Fort, Bombay – 400 001

June 23rd, 2008

Bombay – 400 001.

Clean footpaths,
Spic and span,
Bombay – 400 001.

No hindrances,
Bombay – 400 001.

But vendors operate,
With their plastic thelas,
Wrapping up the bright blue plastic,
And running away with their wares when the municipality van comes around,
Bombay – 400 001.

“Three to four times a day,
the van comes,
these days.
Have to watch out
And then …
Bhag bhag bhag, abe bhag, gaadi aa gayi”
Bombay – 400 001.

“Is that not ruthless?
Three to four times a day?
What do they get by denying people the right to earn a decent living?”
Bombay – 400 001.

“Traditionally, citizenship has always been linked with property,
And more so in the recent times,
When you are a valid citizen only if you are own property,
And all those encroaching space are violators of the law,”
Bombay – 400 001.

“Wow, this area is all quiet, all empty,
and what time of the evening is it?
Only 7 PM?
The vendors would shut down at 9 and go back to their homes!”
Bombay – 400 001.

“But I remember,
When I was working here,
A decade ago,
There used to be these hutments on the footpath,
And we would come down in the afternoons,
And during the slack evening hours,
To watch TV,
Because the pavement dwellers were the only ones who had a public television!”
Bombay – 400 001.

And we walked,
“Hey, look there!
The TV is still there,
Exactly there!
Just where it used to be,
Ten years ago!”
Bombay – 400 001.

And then as we walked further,
“And look there,
Can you see the squatters?
Their shanty homes still there,
In that walled little compound,
They used to be there when I was working in this area,”
Bombay – 400 001.

Hidden, yet evident
Those shanty hutments!
How people access the city?
How people make their claims,
On space,
To determine their livelihoods?
Political society – civil society …
Yakka yakka do!
Bombay – 400 001.

So what happens when a space is cleaned of its numerous claimants,
And clear owners of property are established?
Are the contests completely removed?
Does the space become irreversible?
Does clear, titled ownership reign supreme?
Bombay – 400 001.

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Of property, claimed spaces and accessing the city

June 6th, 2008

It is strange to feel a sense of communion with Bangalore city. In recent times, someone mentioned how he found Bangalore to be a flat city while Bombay was a city thick with stories. Perhaps those stories abound in Bangalore too, but I have isolated myself enough not to recognize them. One such story has been surfacing since the last two days and has gotten me thinking, once again, about space, about accessing the city, about urban land, and about the notions and practices of property.

It is indeed strange to feel a sense of communion with this city, this city which has since sometime been labeled as the epitome of fast paced and messy growth. “It is S. M. Krishna’s fault,” I am told, “He has brought the city to be the way it is today. He sold it to the real estate sharks and to the global land developers.” I wonder whether the story of today’s Bangalore is as simple as this. It is rhetorical to even make such a statement, but what needs to be stated is the fact that the story of this city is yet to be told, in all its thickness and richness. The story of this city is not all flat; it is the story of our times. I will try a little now …

So, it is absolutely strange to feel a sense of communion with this mad city called Bangalore. The airport has moved to 40 kms away from the city. The traffic is as bad as it could be. The city’s drains are already overflowing even with the wee bit of heavy showers. What is becoming of this city? That is the plaint with which civil society movements and organizations started in Bangalore, the city which is overflowing and teeming with the good governance and fight-corruption organizations. But that indeed is a flat paradigm of the city. I am confronted with the question of how do I understand and frame the notion and process of change?

