Friday, 25 October 2013

Asian Coalition for Housing Rights brings 10 Asian country groups to Mumbai for an exchange

40 people from 10 countries i.e. Sri Lanka, Nepal, Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Myanmar, Japan, Thailand, Bangladesh attended an exchange program in Mumbai from 24th September to 29th September which was organized by the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR).  The focus was to understand the strategy of NSDF and Mahila Milan to design and execute solutions for the communities by the community while working with government as well.  Each team comprised of 2-4 people with at least one person who could translate from English to the national language.

ACHR has been running the ACCA program for several years and every year there are meetings to visit a new learning site, review ongoing projects and also look at new proposals for the next round of projects financed by ACCA.  For this event, two and a half days were planned with the alliance and one day for project reporting and review of new proposals.
Slum/Shack Dwellers International and ACHR jointly funded this event. 

The schedule:
Afternoon of 25th: at Byculla center Orientation about the alliance and its work with pavement dwellers
Day of the 26th: field visits to housing projects, relocation projects, and sanitation projects were organized. NSDF and Mahila Milan took them to various sites in Mumbai; the initial plan to have them visit Pune was cancelled due to the shortage of time. Instead Pune Mahila Milan was invited to Mumbai to present their work.
Day of the 27: The whole day was spent at Byculla where the whole group spent the morning with questions about what they had seen and later presenting what they were doing. Pune Mahila Milan presented their work at the end of the session.

Day of 28th: A whole day review was taken up at the hotel hall about ACCA projects.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Seminar with UMEA University of Sweden at SPARC

SPARC hosted 55 architecture students from the UMEA University of Sweden in which the director of SPARC, Ms. Sheela Patel and SPARC staff member, Ms. Keya gave a presentation on SPARC’s slum redevelopment endeavors and working closely with the community for development.
In her opening, Sheela explained why it was necessary to work in partnership with the community regardless of your field of profession; it is necessary to share knowledge that will help the community understand and then use the knowledge in their own capacity.  As an example, Sheela explained that 85% of housing is built by the people in a way they understand; SPARC supports them by working with policy makers and other professionals to provide the urban poor with knowledge, material, and other support needed for their development.
Housing involves a series of processes which SPARC is required to undertake; some of the things it involves is data collection, designing solutions, among others. SPARC produces information and documentation to help the urban poor to acquire proper housing and public benefits.  In this endeavor, SPARC focuses to produce a strategy that helps in good governance and recognition of city members. On this note Sheela added that the poor are should be treated with respect and not as garbage and that they should have a place safe to stay.
One of the students questioned the slum dwellers reluctance to relocation to which Sheela citied Dharavi’s example; the slums are not only residential areas but more like “towns” within which the lives of the poor rotate; it is also the place for their businesses and thus their source of living. Therefore, people resist to protect their small companies, jobs that generates them income and they resist to protect their homes.  Relocation sites only provide residential rooms but fail at providing means to procure an income.  In addition, the maintenance cost is higher at the relocation sites.
Sheela also explained the necessity of proper identification documentation to identify the true beneficiaries and also to provide security to the urban poor.  Incremental housing is carried out by urban poor on various scales.  This gives the urban poor a strong sense of ownership.  Thus, a lack of identification security and a desire to resist safeguarding what belongs to them also makes the urban poor wary of relocation.

On the end note, Sheela said that SPARC’s role is to challenge professional behavior to work with their knowledge to help develop the poor communities. On a challenging note, she added that in her perspective therefore, as a professional, it is your role to put a mirror or reflect to show how others perceive things and show your case how you perceive the situation and how and the rest differ. In that way, one can be able to create new ideas to change rather than doing the same thing over and over again.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Power Up Conference—Cape Town by Maria

From October 7th to 11th, 2013, Project 90 by 2030, hosted an international conference for NGOs from Brazil, India and South Africa entitled: “Power Up! - a Just Energy Transition for the South”. The conference was focused on strategizing for better policies and implementation of renewable energy (RE). In all, around 30 participants attended. Four organization from India attended the conference—SPARC, Seva Kendra, Laya and Mahila Housing Sewa Trust; except for SPARC, the other organizations had some experience and expertise in working on energy.  SPARC’s aim was to assess the possibilities of using RE in the urban poor context to produce sustainable solutions for the rural communities.

