Friday, 28 November 2014

Without power: Mumbai’s pavement dwellers

If you can read this, you’re not affected. For most urban dwellers electricity is available at the flick of a switch, to power our numerous appliances from our coffee machines to our computers and TVs, but not for all: many of the urban poor still have no access to electricity although the power cables are literally just two meters above their heads.

Pavement Dwellers at Goregaon Western Express HIghway

In the new Energy Justice program of SPARC we have just recently started a survey in order to better understand the needs and problems of the urban poor related to energy. Last week we have been at a settlement of pavement dwellers next to the Western Express Highway in Goregaon, Mumbai who live there for at least the last 10 years. Although all of the households do not have access to electricity at all, they have energy expenditures between 300 and 750 Rupees per month just to be able to illuminate their homes in the evening with some candles and to charge their cell phones at the next kiosk. This costs them every day between 10-15 Rupees.   


Most of the children go to school, but in the evenings 

they have to study  under the street light.

It was hard to believe for us but most of the households have to manage a living in Mumbai with less than a Dollar per day per capita, some of them even with half a dollar. It’s no wonder then that these households seek to avoid spending any money where it is not absolutely necessary and therefore cook their meals on traditional three-stone-stoves. Because most of the men work as casual laborers and are out of the house, it is the task of the women to collect the wood which lasts between 1 and 2 hours every day. Cooking with open fire or on three stones is not only time intensive but also health threatening because of the smoke and causes respiratory diseases. And this is not done with a cough – the Worlds Health Organization (WHO) estimates that annually more than 4 million people die because of cooking with solid fuels of which 50% are children below the age of 5. 

We have started our new Energy Justice program in order to develop jointly with the urban poor solutions that will provide them with a better access to modern energy and also reduces the costs for them. We will keep you updated here about the further development of this project.

Author : Vincent Moeller is working for SPARC as an advisor on Renewable Energy and Climate Change since June 2014.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Centre prepares concept note on smart cities.

Reference :  Live Mint & The Wall Street Journal
Centre prepares concept note on smart cities.

The new initiative of the new government of 100 smart cities is a smart move to create opportunities for city governments to scale up basic infrastructure.  For once the definition of smart cities is becoming clear and a city that provides efficient basic services such as water, sanitation, roads, and citizen services is considered smart. The mix of cities is also interesting, as it prioritizes state capitals, followed by 2 tier cities and tourist cities.

To a large extent, it sounds like the JnNURM redefined. The goal of improving city governance, infrastructure development all seem to be on the same lines, however without looking at the drafted concept notes, one can only speculate. While the definition of smart cities is emerging,  the definition of smartness of the implementation instruments and infrastructure remains unclear. Though the current government may not want to acknowledge the work done under JnNURM, hopefully the learning from those are considered for the smart city plans,  failing which we will only be forced to accept what is done as another initiative producing piecemeal solutions which sound great for current conditions, but do not account for the futuristic needs of the city.

-- By Vinodkumar Rao

Friday, 12 September 2014


For the first time, on 27-28 August 2014 SPARC participated in Asia NGO exhibition organized by “Live week Business” at World Trade Center, Mumbai. It gave NGOs and corporate a platform to engage with an objective to take NGO mandate and work with large body of corporate and establish tie-ups with them.

SPARC showcased its work in developing community capacity through area resource centers, surveys and enumerations, saving groups and housing and infrastructural projects. The focus was on Sanitation with the theme ‘STOP OPEN DEFECATION’ thus showcasing new designs prepared by Architect Rahul Mehrotra and team (RMA) towards building more efficient community toilet blocks.

About 65 NGOs and 6 to 8 Large Corporate industries participated in this exhibition.  During the exhibition there was also a conference where speakers from Large Corporate and Foundation like MAX India Foundation, Swades Foundation, Sum Foundation, Jindal Steel and Power ltd. TERI etc.  spoke on different themes such as integrated community development into business model, corporate community investment, CSR and sustainable development .There was also a panel discussion on Business and Stakeholder Engagement towards shared value and Social Investments.  The conference was mainly for Corporate and didn’t find any representation from grass root organizations in any of the panels or discussions.
About 60 to 80 individuals visited SPARC’s booth.


Dr. D C Huz, Wockhardt  “Super Work”  
Asma Kathiwalla, Thomson Reuters Foundation “Great Work Hope to work with you soon”        
Ankita Yadav  “Doing good work and helping people to meet their basic needs”                
Susaana Chenar, Gunj  “Hope to work together”              
Shalini Suhalka, BOSCH  “All the best for your Work”        

--By Monali Waghmare

Airport Slum Rehabilitation

The Economic Times 11th September 2014 p8 has an article on the latest developments on the Mumbai airport. Those who know the NSDF and Mahila Milan in India will know that the airport slums federation is a member of the Mumbai slum dwellers federation and has been working since the 1990s to convince the national Airport Authority of India, the State Government of Maharashtra to address the issue of slums long before the redevelopment and privatisation of the airport began.