Yes, it is indeed strange to feel one with this city, this city that is usually seen as a flat and a doomed-to-fail city. But it is not. It is a city which is at the crossroads of very important trajectories and what defines these trajectories are the contests and conflicts over accessing urban space. I was watching the Majestic area through the windows of the BMTC bus – every nook and corner of Majestic is occupied, legally and illegally. Sometimes, the illegal don’t even know that what they are engaging in is deemed illegal by law and planning. Everyone needs access to space – space, both metaphorically and physically. Booksellers on the footpath, pirated VCDs and pornographic material, bags, shoes, clothes, security services, banking services, pawnbrokers, jewellers, restaurants, hotels, malls at the side of the roadside messiness and occupied spaces – in Bombay they call this cheek by jowl. In Bangalore, I would say that the different times of the city co-exist in Majestic area and beyond. Different groups of people and individuals have occupied space, some nook, some corner, some cranny. And there are occupations and professions that exist in this area which are hidden from the eye but very much located in this geography. Majestic reminds me of a different time in the city. Yes, there are plots on which malls are being constructed in Majestic too and in a few years, the malls will be there unless something drastic happens. But what you see in Majestic is the existence of all kinds of time streams – yesterday, today and tomorrow. That yesterday is not disintegrated from today and tomorrow; it is intimately connected. And that yesterday will be shaped by today and tomorrow just as much as today and tomorrow will be shaped by yesterday. The physicality and the mortality of yesterday may disappear, but yesterday itself cannot disappear. Majestic says this to me as I observe the hectic and frenzied pace of urban space in this part of Bangalore.

As I move from Majestic into Rajajinagar, I am further surprised. Rajajinagar appears much more insular than the Richmond Town area that I live in. It appears that Rajajinagar is living in a time of its own. Photographs of Dr. Rajkumar, the famous cinestar whose death rocked the city, abound in this area. Rajkumar seems absolutely alive and kicking in the spirit of Rajajinagar. Perhaps, his presence even defines the locality of Rajajinagar and marks this space as distinct from other parts of the city. A strong feeling of Kannadiga-ness envelops you if you walk carefully through the area – the sounds, sights, smells, scenes- they strongly remind you that you are in the state of Karnataka of which Bangalore is an important geographical party and symbolic aspect. A subtle sense of the Kannada nation grips you as you walk preceptively, a feeling that is distinct and particular to this area. Now, with the Bangalore Metro expected to run through this area, one will have to wait and watch to see what processes the notions and practices of modernity, locality, community, urbanity, nation and globalization will generate.

Clearly, what has been most interesting about this form of participant observation across the Western parts of the city is the ways by which people have occupied urban space. At Magadi, as we see the hectic and frenetic construction of an underpass, we also simulataneously note that under the trees, there are people who are making and selling bamboo curtains. At Majestic, one notices fruit-cake kind of constructions that were certainly not planned, but created over time, through various networks of politics, graft, deception, illegality, identity and finance. Rajajinagar abounds with spaces that are known in our parlance as “neeche dukan, upar makaan”, again a form od practice that planning defies as illegal and that is increasingly coming under scrutiny with the construction of the Metro Rail. These are spaces which are being practiced variously and in ways that may not be recognnized by urban planning and law. They exist and yet, there is a strong feeling that runs through a large number of us that eventually, these spaces may be destroyed, taken over, annihilated and subsumed. Urbanity is being conceived as this process of the big fish eating the small and the small eating the smaller. The question is whether the current stream of urbanization requires much more intense attention to the processes that are taking place, irrespective of outcomes, if we are to nuance our understanding of change, growth, future, ‘development’?

As I moved into Nagarbhavi, I noticed that virgin properties which were once rocky lands, are now being constructed over. The pace of construction in the area is tremendous. I realized that the potential construction of the Bangalore Metro Rail around Vijaynagar will lead to property prices rising in and around the interiors of West Bangalore. I recognize that this is one of the ways in which property markets develop. The question that arises is whether the growth of property markets, the conversion of multiply claimed spaces into single ownership and title deeds that can be traded between people ‘legally’, is an irreversible process? Are the trajectories of cities defined? How do we conceive of the future? How does one draw on the past to understand and conceive the future? I begin with these questions and many more …

It is absolutely strange, yet wonderful, to feel a sense of communion with the city. It is an enabler, one that allows you to see the city as an organic entity that has life and is not a determined/controlled mass of space …

Bangalore Metro , , , ,

Walking in time

May 16th, 2008

Between now and then,

We walk in time.