Some interesting facts and figures in context to India as presented at the conference:
  • Coal dominates with much of the demand (up to 40%) from industry. There is a very small RE component (12%) and nuclear only provides 2% of the country’s energy.
  • 35% do not have access to electricity resulting in power outages, theft, illegal tapings and insufficient supply.
  • Rural electrification is a major issue.
  • 15% of the population uses more than 100 units, 6-7% have a larger energy footprint.
  • With regards to RE, currently, 28GW, mostly from wind is being produced, although the capacity is 245GW; solar is on the rise.

Even though the government of India has introduced policies specific to RE, the policies are not consistent.  The question that remains is for whom the energy is being generated for and will it improve access and availability for marginalized? Secondly, with regard to the challenges to integrated energy plan of Energy Commission, what will be land and water issues, where will resources come from, what will be the impact on environment and peoples, etc.?

As part of the conference, three field trips were organized that showcased the RE projects: 
  1. A wine estate which uses PV panels covering the majority of energy consumption. It also uses LED lighting and natural sunlight – mirrors and skylights to reflect light onto work spaces – and automatic closing of doors and insulation of storage.
  2. An illegal informal settlement in Entakinini which has come up with a model of low cost housing using recyclable materials and installing a solar panel to provide the energy needs of community. The toilets have a roster, lock and bucket. Houses must take responsibility to clean. Feces would go to a biogas facility that will combine with food waste to be used in the project kitchen.
  3. A community food garden in Khayelitsha run by a group of women. The gardens are used for food security and the excess sold to get income to sustain project. Food waste is collected and combined with water for energy for cooking.

 The common denominators across the countries which attended:
  • Poor people are cross –subsidizing industry.
  • Trust by government given to larger projects as compared to smaller ones.
  • Focus on large and centralized structures and installations that are mostly corporate owned.
  • People understand the politics behind production and distribution.

India’s Vision as seen through an exercise during the conference:
Currently, 95% of the country has electricity supply but huge gaps exist in continuous supply. The vision is to get electricity 24/7 to those that are electrified in the short term. RE will be stopgap through individual solar units. In the mid-long term (beyond 2020), surplus will be shared around country. By 2030, 100% will have access to continuous power supply and 50% of that power will be from RE sources.

In the words of Sheela, “There is a huge opportunity to produce alternative energy because traditional mechanisms cannot fill the gap. We as a small group of 3-4 NGOs felt that we are too small for a country as diverse and complicated as India. Visioning, especially a long-term one, was a utopian idea by itself. But we were taking more of a journey than a destination. Our devotion would be intimately connected to this destiny.”

Thursday, 3 October 2013

OnTrack Program

Based on the need expressed by local communities and policy makers to establish a direct, continuous and two-way flow of information sharing between citizens, Governments and international donors, and the World Bank Institute (WBI) has developed, over the last 18 months, a Citizen Feedback program called “OnTrack.” The program forms part of the new agreement of the Rural Alliances program and the principal Urban Infrastructure Project of the City of La Paz “Barrios y Communidades de Verdad” both financed  by the World Bank Group.

The main idea of the OnTrack program is quite simple, yet quite complex to realize: empowering the citizens of Bolivia to provide feedback in a direct and open way on project results to Governments and World Bank project staff using innovations in technologies that combine mobiles, SMS with web-feedback loops. Through the OnTrack platform (Platfaform Empoderar) over 30,000 Bolivian families that currently participate in the Rural Alliances project can now, for the first time, make their voices heard simply by sending a text message from a cell phone or directly on the OnTrack website. Government agencies responsible for implementing projects, and international development agencies, including World Bank staff, can now communicate more directly with citizens.