A decade before,  the federations presented to the NAAI and urban development department of Maharashtra with a powerful presentation of how a slum abutting the runaway was both dangerous to the residents as well cost huge additional fuel with planes having to queue and go around the slum. Over 1200 households were enumerated, the National Airport Authority purchased SRA built tenements from the govt of Maharashtra  and households moved.

After the airport was privatised, the open letter by Jockin Arputham requested the state to dialogue with the organised communities of slum dwellers. The federated leaders position was and continues to be that they are willing to give the airport all the land they need for infrastructure and they would build houses for the slum dwellers in the remaining space. For many years this position was not accepted. Government appointed developers to find land to relocate households but the residents have resisted this and government enumerators have not been allowed to do surveys in slums.

This announcement reflects a change of position, and one that is a way forward. Dialogue negotiations between the state and communities has to be the centre for developing solutions. The poor was reasonable solutions that work for them. They are always amendable to what works for the city and for them.

--- By Sheela Patel

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Community Based Organizations interact with Ward -- Maria Lobo

On 13th August, 2014 a ward level meeting was organized in the ward of G-North, Mumbai  to set a platform for Community based organizations (CBOs) to start interacting with the ward to discuss and sort out technical issues related to community toilets in slums. G-North was one of the wards where the Alliance has constructed toilets under the Mumbai Sewerage Disposal Project and as part of the Project Management Services was contracted to survey 22 toilet blocks. Apart from surveying, an analysis of these toilets was also done with regards to how many toilets have municipal water, electricity, garbage disposal in the settlement, toilets needing repairs, toilets where CBO restructuring or reformation needs to be taken up etc.

The above dashboard gives a summary of the toilets surveyed in G-North. In the meeting the CBOs were introduced to the ward office and the technical team with whom they could work to resolve issues.

The process of assessing these toilets were—

· Pilot study and preparation of questionnaire—to test out the questionnaire and further modify it

· Conducting physical survey of the toilet and CBO— to know about the issues and status of the toilets ever since they have been constructed

· Data entry and evaluation— keep a computerized record of the data collected

· Observations and solutions—interventions to be done and solutions that can be realistic to all

Ever since these toilets have been constructed and handed over to the CBOs for maintenance, there has never been a back-to-back follow up as to how these toilets are doing, if or not the CBO still exists, are seats enough of if there is an overload on the toilet etc. Therefore this was a starting point to get all the actors involved in this—the CBO, ward, MSDP and NGO to come together and sort out issues as well talk about what good has happened or toilets that are functioning well.

Issues discussed and decisions taken in the meeting -

Irregularity in paying pass money—CBOs complain of families not paying pass money on time and at times they even refuse to follow such systems Display boards to be put up stating the no. of families using the toilet, monthly amount that they have to pay and that strict action will be taken against families that do no pay
Repairs—toilets that are more than 10 years old need repairs and show leakages, doors are broken, pans need to be replaced etc. Ward taken the responsibility of fixing repairs as per circulars of repairs Ward also suggested assessing the performance of these toilets on a regular basis post –repair
Cleaning of septic tank / Sewerage choking—although there are 2-3 toilets having septic tank, they have never been cleaned by the ward. Even toilets connected to the sewer line face choking due to various reasons which need to be corrected Letters need to be given by CBO and ward will clean the septic tank on a regular basis along with clearing choke ups.
Solid waste management—careless disposal of garbage around the toilets and within the settlement was observed Ward officer suggested connecting Dattak Vasti Yojana to CBO for getting the garbage cleared

Setting Precedents in smaller towns of Maharashtra -- Maria Lobo

The Alliance has been working on sanitation since its involvement with the Mahila Milan and Federation. Though most of the work in sanitation be it providing community toilets or individual toilets; has been done in Mumbai, Pune, Vizag efforts are being made to increase and improve sanitation facilities in smaller towns and cities of Maharashtra.

In 2013, SPARC conducted a survey of 150 community toilets constructed since 2000 under Mumbai Sewerage Disposal Projects launched in 1995 by the World Bank and the Mumbai Corporation of Greater Mumbai. The survey form covered sections on  Settlement information, Physical assessment of the toilets, CBO information, Structural issues, Health and hygiene, the idea of this was to come out with interventions post survey some of which can be taken up jointly by the NGO and the city, few that can solely the responsibility of either the CBO or the concerned ward.