I walked in time.

(Half a kilometer),

(On Langford Road).

I walked,

In Time,

Between Time,

In myself,

Between my-selves,

I walked in time.

Sometimes in the Past

I walked.

Sometimes in the Present,


Future tense (haha!).

Future tense,


I walked in time.

(Half a kilometer),

(On Langford Road).

[I walked,

In Time,

Between Time,

In myself,

Between my-selves …]

Making Pictures of Mother Mary and her son Infant Jesus,

(Wondering how people practice their faith,

What do they put their faith into?)

Where is my faith?

Where is my trust?

I walked in time.

Between time.

Within myself,

Between my-selves.

Wondering what faith was all about …

Wondering what I was all about.

Wondering what I am made of,

Wondering what people are made of.

Back in time,

(Just a little bit)

I danced to California Dreaming

I fought

With myself,

Shedding a few tears,

As I sat with complete strangers who were trying to help me pay my electricity bill (haha!)

And I kept fighting with myself,

They were struggling with their machines,

Trying to help me pay my electricity bill,

While I kept fighting with myself

And dancing to California Dreaming

Fighting with myself,

Dancing to California Dreaming

Fighting with myself,

Dancing to California Dreaming

Fighting with myself,

Dancing to California Dreaming

Fighting with myself,

Dancing to California Dreaming

Fighting with myself,

Dancing to California Dreaming

Until the bill was paid

And I cried

And gave in to myself.

I am vulnerable.


Walking in time,

I am vulnerable,



Walking in time,

I danced,

I Cried,

Paid the electricity bill,

Enlightened myself.

As Garth Brooks says, “The greatest conflicts are not between between two people, but between one person and himself.”

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Making conversation … Relating … Anxiety of Silence

May 16th, 2008

All the leaves are brown …

I write listening to California Dreaming by Mamas and Papas. Nothing could be more appropriate than this.

All the leaves are brown …

So these days, as I take stock of myself and everything around me, there are things and issues that I think about and feel amused about and muse about …

Making conversation is one such issue that I have been thinking about. Ah, the joys and anxieties of making conversation …

You wonder whether you are being stupid, you wonder whether you are coming across as smart, you wonder whether you will run out of things to say, you wonder when there will soon be a silence …

(Dreaded Silence!!!!)

Will the silence be short?…

Will it live long?…

Will you have anything to say soon? …

Will you have anything to say sooner than later? …

Will the words come immediately? …

What will happen if the silence prolongs? …

Will the conversation just end? …

Will you then have to drift to talking to someone else? …

Will the person you are conversing with get bored and move on to talk to the next person around? …

All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey, I’ve been for a while on a Wednesday …

If I didn’t tell, I could leave today …

California Dreaming on such a Wednesday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Taking stock [Perhaps …]

May 14th, 2008

It’s been a few days, looking back on my life yet once again, those things that all of us do once in a while, trying to figure out where we are going and why we are going where we are going.

So where am I going?

Sometimes it feels like I am walking into an abyss of professionalism and just then, I pull myself back, asking what I want from life – professionalism or madness or can I have both?

What does it mean to live your life? Stream of consciousness? Too heavy duty for me. As I took some stock, I recognized that what I want from myself is honesty, that honesty which stands out in the stark nakedness of vulnerability, that honesty which is apparent in that one drop of tear which you shed in the purest moment of happiness, that honesty which needs no pretense, no show, no comparisons, that honesty which needs only me, me in all my colours …

I want myself back from life. Hence, can I wed myself to my words as much as I can? Can I write for the sake of myself, of redeeming myself from the abyss? Yes, write I can, to reclaim myself, to claim those that I am yet to know and to know that of myself which I don’t know yet and am yet to know.

