initiative (UWEI)/ Mukhyamantri Karma Tatapara Abhiyan Yojana (MUKTA), Buxi Jagabandhu Assured Water Supply to Habitations (BASUDHA), Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), and UNNATI funded the public works component of the slum upgradation under JAGA Mission, covering all parts of the project. While the water supply component is complemented by Mission BASUDHA, which seeks to provide piped drinking water supply to all households in Odisha, Swachh Bharat Mission was leveraged for individual toilets and CT/PTs. It also went ahead to integrate community participation and wage employment scheme with the slum upgradation process to reduce social, economic, and infrastructural vulnerability among the urban poor. The participation was further bolstered by the UWEI scheme launched initially for six months as a COVID-19 response to provide livelihood opportunities to around 450,000 urban poor families. The scheme was converged with JAGA Mission to provide employment to the urban poor by engaging them in creating urban infrastructure for slum upgradation. It not only provided gainful livelihood opportunities to urban poor families during the ongoing pandemic but also created community assets, strengthened community institutions, enhanced ecological resilience, and applied innovative technologies to enhance the sustainability of welfare schemes and measures.
While slum upgrading benefits a city by fostering inclusion, promoting economic development, addressing overall city issues, and improving the quality of life of the urban poor, there remain other challenges with mainstreaming. The upgraded slums, most often than not, remains unaccounted for in the city planning exercise and the upgradation wears off with time perpetuating the slum like situation. Odisha’s slum upgradation program is uniquely designed to tackle this challenge as well. The slums, once upgraded, are delisted and are integrated into the city fabric, thus bringing them within the purview of the statutory planning exercises. This is a step towards making the program sustainable in the long term. Another major challenge is the sustained flow of funds, which the Odisha government also addresses by amending its Odisha Municipal Act-1950 and Odisha Municipal Corporation Act-2003 to provide for internal earmarking of 25 percent fund for urban poor under the head of capital expenditure in all ULBs of the State. This allocation of sum for delivering basic services and infrastructure to slums in the ULB budgets aims at providing for the fiscal requirements and planning needs for the urban poor in the state. Internal resource earmarking aimed to channelize the municipal spending to become inclusive and pro-poor in their approach and functioning.
Informal settlements typically suffer from a lack of access to basic civic and social amenities and remain characterized by dilapidated built structures – increasing their vulnerability considerably. Hence, building forward better from this pandemic will necessitate integrating slums within the city fabric, further fostering inclusive and resilient cities envisioned in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the New Urban Agenda (NUA). With access to all basic infrastructures backed by a strong local body, communities can be more cohesive, more resilient, and better placed to confront economic and social challenges. The model for slum upgradation by GoO utilising public resources during the ongoing pandemic and ensuring better preparedness against similar health crises in the future has the potential to be scaled up to other states within the country. Partnership between government and community along with a demand driven approach is the key to success of programs like JAGA Mission. The only key to this up scaling is to build continued complementarity with other state and national level urban development programmes and develop community partnerships.
Shubhagato Dasgupta is a Senior fellow, Anindita Mukherjee is an Associate Fellow and Baisakhi Sarkar Dhar is a Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. Views are personal.