Also in 2013, a citywide settlement profile was conducted in cities of Maharashtra where the Federation is active. Laying stress on sanitation, the analysis of these were that though on one hand there is acute shortage of community sanitation facilities on the other hand the existing sanitation facilities are overlooked and are just left abandoned in absence of no one taking the charge of maintaining those facilities. Having utilities like community toilet blocks in slums and not maintaining the same is also one of the main reasons for increasing open defecation.

In order to replicate and set precedents of initiatives being taken in Mumbai, in a meeting held in August 2014 with six cities of Maharashtra (Bhadgaon, Jalgaon, Ahmed Nagar, Pimpri, Nashik and Malegaon), the cities decided to do a similar survey of toilets constructed by the city municipality in slums. This survey will be undertaken in slums where the Federation and MM have an active presence. To start off with, two types of interventions will be done
1. one toilet in each city will be either reconstructed or repaired or newly constructed as a demonstration to the city
2. The analysis from the survey will be presented to all the municipalities to begin a discussion on who does what and how it can further extended at a citywide level.


Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Mumbai: Housing for the poor and its constant change of usage By, Sheela Patel

Whenever the state government of Maharashtra has taken up new and interesting possibilities to address the challenges of housing the poor, it gets side tracked by a paradoxical impact of poor supervision of governance architecture needed to ensure it reaches the people it was meant for.  Housing possibilities remain in a constant state of crisis because any empty space gets used up for alternative uses; and because the construction industry which explores construction opportunities in the name of the poor fails to address solutions for the bottom 40% in the city.

Six years ago, the Government of Maharashtra took a bold decision to build small tenements which would be given to the poor for rent. The rental housing scheme would be taken up by the private sector and they would get a good TDR return for tenements which in turn they would give back to the government. MMRDA would then hand these tenements over to organizations to manage according to a governance framework to be developed alongside the construction.  A total of 500,000 units were to be constructed. The initial tenements were constructed but when a new leadership took office, the MMRDA preferred to sell rather than rent the houses.

The 500,000 houses were never built. But the ones that were built remained empty since the MMRDA did not develop the management strategy and framework for supervision. When buildings collapsed these were the only tenements that were available and thus were used as transits accommodation.  Transit accommodation generally knows several generations until the time when residents forget where their grandparents were moved out from and build their lives around these localities.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Visitors to SPARC in 2013

In 2013 SPARC met with various interesting visitors from both national and international agencies.  Following is a list of few of the visitors that piqued our interest:
  1. Nancy Mean from the World Economic Forum, Geneva, Switzerland visited SPARC in March – Nancy wanted to learn more about what the Alliance does and how it functions. She visited Mankhurd to talk to the families which shifted there from along the railway tracks.
  2. Ameya A. from IITB visited SPARC in April – Ameya visited Manhkhurd sites with mobile workshop team (2 logistic people) with Keya and Sharmila for planning of HOLCIM visit on 12th April 2013.
  3. Yogesh Shetye of YES bank visited SPARC in April – Mr. Yogesh visited SPARC's project sites at Mankhurd (Milan Nagar, Bldg 98) and Ekta Hind Community toilet with Mr. Joshi, Aseena, and Keya.
  4. Heather McGray & Ayesha Dinshaw from World Resources Institute visited SPARC in April - to learn what the Alliance does and how it functions. The purpose of their visit was to discuss climate change in context to urban areas.
  5. Ministry of State for Housing, Uganda visited SPARC in May - 6 delegates from the Ugandan Ministry came to India; before visiting SPARC they visited the Pune BSUP sites/ Sanitation projects/ Mankhurd relocation site with Jockin and federation. One of the delegates wanted to know the different instructional structure associated with all of the above projects and he wanted additional reports and documents to learn more.
  6. Mr. Ramon J Gray,the Managing Director of Polycare Research Technology, UK visited SPARC in May - Polycare Research Technology UK has invented a new way of making resin based concrete that allows practically any locally available aggregate to be used as the main (87%) filler component. It was in this regard that Mr Gray visited SPARC to discuss the possible opportunities for his company in the Indian Market. He was further taken on a field visit to Milan Nagar.
  7. P.V. Viswanath, the Director of Global Portfolio Analysis Centre & Professor of Finance, Lubin School of Business, Pace University,New York visited SPARC in June - Professor Viswanath visited SPARC to learn about the work of the Alliance specifically about savings and credit. Prof. Viswanath teaches micro finance and wants to bring a group of students for an exposure visit to India; this was also one of the reasons for his visit to SPARC.
  8. Diana Mitlin, Gayatri Menon from Manchester University & Tom from DFID visited Pune MM in August – they talked to the Mahila Milan of Pune regarding BSUP, other housing projects, taking their opinion on how far has the municipality been able to provide them with the services and what more can it do. Visited some houses constructed as well as under construction under the BSUP project and also spoke to some community members.
  9. Students and Professors from UMEA University Sweden visited SPARC in October – During their visit, Sheela spoke about SPARC and its work and Keya talked about incremental study.