Perhaps …

I will whistle the song in my heart

[If I don’t care for the tune as long as I am in tune with life and all that surrounds me …]

Perhaps …

I will let my hair down

[And not bother how knotted it can get as long as letting my hair down will let me untie myself …]

Perhaps …

I will fall

[As long as falling down helps me to leap into faith and let go of holding myself back …]

Perhaps …

I will dance

[In madness, in laughter, in passion, getting in tune with the lives around me …]

Perhaps …

I will do none of the above

[And hope that I will do all of this some day, one day, some time, one time …]

Perhaps …

I will do all of the above …

[And open my heart and existence to all the wonders that exist and those yet to come …]

(This post is dedicated to my friends Dinesh, Altaf and Tushar and all for all the wonderous times we have spent together and that absolute togetherness that binds us somehow!)

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Low-Income Housing in Indian Cities – Some Considerations for Policy

April 16th, 2008

Housing has been one of the most pressing policy issues since the rise and growth of cities. With increasing urbanization, the provision and availability of housing has taken on the proportions of a crisis. Daily we witness both, widespread and large-scale construction of buildings, townships and apartment complexes in the suburbs, urban fringes and peri-urban areas in Indian cities. There has been a boom in the housing and real estate market with the rise in the pay scales of middle-income groups and the ease of availability of loans and financial instruments to purchase houses since the mid-1990s. A house is now no longer only a personal asset, but also a form of investment which gives returns. While middle-income housing has received a tremendous boost, it is important to pay attention to the conditions of low-income/affordable housing for the poor that has taken a beating with the boom in the construction and real estate industry.

In Indian cities, the state is usually seen as the provider of low-income and affordable housing. The Delhi Development Authority (DDA), the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority and the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai respectively are the state agencies that have constructed and/or facilitated the construction of low-income group housing (along with middle-income and high-income group housing). Some of these agencies, such as the BDA and DDA, have also been responsible for confirming land tenures for poor groups, albeit a highly contested procedure, thereby securing occupants’ right to housing and secure land tenure.  In Mumbai, private initiatives towards developing low-cost/affordable housing depend on state subsidies and/or incentives. The Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) model in Mumbai was one of the first innovations to enable private developers to develop slum housing in return for development rights in high-value real estate areas in the city, a model that is now coming under increasing criticism for various reasons.

As mentioned above, the house is now not only an asset, but also a source for earning revenues for the middle-income and high-income groups. These groups invest in purchasing houses, which they then rent/lease to tenants on an eleven-month leave and license agreement.  In the context of slums, the house is not merely a unit for habitation, but is often the economic space where production and manufacturing are carried out. This is clearly evident in the case of slums such as Dharavi and Kurla in Mumbai and Shahadra and Vishwasnager in Delhi, where the family produces leather items, garments, sophisticated electronic equipments, and other consumer goods within the space of the house. These consumer goods are then integrated into the goods produced by large corporations and are also sold in shopping malls. In several slums across cities in India, small shops are attached to the house. These shops are extensions of the house and are developed through multiple tenancy systems (which are usually seen as illegal). In the case of dilapidated buildings in Mumbai, also known as the ‘rent-control buildings’ owing to the freeze on rental rates imposed by the Rent Control Act (RCA) of 1940, the building not only houses the tenants, but the tenants and the landlords have themselves rented spaces within the building to sub-tenants who either reside in the houses and/or engage in providing services such as tailoring, photocopying and manufacture of goods. When we discuss low-income/affordable housing in the context of the poor, we need to bear in mind the fact that the house is simultaneously an economic space for the poor. At the same time, ‘poor’ is not a singular, homogenous category. Floating income levels among the poor, owing to either the seasonal nature of the occupations and/or the nature and structure of the economy itself, makes the category ‘poor’ difficult to define in terms of purely income-level criteria. Individuals and groups keep moving along different scales in the continuum of poverty (though not necessarily consistently). Among the poor are individuals and groups that suffer from chronic poverty and live under precarious circumstances. At the same time, there are slumlords and local leaders who are a powerful and wealthier lot among the poor and who have been criticized for their exploitative roles. Poverty then needs to be viewed as a dynamic that responds to the structure of the economy at any given point in time.