The experiences from both rural and urban communities in Bolivia show that people perceive citizen feedback not only as a complaint mechanism, but would like to use it to have a voice in development and positively affect changes in their communities.  Sharing local experiences, connecting with other communities and people from other countries, and entering into a constructive and direct dialogue with policy makers seem to be even more meaningful to them. 


SPARC was involved in the construction of houses and rehabilitation of families living along the railway tracks under the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme, an undertaking of Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority. One of SPARC’s project was the construction of buildings next to the Kanjur Marg railway station in Mumbai. Of the buildings constructed, all but one are occupied by affected families living along the railway lines. The scheme gave incentives to the constructing organization in the form of transfer of development rights and this unoccupied building forms one of them. SPARC has been struggling from the past 5 years to get the necessary sign offs from officers in Railways from the various hierarchies in order to allot the flats to further affected families. 13 officers in various ranks have to grant their approval. With each officer, the staff spends close to half a month negotiating to get his/her approval. No officer agrees to bring the work up to speed unless being adequately compensated, though not ethically.  On several accounts, the officers deny being responsible for approving and shift the accountability to another officer. In the course of 5 years, the unoccupied premises has began to decay due to non use, and is often the center of anti social activities. In dense areas such as Mumbai, where real estate prices are soaring and the Government having ambitious plans of creating slum free cities, it is ironical how the simple work of administrative approvals for already constructed tenements is delayed due to its indifference.

On one hand, the Government wants to prove its commitment towards creating pro-poor solutions, however on the other hand, turns hostile towards the implementer such as NGOs and denies clearing administrative hurdles.


Better job opportunities is one of the reasons why people migrate to metro cities from poor rural areas; jobs allows them to get at least the basic minimum needs of food, clothing and shelter satisfied. Since shelter is one of the most expensive of the basic needs, the relatively cheaper option of a slum house becomes the only option for the poor. As cities grow and become more dense, shelter becomes less and less affordable.  Naturally, the choice of settling down with a house of their own compels people to move towards the outskirts of the city, or adjoining towns that are still connected to the main city. This choice shift has affected the slum concentrations in a similar way. Slums are not built nor do they expand by choice but are the only option the poor have who come to cities to survive. However, the slums have a real estate value and cost of renting or purchasing a hut, however illegal that transaction may be, depends on the area.

Density of cities adds to the complexity offering lesser land spaces for housing. Outskirts of dense cities and the surrounding towns begin to catch up with the pace of urbanization that is swallowing everyone and becoming populous - people wise, infrastructure wise and economy wise. Housing is an integral part of rapidly growing cities and towns;  slums are also a type of “housing”.  While Mumbai has seen a reduction in the number of slum households in the last couple of years due to various slum redevelopment schemes, in the nearby towns and smaller cities the slum population has doubled in the last 10 years. The urban shift with a saturated Mumbai can be best associated to it.

With rapid urbanization, migration cannot be contained. However making cities slum free will mean heavy investments which may be beyond the means of the city or state’s capacity. Given the bitter experiences with the past interventions, estimated costs escalate severely over a period of time due to poor planning and implementation practices. However, a slum being defined as a space that is used for housing however are unfit for human habitation can still be upgraded by providing the basic amenities to the dwellers. Water, electricity and sanitation become the first steps to making the slums habitable. Given the capacity of the poor who in the past have demonstrated an incremental approach to improving their dwellings, creating pro-poor policies that acknowledges and supports their contribution towards improving their own living conditions will be more economically viable in the near term.

Monday, 16 September 2013


SPARC is part of the BSUP R&R project in Warje, Pune.  In August 2013, the SPARC held a meeting to introduce a training program it has organized to assist the youth affected by the BSUP R&R project.  The training program includes the following:
· 4/5 weeks (5 hrs everyday) training after which each person will get guaranteed job in Pune- Bank, Retail shop, Call Center, BPO sector with salary starting from Rs.8000-10000
· Training involves-
Ø  Interview skills
Ø  Basic English speaking
Ø  Skill training- as per the education background
· Training has Enrollment fees Rs. 500, during the course Rs. 2000 and after getting a job each person has to pay Rs. 2500 - total cost of training is Rs. 5000 per person.