Mumbai: Planning for 58% with Inaccurate Data by, Sheela Patel

The aspirations for the slum dwellers that came with setting up SPARC in the 1980's didn't materialize because the limitations of the municipality or government because of the DP (Development Plan). Carefully study of the plans indicated that there were spaces available to house the slum dwellers; in reality however the space or land was always used for different purposes and thus occupied. In frustration, SPARC raised this issue with the then Chief Secretary of Maharashtra who had also been the municipal commissioner of Mumbai.  His comment on the development plan was (with a benignly smile) that the DP is a manifestation of what we envision, but reality is very different. In layman terms it translates to the urban poor can’t ask the city for land for housing because all the land that they have earmarked for the poor is already occupied.

The DP which is being prepared today is haunted by incorrectness of the past: lack of accurate data and unclear and contradictory data sets. When challenges to plan are not accommodated and addressed in each plan, they clearly produce unregulated response. The poor squat if they can’t find a space to stay near work; the elite equally ignore the rules. Both pay bribes for the regulatory process to ignore their presence and turn a blind eye, and the unregulated growth increases exponentially.
Manipulating the data is a routine strategy of the government agencies. The state and city institutions are known to inflate and deflate the data on poverty slums based on whom the report is being prepared for.  The data used for preparing the Mumbai DP states that there is a 18% dip in slums; the information is quite vague is you consider the following facts: How do we link this to the fact that the census definition requires a slum cluster to have more than a certain number of dwelling to be counted under the census connect with this factor? What do we do when even lower level government data collection refuses to count the households who live as renters in the mezzanines of huts?

Ongoing Saga of the Slums Along the Airport by, Sheela Patel

The slum along the Mumbai airport contains over 98,000 structures and to date remains a crucially unsolved challenge for the development of the airport. The resident’s networks, that are part of NSDF city federation, have promised to willingly concede land that the airport wants for its infrastructure if the remaining land not needed for the development will be made available to them.  The residents wish to live in SRA ground plus 5 buildings. For many years the contract to build alternative housing for slums along the airport was given to a construction firm HDIL.  276 acres of encroached land was to be “cleared” as households would move to sites nearby. The unusual act of getting transferred development rights for the 7000 structures in which no one has moved yet has been noted by the CAG in his report. There are numerous other challenges that have also impeded this process.  For example:
  • The state cannot undertake surveys until it clears eligibility norms, which should be structure for structure; the High court says the year 2000 cut off is acceptable. Thus only a very small percentage is eligible.
  • Residents what to be assured that the whole community get houses which are nearby; only 7000 are nearby so the residents have refused to move.
  • The deal for GVK and HDIL does not become profitable unless the land use for commercial purpose is accepted; this has resulted to a standoff.

 In the meanwhile the new terminal with huge array of art work is to be opened on Feb 14.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

James Westcott from OMA

James Westcott, from OMA in Rotterdam, is researching material for his book called “Elements of Architecture,” for which he is researching the history and the current status of elements like the floor, the door, the wall, the ceiling, the roof, and of course the toilet. The book is part of the Venice Architecture Biennale this June, directed by Rem Koolhaas.  James is focusing on Dharavi as a demonstration of how the western model of flush toilet + sewage system isn’t achievable or sustainable in most parts of the world. He has asked SPARC for assistance and for the map that SPARC is making of the toilets built by SPARC. 
Down Memory Lane: the inception of CLIFF

A DFID financed research commissioned to Homeless International (HI) adhered to the experience of the Indian alliance and other SDI affiliates to demonstrate the fact that organised communities of the urban poor were capable of producing projects to house themselves.  The challenge was to develop financing strategies that would accommodate the urban poor to improve the quality of their lives with the solutions and strategies that they developed. Ruth Macleod and the HI team worked with Sheela Patel and the Indian Alliance as well as the many affiliates of SDI to document evidence that communities could drive such processes. It was ostensibly a research project, but DFID actually agreed with the proposition and Community Led Infrastructure Finance Facility (CLIFF) was born; the first project financed through the facility was the Rajeev Indira Housing Cooperative society.

On the 24th of February 2002, the Rajeev Indira Cooperative society was inaugurated. The project brought the entire state government machinery of Maharashtra from its Chief secretary, its Housing department and  city officials to inaugurate the first self managed slum redevelop project in the city. Mahila Milan and NSDF leaders from all over the country attended the inauguration also.