Apart from the house being an economic space that is connected to and simultaneously competes with the larger global spaces of production, distribution and consumption, the nature of the property and the land also define the individual’s and the group’s relationship with law and the state. This dynamic is crucial to take note of in any policy considerations of low-income housing for migrant populations and especially so in the case of multiple forms of tenancies, which complicate ownership of the property, making it difficult to pin down a single owner of the property. This relationship between the occupant/s, the property, law, the state and the market shapes the nature of claims that poor groups can make on the system and also shapes their subject positions. These subject positions keep shifting depending on the shifts in the economy. Housing, then, also needs to be viewed in the larger context of the nature and the structure of the economy at any given point in time. Today, the demand for luxury housing in Mumbai and Bangalore among the upper income groups requires parallel land acquisition policies and laws which in turn invariably infringe on the claims of the poor to housing and land. Subsequently, housing need, demand and supply can be understood by paying close attention to the structure of the economy and the dynamics of politics within cities and nations and across the globe. This is because housing is linked with land, which is a contestable terrain for different groups operating in the realm of the state, market and citizenry. Property and land produce relationships between the citizen subject, law, the state, various market forces and civil society groups. The agency of law, acting to enforce the rule of law, can often negatively impact the housing and livelihood claims of the urban poor and low-income groups. Consequently, zoning regulations, land acquisition laws and property titling procedures, while attempting to enforce rule of law, can impinge on the development of low-income housing by poor groups.

In this paper, we will explain how land and housing are closely linked with the economies that the poor spur as well as participate in the city. Access to housing is important for the poor to fulfill their claims to the city and the economy. As we explicate this proposition, we will also evaluate some of the existing legal and institutional arrangements that either facilitate or come in the way of developing low-income housing. We will also draw from experiences in Indian cities where the poor have developed housing for themselves through occupation and migration and a recent experience in Mumbai where design intervention was planned to facilitate in-situ community self-development housing. As we do so, we will elaborate on areas where policy-makers need to pay close attention when making policy interventions.

House as Economic Space and as means of Consolidation of Claims to Economy and City: As mentioned above, housing is a function of the nature and structure of the economy at different points in time. For e.g. when industrialization started to take place in the mid-nineteenth century (then) Bombay, rich and influential traders shifted to owning mills. Job opportunities were created in the city and there was an increase in the number of migrants coming to the city from interior, drought-affected parts of Maharashtra state for employment. Given the shortage of housing stock, private landlords developed agricultural lands surrounding the mills and constructed what are popularly known as ‘chawls’. ‘Chawls are one room tenements with a common corridor and toilet facilities. (CRIT: 2007, 31) Mill owners housed the workers in these chawls. Thus, in nineteenth century Bombay, housing developed in response to the nature and demands of the industrial economy that was establishing itself in the city. In the 1990s, there was a decline in the industrial economy but the service sector was growing. Housing now had to respond to the changing socio-economic landscape of the city. There was a rise in the pay scales of middle-income groups coupled with the availability of financial products such as credit and debit cards, housing loans, personal loans, etc. which made it easier for the middle and high-income groups to own property. This was also a period when many non-resident Indians (NRIs) started to come back to the country and/or began to invest their capital in real estate in the major first-tier and upcoming second-tier Indian cities. Consequently, luxury apartment complexes and townships were constructed to cater to the demands of the new desires and lavish lifestyles. Artist villages and bungalows were constructed on agricultural lands on the peripheries of Mumbai city to serve high-income groups who wanted to live away from the city. (CRIT: 2007)