As part of post relocation livelihood support to the communities at Warje MM team with Mr. Roy and Skills Academy invited about 25-30 educated youngsters from the slums with a minimum education till the 7th standard. Mr. A.N. Roy Former Director General of Police, Maharashtra and founder of Vandana Foundation, together with the Skills Academy from Delhi jointly provides livelihood training for poor educated slum boys and girls from the age group of 18-25 yrs.

Mr. Roy informed the participants about the benefits of enrolling and explained that the Vanda foundation together with SPARC has already trained about 100 youngsters in slums of Mumbai; those trained are working in Bank, Retail shop, Call Center, BPO sector. Since the Vabdana Foundation and Skills Academy has a tie up with Banks and retail shops, they can get a guarantee the students a job.

25 participants have enrolled for this training program, among them 4 are from A building and the first batch is going to start from 19th August 2013 at Sarhad College  Katraj.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Rehab policy to soothe ruffled feathers of PAPs in Navi Mumbai

Times of India, Mumbai recently reported that City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) has drafted a 26 page action plan to pacify the PAPs in Navi Mumbai.  Relocating is an traumatic experience and should be carried forward with a sensitive hand.  If the communities concerns and problems are not dealt with at the forefront, then winning their support is difficult.  The community should be involved in the process and feel comfortable to air their grievances.  Then, and only then, can the process of relocation run smoothly.

Dharavi tops upscale Lower Parel

The Economic Times of Mumbai recently reported that a flat in Dharavi generates a higher price than a similar flat in upscale Lower Parel.  The promise of a government redevelopment project has led to the price increase. The slum dwellers anticipate that the prices will increase once the DPR starts.Unfortunately, the Dharavi Redevelopment project has been stalling since 2004.  

26 towers to house city slum dwellers

Mumbai: The Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) has cleared 26 skyscrapers with 23 floors each to house slum dwellers in Malad, Worli and Bhoiwada, Parel. About 6,600 slum families, comprising around 25,000 people, will be relocated to these towers from their original shanty land. Each family will get a free 269 sq ft (carpet) flat, but will have to be trained to use the lift, bathrooms and other amenities. Housing experts have dubbed it a “sophisticated displacement plan and a highly unsustainable urban development model that will lead to further slumification of the city”.  Publication: The Times Of India Mumbai; Date: Aug 17, 2013; Section: Front Nauzer K Bharucha TNN

SPARC believes that multi – storied buildings inevitably leads to higher maintenance cost that eventually the poor have to bear, for example, high rise buildings require the use of lifts which increases the electric cost; structural maintenance is higher for high rises in comparison to G+2 structures.  In addition, social interaction is challenged as the slum dwellers are interdependent within their community, but with shifting into high rises, the community structure is disrupted.

Bio-Digester Technology for safe human waste disposal

India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) have invented Bio - Digester Technology as a solution to prevailing unhygienic sanitation methods.  Bio Toilet Technology facilitates termination to residual human excretory waste.  Human waste is decomposed by special lab mutated bacteria into water and bio gas.  The Bio-digester toilet is total maintenance-free system, which does not require any sewage system. The inoculums bacteria used in these bio-digester toilets procreate and generate new bacteria in an anaerobic environment without the need for repeat dosing.  The bacterial consortium degrades night soil to produce colorless, odorless and inflammable gas containing 50 – 70% methane. 

How It Works: A group of lab mutated bacteria decomposes the excretory waste through microbial reaction. Bio-digesters have 3 anaerobic chambers that treat Human wastes effectively, and don’t require any cleaning or emptying the tank because of its unique systematic structural arrangements.  The treatment, the task of cleansing water is continuously carried forward from the start to the end point, till the water exits the bio-digester.  When the treated water finally comes out it is 98% clean and free from entire pathogens.

