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Saturday, 19 April 2008

Slums and the Web of Development - 1

Slums and the Web of Development - 1

Remigius de Souza

Either housing ‘for’ the slum dwellers or housing ‘by’ the slum dwellers is an important issue. It is important because it is the people’s issue. It is important because its end does not seem to be anywhere in sight. It is important because in spite of so-called development and progress of science and technologies and the expertise in economics, politics, law, health [medicine], administration, management, info-tech, statistics etc. there seems to be no solution yet in sight.

Giving Houses as Curative Measure

For want of effective evaluation, ‘giving’ houses to the slum-dwellers and the rural poor, in spite of so much being done by the state and the philanthropists, it has remained to the level of lip service or as a pampering of merely feudal attitude of the urban elite, and cannot be termed as altruistic as an end in itself. It is merely a postponement of treating the root cause by adapting ‘curative’ measures in fashion that we are so much habituated to modern medical practices.

In dealing with this problem we have to go to the edge of our intelligence and rationale by looking at it from all the sides and from within it. But the intelligence is such a dangerous weapon that it could prove to be a boomerang. The attitude, the mindset has to change from ‘curative’ to ‘care, preventive, and even the corrective' measures. ‘Giving’ houses to the slum dwellers and the house-less is only a ‘curative’ measure devised by the feudal mentality of the rulers.

What would the rulers do if there are many more earthquakes which may affect many more villages and towns? How often the storms and floods have destroyed the houses, besides other property and lives, in the country, and to what extent? What has happened to the ‘Bhopal Gas Tragedy’ victims? How these and such other events have influenced the planning and action?

In what way these have affected our attitudes? Do these problems belong merely to the ‘compartment’ of disaster management? Or do these problems end up in enquiry commission or tribunal, one more act, another department or one more ministry…?

In spite of planning and development the slums are on rise. They are not only in the metropolitan cities, but also in the small towns and along the transit lines.

It is not impossible to deal with the problem of slums. But when the question of sharing the resources, equity, standards, energy, prices of farm and forest products etc. are taken up, the urban elite, it may be proved, are following double standards and turn out to be fundamentalist to claim that the development is for common good. Hence the slums had been termed as illegal settlements. It is worth a study how metropolitan and large cities and mega-industries devour the resources of the land more than their due share…

The slums are increasing in the direct proportion to the development.

Most cities and towns in India have prepared development plans during last two or three decades – mostly through the government departments. It is possible for city governments i.e. municipalities, to acquire land, to freeze the land use and municipalize the city lands for the purpose other than roads, gardens, commercial and city centres. For example, Vadodara (Baroda) city notified and reserved certain areas of land for the public housing (for future use) some thirty years ago (in 1960s).

If Vadodara City can do it, then other cities too can find indigenous ways to deal with their problems. It is possible to freeze the land use of vacant plots as well as areas of dilapidated buildings, which could be used for rehabilitation of the slum dwellers, for redevelopment and revitalisation of the area. This could be brought about by collective creativity rather than by formulae and standards. This is possible when all citizens, not merely the vested interests groups, are aware of the planning process. This is possible by creating a public forum.

Twenty years ago Vadodara City rehabilitated 2000 families of slum dwellers whose hut were washed off in the flash flood of River Vishwamitri. They were given houses in five different safe places in the city. This was possible for two reasons: (1) there was will on the part of people of the city, and (2) the land was made available. However, today the slums in Baroda City have increased manifold.

Are the slums emerging as a new form of human habitat all over India and elsewhere while the humanity is on the threshold of 21st century? People use the phrase “21st century” as a magic wand. But the miracle is not coming off. The slums in the Indian cities have now become an ever-expanding phenomenon, which seems to have no end in future.

Slums are a result of territorial war

Slums are a result of territorial war and an invasion by the powers and the vested interest, which is slow, silent and unseen resulting from a division where the powerful have opted for machine-energy to human potential. Perhaps the planners in their future development plans may have to paint grey areas for slums in addition to other land-use zones in their city plans? No one wants to leave one’s home and land, kin and community and live in the rotten environment of slums in the cities.

In Bombay, for example, during the World War II in the past and recent times during ‘the Textile Mill workers’ Strike’ and the riots many people left the city, even though temporarily. Exodus took place from Goa during the times of Inquisition at the time of Portuguese rule, and during the partition of IndiaPakistan from both the countries. It has been recognised that movement is associated with survival from proto-historic times for humans and other species. The slums are the result of desperate struggle for survival by the silent majority.

Who are these people in the slums?

They could be riot-affected, famine-affected, war-affected, development-affected, economy affected besides other causes; the landless labourers, farmers, peasants, forest-dwellers, artisans etc. among them. They do have life-supporting skills and education that have been turned redundant or are not recognised by the authorities in Democratic India in their frenzy for the development of economy, and thereby due to the destruction of social and natural environment that helped them to sustain the past.

It is of course possible to rehabilitate the people within their homestead instead of displacing them. It is possible to rehabilitate the people who are marginalized due to natural calamity or human intervention. It is possible to rehabilitate them with dignity. But the government fails to take concrete and appropriate measures in time.

[This revised and edited version and First Part of the article Published in the Journal of Indian Institute of Architects, Dec.1996, p23-25]

© Remigius de Souza., all rights reserved.

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