Squatters' rights

The issue of toilet space for 8.1 million slumdwellers in India's 4 major metros threatens to expand into a matter of social rights

 
By Rahul Srivastava, Anumita Roychowdhury
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- (Credit: Arvind Yadav / CSE)WHEN the police fired upon and killed 4 of a violent crowd of slumdwellers of Shahid Sukhdev Nagar in North Delhi's Ashok Vihar, it was not only defecation rights that were in question. The January 31 incident was the apogee of decades of discontent among the 8.1 million slumdwellers -- pitted against both the government and a pampered, righteous middle class -- in the 4 metros of Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. Delhi alone has 31 areas with tension building between slumdwellers and the middle class residents of neighbouring colonies.

The incident trashed the townplanner's tatty argument that big cities with better access to employment and other facilities have ready-to-deliver plans for the dispossessed. The firing also diminished the possible electoral impact of a Rs 55-crore programme by the Delhi government and the ministry for urban development to build 12,600 toilets in slums and jhuggi-jhonpri (JJ) clusters. The project is likely to be over only by the end of 1996.

At the heart of the problem are the 1,100-odd JJ clusters in the Capital and over 3,800 in the other 3 metros. In 1951, there were 12,749 squatter families in Delhi. Today, there are 4,80,929. Over 2.3 lakh migrants come to the city every year, adding 40 shanty-hamlets. Delhi's chief minister, Madan Lal Khurana, contends that no city in India has the wherewithal to ensure facilities like toilets, sewerage, water and electricity for these migrants. Aveek Burman, chief engineer, sanitation, Calcutta Municipal Development Authority, agrees that "despite efforts to catch up with the backlog, the situation is getting worse".

With every passing year, every sq km is being sardine-packed. Delhi's average of 6,300 persons per sq km (1991) is steadily being beefed up with a decennial population growth of 51.45 per cent (1990-91). According to A C Seth, director (slum and JJ wing), Municipal Corporation of Delhi, "Today, 1/5th of the city's population lives in shanties tucked between registered colonies. Plus, 70 per cent of Delhi's population has no access to sewerage."

The demand-supply nexus is worsening. Land-use patterns in the metros are dictated by purely commercial factors, and the result is a skewed distribution of facilities. A study by the Voluntary Health Association of India estimates that 1 out of every 4 residents in the 4 metros has no access to sanitary latrines.

In Bombay and Calcutta, the problem is endemic and almost unresolvable. Irate shantydwellers along the railway line in the Lake Garden area in South Calcutta often resort to violence when they face resistance from their better off neighbours. They are, the argument goes, encroaching upon the most fancied green space in Calcutta -- the Rabindra Sarovar Lake. Says Sabir Ali, a geographer-planner from the Council for Social Development (CSD), "Posh localities, with only 10 per cent of Delhi's population, enjoy near-sufficiency in basic services."
Slums within slums Even the masterplans of the 4 metros disfavour squatters. Urban common land is marked primarily for recreation. The NCT's masterplan has open spaces earmarked solely for district parks or as green patches in residential colonies. While they do function as "green lungs", a more imaginative management of these commons is possible.

City planning ignores even little advances made in alternative approaches to conservation and basic rights. Says P Sikka, the DST official in charge of the Bombay slum sanitation project, "In a land-scarce situation, a conjunctive use of the commons in the interest of the poor is crucial. Our project sought to achieve that." He cites the use of park corners for setting up toilet blocks and imaginative landscpaping around them to fend off the ire of well-off neighbours and maybe satisfy their aesthetic cravings.

Often, however, class segregation is the resort used by the government: the open space dividing Bombay's Saraswati Vihar and the unauthorised colony of Sawan Park has been fenced off to block access to Sawan Park's residents. As for setting up toilets, the advantaged neighbours are unwilling to budge an inch.

Since slums are hemmed in by regular structures, "There are now," says Ali, "slums within slums, filling up with fresh migrants. Of the 259 parks in these JJ colonies in 1991, 25 parks were occupied by jhuggis." Says Khurana, "The total land under encroachment by JJ clusters is over 4,200 acres.

A survey conducted by the CSD in 1990 in the resettlement colonies of Trilokpuri, Kalyanpuri and Khichripur in Delhi, with a baseline of 1 toilet per family, discovered a shortfall of about 2,400 seats. About 13,000 households from these colonies had nowhere to go but out.