The breakthrough technology has potential in the urban slums since the safe disposable of human waste is a major challenge.  The bio-digester technology has been successfully implemented in public toilets across India.  SPARC hopes to introduce this technology to the Mahila Milan and to explore the possibility of implementing the system within the slum.

Friday, 30 August 2013

What to do in case of forced evictions?

In pursuance of the struggle to stall the processes of eviction, Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), Delhi, has published a handbook in Hindi, English and Tamil titled, “What to do in case of a forced eviction”. The handbook, released by men and women who have faced forced eviction or are on the verge of it, elaborates upon the right to adequate housing and is a step towards educating the slum-dwellers about their rights. The book has sections that covers the rights of people in purview of state, national and international policies. It also details what compensation can be sought in case of forced evictions, steps that can be taken to prevent or counter forced evictions, and some contacts that can come in handy in case the affected dwellers need directions or help. Though the publication is produced considering the settlements in Delhi, it can be extended to support communities countering similar issues in rest of the country.

Too HIGH expectations?

In a high density city like Mumbai, vertical expansion is inevitable if land is to be available for everyone.  However, high rises mean heavy maintenance expenditures which the slum dwellers have to incur to pay for water bills, garbage collection, regular cleaning etc. Elevator  maintenance adds to it. In an article featured above, the developer is positive about slum dwellers moving into 23 floor buildings. He wants to balance the cost of maintenance by providing fix corpus and provision for part payment of maintenance for 10 years, “training” slum dwellers in using facilities like the elevators and bathrooms and thinks “they will have to learn to adapt to these socioeconomic changes”.  Are these too high expectations? Or wrong assumptions? Firstly, most families could be coming from economically vulnerable groups that might find the sudden rise in monthly expenses too taxing to handle and secondly, sudden change in socio-economic conditions are not easy to handle as compared to a gradual change.  Thus, the rehabilitation policies should also look at long term affects of the scheme and draft guidelines that will not jeopardize the future of affected families.

The GO-code

For years, the alliance has been promoting the need to map each individual household in a slum settlement. To complement this practice and to technically advance this practice, the alliance is been approached by an organization called “Addressing the Unaddressed”. The organization strives to provide each slum dweller with a unique code called the GO-code. This process is simple, a regular marking of the household, using a code generator software to generate a unique code, first roughly marking the house with this code and then making permanent metal boards that sport this number. These plates look like the license plates that are mandatory for each vehicle on the street. The plates being affixed on the door frames are permanent and being unique, will give a sense of identity to each household. These codes are marked on the map and therefore each household gets marked on the map. The unaddressed dwellers therefore become addressed, allowing them to get legal identification documents, ration cards, bank formalities etc.  This will also support the community when the settlement needs to be surveyed under the pretext of development schemes such as redevelopment.

After a successful pilot mapping a settlement in Kolkata, the organization wants to pilot this process in Mumbai in collaboration with the alliance.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Reinventing toilets for the urban poor

Sanitation facilities among the urban poor become extremely challenging when considering the proper disposal of feces. Building toilets  is seen as a way to end open defecation and it holds true. However having a mechanism by which the human refuse is also disposed safely is equally important to maximize the benefits of sanitation. In dense cities, laying out sewerage lines is very expensive and septic tanks are not always cleaned. Therefore innovative design methods by which sewage can be treated on-site can become an important solution to problems of sewage disposal in community toilets.

Dr. Koottatep from the Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand has received $5 million dollar grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to research innovative designs of toilet construction. Currently four technology institutes in India and abroad are researching on the invention and prototyping of Decentralized Waste Water Treatment Systems DEWAT that treats waste water at source and converts it into ready for reuse products.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Learning about India's energy options - Sheela Patel

On Friday 23rd August, John Samuel of NSDF and Sheela Patel attended a meeting organized by Miserioir to prepare for a meeting in October in Cape Town titled, “ International South 2 South conference : power up! A just energy transition for the South”.