Under the new service economy in Indian cities, there has been an increasing demand for drivers, servants, cleaners, security guards and other forms of subsidiary low-income labour. It is often argued that low-income/affordable housing needs to be created for this class of labour. Townships include servants’ quarters to house maidservants and drivers and these are seen as forms of housing developed for the poor conceived as subsidiary labour. This form of housing however does not account for the mobility of the poor groups on the continuum of poverty and designates them to fixed positions on the scale of poverty. The poor are then simply viewed as subsidiary labour rather than as individuals and groups that can spur and engage in productive forms of economies in the city. Let us take the case of Azadnager, a slum in west Bangalore, where migrants have developed housing in the slum and have participated in the clustering economies of the locality. Clustering economies are often viewed as the phenomena of developing and under-developing countries and are perceived as unproductive/economically unfeasible. However, these clustering economies are closely connected with the circuits of global production, consumption and exchange. To give an example, Vishwasnager slum in East Delhi was involved in producing copper cabling wire, which is currently an integral part of reaching cable television to consumers across India.  Azadnager’s geographical proximity with K. R. Market – the central market area in Bangalore city – and various production clusters dispersed around West Bangalore has helped to fuel a number of enterprises within Azadnager. There are home-based enterprises of women rolling incense and tobacco sticks, economies of ragpickers some of who have moved from picking and sorting trash to developing their own enterprises of itinerant trading, and development of autorickshaw transport, which is an important form of public transport in the city. Azadnager comprises of various poor groups ranging from the chronically poor to lower-income and middle-income groups among the poor. Given the nature of the clustering economies in Azadnager, poor groups have had opportunities to move from chronic poverty to lower and middle-income scales. Thus, some of the ragpickers have moved to trading in secondhand electronic items over a period of time through various ethnic and political linkages, availability of diverse forms of finance and availability of physical space to carry out their trades; women rolling incense sticks and tobacco cigarettes have been able to invest surpluses from their trades into real estate, thus spurring rental housing in Azadnager for incoming migrants. Here it is important to note that among poor groups, trade and income surpluses are usually invested in housing and such housing may be developed through multiple forms of tenancies.  Housing in Azadnager has thus developed with the mobility of different groups to different income scales. Individuals and groups have invested trade surpluses in land and developed both housing and spaces for carrying out economic activities within Azadnager. (Benajmin and Bhuvaneswari: 2001) The case of Azadnager, and the experiences from other slums in cities across India, demonstrates that for poor groups, housing is a means for consolidating their position in the city and participating in the economy. This is unlike the way in which housing is conceived in the current service economy in terms of servants’ quarters and schemes for rehabilitating/resettling slum dwellers that takes a shortsighted view of the poor as subsidiary labour.

As the economy intensifies, poor groups recognize the need to secure their claims to the land. Here, the agency of the local politicians, local leaders in the slum and the city municipal corporation are important in securing the tenures and making available basic infrastructure. This process is stereotypically seen as corrupt and exploitative; the poor are imagined as individuals who have no agency to act on behalf of themselves and are subject to exploitation by politicians and slumlords. However, poor groups mobilize institutions and individuals in order to fulfill their claims to land tenure, housing and basic infrastructure. As Omar Razzaz (1993) puts it:

“One only need examine a squatter settlement in a developing country to realize that property relations, use, and rights are defined through strategies of control, contestation, negotiation, and renegotiation. Such strategies span the spheres of market and nonmarket (sic), legality and illegality, and ultimately all options of exit, voice and loyalty.”  (345)