Slum development emphasis had to shift from individual facilities to groups, on the basis of norms like 1 latrine for 5 families, 1 filtered water hydrant for 4 families, and 1 handpump for 20 persons. More than 46 NGOs, including organisations like Sulabh International and the All India Parivar Kalyan Parishad, have jumped into the fray to offer low-cost community sanitation on a pay-and-use basis.

But, says Sabir Ali, "In the name of nominal cost recovery, this system has become exploitative." In colonies like Mangolpuri, Nandnagari and Gokulpuri, facilities earmarked for women have deteriorated drastically over the years for want of financial returns from the users.

In fact, many clusters in the 4 cities are not being covered under the scheme because, according to the cost surveys, the economical minimum of 20 water closets is yet to be reached. Says Seth, "Until there are 50 families using the facilities, the pay-and-use scheme is not a viable option."

Under a "crash programme" that started in 1987, the MCD has so far constructed toilets and bathrooms in 160 JJ colonies. In early September 1994, the ministry of urban development started a Rs 15-crore Jansuvidha scheme for Delhi. Civic bodies claim that cost recovery is becoming more and more difficult as the cost of one toilet has risen to Rs 25-30,000 from Rs 14-16,000 a few years ago. Says Seth, "The civic bodies have been emphasising the use of mobile toilet vans which can be moved around from cluster to cluster according to the requirements of the people." At present, the 110 toilet vans in Delhi, 139 in Bombay, 101 in Calcutta and 69 in Madras do the rounds without making much of a dent.

The operational record of WCS and MTVs has never infused confidence among the target users. Motilal Thambe of Ghatkopar in Bombay says, "The Municipal Corporation provided 2 MTVs. But they did not work as the local sewers were already choked with industrial effluents." Following the firing in the Ashok Vihar area, the 3 MTVs rushed in were paralysed by a collapsed drainage system.

Local initiatives
As the official agencies, plagued by limited revenue sources and a weak collection system, have failed to deliver, community management of urban services is gaining credence. Many slum improvement programmes in Bombay, Madras, Calcutta Hyderabad and Bhopal now hinge entirely on slumdwellers' cooperatives and other local groups. The department of science and technology, which provided the technical input for 22 toilet blocks in some Bombay slums, and also managed them, is now handing them over to local groups.

Peoples' participation has also been made conditional by donor agencies, including the World Bank (WB) and USAID, that support urban infrastructure development programmes. Says Shyamal Sarkar of the WB, "Only by adopting a partnership model can we ensure effective implementation of schemes and recovery of cost."

The Bombay model is formally structured to ensure a greater community stake in slum improvement. A minimum of 70 per cent of slum households have to give consent to form a cooperative, who are responsible for services like water, WCs, garbage disposal and health and hygiene. A study done by the National Institute of Urban Affairs states that the cooperative members are given lease rights over land with clearly marked collective and individual rights. The Madras cooperative model is less formalised.

But community action is where Delhi slums lag, a laxity attributed to an wildly heterogeneous cultural mix and fluid migrant movement. Because many of these slums are of recent origin, neighbourhood ties are still tenuous and suspicious of any form of coalition.

Further, initiatives by individuals and NGOs end up stonewalled. Says A K Roy, chairperson, Sulabh International, "The implementation of programmes by organisations like our's hinges on the provision of land and finances by local civic bodies." And land is very scarce.

Sabir Ali's survey, in fact, reveals the utter unwillingness of the majority of these people to adopt voluntary action. Says Ali, "About 96 per cent of those surveyed rejected the proposition, not because they do not see merit in it but because they suffer from extreme insecurity."

Very few realise the irony behind slumdwellers protesting against the pay-and-use system. "While in principle one should have no objection to such an arrangement, even a nominal amount can upset a squatter family's budget," says Ali. The daily use of these toilets at 50 paise to Re 1 per trip can cost a 3-member family almost Rs 500 per month.

Experts now look for reasons behind the rising disparity in the existing organisational structures and pricing policy for basic services. Says Amitabh Kundu, professor of regional development in Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, "There is no significant progressivity in the pricing of services. As a result, a large portion of this subsidised facility is used by the higher income population."

Turning the corner

Over 46 NGOs offer low-cost community sanitation on a pay-and use basis

City No of JJ clusters Families (in lakhs) Defecation facilities
Delhi 1100 4.80 160 WCS

110 MTV

Bombay 1004 3.90 193 WCS

139 MTV

Calcutta 1330 4.92 129 WCS

101 MTV

Madras 474 2.66 89 WCS

69 MTV

Total 3808 16.28 571 WCS

419 MTV

WCS - Water Close Seat , MTV - Mobile Toilet Vans

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