The objective for the preparatory conference was:

1. To understand and reflect on energy issues from a policy perspective in the national Indian context
2. Get exposure to the challenges in the renewable and decentralized energy technology options at the grassroots level
3. Create an opportunity for partners to meet and prepare for a country profile to feed into the CT conference.

Presentations made by the following resource persons around which the main areas of discussions took place:
  1. D Raghunandan  Center for Technology and Development, New Delhi
  2. Prayas, Pune
  3. Aarti/Sanchit, Pune: Priyadarshani Karve
  4. TERI, New Delhi
  5. Vasudha, New Delhi
Following are my personal notes, from the facts made by the organizers through power point presentations:
  •  Most of the energy consumption is the material used from Bio mass that remains under the radar. 
  • In the discussions clearly many NGOS have explored alternative energy solutions but face many difficulties and challenges.
  • Discussion on Centralized and Decentralized energy solutions in the alternate renewable energy field have challenges. The solution lies in clever combinations. 
  • One example given was about Rajasthan where communities got displaced to place solar panels for renewable energy; scarce water was used to clean the panels while the people faced water scarcity; and it hardly produced any jobs. 
  • Electricity is most expensive but cleanest energy source. 
  • The discussion is always about justice and energy.
  • Transport planning of and within locations all contribute to create energy usage.
  • In Maharashtra the Kelkar Committee reviews these issues and has commented that people who are poor bear the costs but get no benefits.
  • A possibility to consider: what if all Panchayats set up their own grids and charged people, then at least they would get regular energy. However it would mean its more expensive than what is presently charged for electricity.
  • A conflict between irregular or no access of subsidized electricity and additional costs for regular alternative energy is evident today.
  • Climate change is going to impact agriculture in many ways. Clearly a mix of renewable energy  and electricity is the way forward but requires a change in infrastructure for successful delivery.
  • The location issues are important; for instance solar energy for water pumps work where the water table is high, not where the pumped process has to go deep - which is increasingly the case.
  • Garbage to energy sounds useful, especially in cities, but at  the moment, its not working because reparation  is not effective and outputs are not efficient. Yet the government wants to set up 500 units in the country, adversely impacting the waste pickers and recycling in the informal sector.
  • Challenges of sustainability and understanding the global contexts within which sustainability has to be understood:
    • Whatever India does it will have to deal with emissions related conventions that will occur globally and plan reduction in CO2 emissions. 
    • RIGHTS based choices  are crucial for the new energy regimen to embrace.
    • Defining a RIGHT to energy is crucial and forces to explore justice sustainability and future planning. 
    • It is unclear yet what emission linked carbon budget India will get but whatever it is, it will constrain the present business a usual regimen.
    • The right to energy has a pre-requisite of per capital goal setting. We have to ensure like GDP -it does not cloak inequity and unequal access.
    • Presently India has some of the lowest emissions, 2870, which is half of china and yet we have a large development deficit as well at 30%
    • 16% agriculture usage employs 56% people. Industry and services need to move to rural areas. 
    • Significant infrastructure investment means high energy consumption—rails and highways are being planned without looking at energy audits.

Reduce Improve and replace was the slogan.
Present growth is jobless growth

R&R and New Mumbai Airport - Sheela Patel

All infrastructure projects ignore both the economics and the politics linked challenges of relocation of households. It is evident that relocation for pubic requirement of infrastructure legitimatize relocation of households and  by and large their needs aspirations and demands are never considered; which is crucial for the smooth execution of the project. In many instances in which the households that need to be relocated are slum dwellers, administrators treat the slum dwellers as “getting favors” to be given relocation.  The administrators should instead see the project as ensuring that the disadvantaged households get adequate shelter as well as improved quality of life as a result of the project which the state is obligated to provide to the vulnerable.

In the situation of the Navi Mumbai Airport the circumstances are different.  The land is inhabited by villages their land cannot be just taken away.  This project has been continuously delayed for many years due to several reasons at different times.  The simplicity and clarity of demands by the households and their acceptance by the state will facilitate a way forward. Why should it have taken so long?

