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.