Wednesday, 10 July 2013


A three day meeting was held in Bangalore in which 14 cities participated from Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Andhra Pradesh.The meeting started with leaders introducing their cities and the work that’s being done in their respective cities. Thomas, federation leader from Bangalore explained the concept and function of NSDF, SPARC, and Mahila Milan to the new emerging cities interested in starting federations.

During the three day meeting the discussions were around:
  1. How each city would report their plans for the next six months.
  2. Challenges faced at the city and settlement level. 
  3. Savings, sanitation, and housing issues were discussed.

 The community toilets give family passes to its older member while the new families have to pay Rs 2 per use - the federation wants to extend the family passes to the new families also.

Field Visit:
Leaders visited settlements where housing and sanitation projects were being implemented to understand how this could be replicated in their own cities.
Committee formation:
  • A state supervising committee was formed.
  • City wise observation committee was formed.
  • Action plan for the next six months prepared.
  • As a result of this exchange and meeting, the Andhra Pradesh federation has been restructured and a district level committee has been formed in four districts.
  • 8,000 families in Bangalore will conduct Basic Socio Economic Survey (BSES).
  • In Mysore, the Karnataka Slum Board to conduct in the first phase Total Station Survey (TSS) and in the second phase, to conduct BSES
Follow up planned:
  • Routine reporting on a quarterly basis on plans made.
  • More emphasis on completing slum profiles.
  • Discussions with municipalities essential.

Saturday, 15 June 2013


The federation and Mahila Milan in Maharashtra are active in six cities, Nasik, Malegaon, Pune, Pimpri Chinchwad, Ahmadnagar and Bhadgaon, and have reached out to yet another city, Jalgaon. When Sulakshana came to know about the kind of work Mahila Milan is involved in, she visited Pimpri Chinchwad several times to talk to the leaders and see for herself the housing and sanitation work done there. Sulakshana, along with Surekha, are the Mahila Milan leaders in Jalgaon.  Sulakshana was interested in starting with sanitation work because there is open defecation in Jalgaon and the toilets constructed by the city government are not well maintained.
As per 2001 Census, about 62,696 population of Jalgaon lives in slums which is about 17% of the total city population. 25 slum settlements have been identified as declared slums and abut 5 as undeclared slums by the Jalgaon City Municipal Corporation.
Suvarna and Rehana from the Pimpri Chinchwad Mahila Milan have also been constantly in touch with the women leaders of Jalgaon, visiting them frequently to help them set up savings groups; meeting with the communities to explain to them the workings of the federation and Mahila Milan and explain why activities like savings and credit, surveys, exchanges are carried out; and how through Mahila Milan they can bring a change in the lives of the urban poor. As of now, savings and credit activities are ongoing in 9 settlements and the Jalgaon Mahila Milan’s action plan is to spread savings across all of the 25 settlements, thus moving on to start the same in the neighboring villages.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Changing attitudes and changing strategy - Sheela Patel

R&R projects in which the vulnerable and unsure slum dwellers get a place to stay when infrastructure projects are taken up is good commons sense. NSDF and MM, who have organized slum dwellers in these situations, have worked hard to demonstrate its good governance for the city to invest in rehabilitation when taking up infrastructure projects.

For many years the announcement of such projects meant that the “market” would swoop down on the households who were entitled to such homes and buy over the houses at distress rates, thus benefiting from the projects.

Since the state and city didn’t intervene, there was no coordination between locational solutions and relocation options; often households had to move far away from their previous locations.

In many instances (in R&R), water access to sewerage and transport was not available before households moved in; schools and health centers were not near the relocation site; and changes in ration cards, access to kerosene nearby were not available for almost a year. Now exploring net based data strategy is to attempt to make these processes reviewable by senior administrators.

However at the end of the day all this is effective when communities are involved in making choices from the beginning and amongst the community members it is women who make these choices.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Going back and forth on R&R for New Mumbai Airport - Sheela Patel

The NSDF link with Airport slums predates the formation of the alliance with SPARC and MM. ZOPADI KI AWAS and may leaders from airport slums were part of NSDF and fought against evictions. Prominent amongst them was MAGAR who lived in the airport slums but worked as a peon in BMC.

From 1986 onward the NSDF begun to survey airport slums and formed a federation which in turn sought the assistance of SPARC to present its findings to the Urban Development Department as well as the housing department.  The issues surveyed were the direct impact of lack of collection of garbage in the slums near the airport causing an increase in the number of birds hitting the planes; the loss of time and air fuel due to the slum that abutted the runaway.

This one slum was then relocated, thus demonstrating what organized communities could do. This was followed with the announcement of the privatization of the airport and MIAL managed by MVK group. Although some people in the government tried to get the alliance to undertake the survey, the construction of the tenements for relocation and the actual relocation was given to HDL. While local communities feel the number of houses is 98,000 structures HDL claims it is 80,000—although no official survey has been done so far as the residents do not allow it.

Their contention is simple: They want to know what land the airport needs for expanding its directly needed infrastructure. They agree that this land would be handed over in exchange for the households to be relocated on lands outside this new boundary.

MIAL and HDL want to relocate all of the households elsewhere on lands purchased or claimed for this purpose.  They want to convert this land into convention centers hotels and other commercial activity which the residents are resisting.

Although this estrangement is between two private companies, the state has a duty and obligation to arbitrate the public interest matter of addressing the relocation issue as well as expediting the improvement of the airport.

No one is answering the resident communities question about what land does the airport need for its own infrastructure.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Exploring either/or type options in housing is BAD - Sheela Patel

About 5 years ago, SPARC, NSDF, and MM, having been involved in creating  transit accommodation option as a two phase relocation possibility, began to explore how rental housing would be useful to the poor.

In slums, almost one third of all units have rental accommodations, which is a mirror image of the formal rental procedures. The renter rents the accommodation for 11 months at a time and pays a deposit as well as advance rent. For many households, rental housing is both useful as a income generational activity for the owner and a boon to the renter to stay in a particular locality.

MMRDA, to whom along with the alliance recommended the construction of small units to rent to the poor began to give permissions in the metro region.  These are the units that this article is referring to. Having begun construction, MMRDA is reluctant to put into place the governance architecture to this investment and for some time has either sought to “sell” the houses or use them as transit.

Given the volume required for both transit and rental, the state strategy falls between two stools as it fulfills neither goals.

Large metro regions need a wide rage of options for housing. Creating conditions for mobility, different time spans for living in different locations and different types of accommodation is the need of the hour. Yet, somehow, the stamina and transparency as well as foresight to take on this long neglected task is beyond the state.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Marriages and Sanitation - Sheela Patel

In rural India and Bangladesh, sanitation values are fast changing. Villages are campaigning against open defecation. Children put flags with names of people they have seen defecating in the open and women refuse to give their daughters in marriages in villages and homes that have no universal sanitation.

Unfortunately, this is not happening in urban areas.  Many years ago, when the western railway line was more efficient than the central and harbor line, marriages were arrange with families along the same railway line. Families didn't want their daughters married to households which required women to walk long distances for water; likewise, families who lived on the plains didn’t want daughters married to those who lived on hills… so the story goes.

So then what about urban sanitation?

First of all, in urban areas, traditionally cities never laid sewers under slums as they always believed they would eventually evict the slum dwellers. Secondly, given the sheer volume of faecal matter in dense settlements, digging a pit and defecating is hardly the solution. Access to water and safe management of fecal matter in large volumes does not produce individual focus for solutions. Even if people wanted toilets in their homes, without water, adequate space or disposal mechanism it actually would add hazards to the existing hygiene challenge the urban poor face.

It’s because of these circumstances that the alliance of SPARC, MM, and NSDF are exploring the community toilet concept.