This mobilization depends on structure of politics within the ruling party and across political parties and the status of the municipality vis-à-vis the state government and other parastatal agencies in the city. Such mobilizations undoubtedly involve corruption and are not always easy to carry out, but it establishes relationships between the poor, the municipality and politicians and forces the municipal corporation and political parties to be responsive to the needs of the poor. These relationships are classically condemned as patron-client relations or what is known among Indian middle-classes as ‘vote-bank politics’. However, Dianne Singerman (1995: 134), in her seminal work on the Sha’abi communities in Cairo points out that designating these relationships as ‘patron-client’ does not allow us to probe the structure of politics, and the networks and agencies that various groups can mobilize in order to access the basic needs of life. Singerman criticizes political scientists and scholars for classifying these relationships and networks as ‘informal’ and not paying enough attention to them because they apparently ‘lack juridical and formal recognition’. In Singerman’s opinion, these networks are not only material, but are embedded in strong ideological orientations which emerge from everyday experiences of the state and its institutions, politics and the market.

Models for slum rehabilitation and resettlement, while aiming to provide the poor with housing, often fail to account for the house as the economic space for the poor. When slum dwellers are rehabilitated, their economic claims are overlooked and they are usually compensated for housing and not for the loss of livelihood. For e.g., a large roads infrastructure project was being executed in Mumbai under the aegis of a multilateral development bank (MDB). Persons and families whose houses were in the way of developing the roads were known as ‘Project Affected Persons’ (PAPs) and as per the policy of the MDB, the PAPs were to be rehabilitated in other parts of the city and provided with houses in keeping with Maharashtra state’s re-housing policy. Several PAPs in the eastern suburbs of the city were running shops attached to their homes and some of them were traders carrying out trades in their houses. When the PAPs were to be rehabilitated, they were only provided with housing. No compensation was awarded for loss of livelihood. The traders and shopkeepers subsequently protested against this.  In many cases, awarding compensation for loss of livelihood is not sufficient because economies are strongly rooted in locations. Clustering economies depend on and develop as a result of the economies existing in proximity. Moving any one of these economies from their locations impacts the larger economy.  Therefore, when slum dwellers are moved for rehabilitation and resettlement, their economic bases are destroyed and when they are moved to new locations, they have to start all over again, which may not be an easy task to achieve. Moreover, in the slums, individuals and families live in varying plot sizes. From a developmentalist perspective, it may appear horrifying that large families live in small plots. Interventions are planned accordingly to provide housing as per certain standards and regulations. Invariably, these standards come in the way of the economies developed by the slum dwellers. In Mumbai city, slum rehabilitation schemes mandate builders and developers to provide the inhabitants with houses measuring 225 square feet. Housing in slums is horizontal whereas housing developed under these rehabilitation schemes is vertical, thereby often deficient in terms of sunlight and ventilation. Slum rehabilitation policies must emphasize in-situ development rather than rehabilitate slum dwellers at urban fringes and develop middle and high-income housing on the land where the slum was previously located. Slum redevelopment can be undertaken by private contractors/builders and by slum dwellers themselves. Under the 1976 Societies Act, slum dwellers can undertake redevelopment themselves, without involving the builder as the agent of development, if more than 70% of the tenants of the housing colony come together and register as a society. In a novel design intervention, the design studio of the Collective Research Initiatives Trust (CRIT), a Mumbai-based collective of architects, teachers, students, activists and practitioners, participated in one such community self development project in Mumbai.  CRIT believes that the self-development model can save tenants’ societies several rupees, which then can be used to form a community corpus. This corpus can in turn support the tenant’s monthly outgoing, which for new developments in Mumbai can be prohibitive for urban poor communities. CRIT participated in the Betwala Chawl community self-development housing project. Betwala chawl is located in Central Mumbai. Squatters have been living in this area for more than 75 years and have been engaged in producing high quality wooden cane furniture and crafts. CRIT’s design model demonstrated that the surplus space from redevelopment can help tenants gain additional floor space for the use of the communities, thereby challenging the regulation that slum dwellers are entitled to houses measuring only 225 square feet under the slum rehabilitation-builder model of ‘free housing’.  Architecturally, CRIT’s design plans modulated the built structure to achieve a comprehensible urban form to carve out as large an open space as possible, with a perimeter building typology that defied the vertical building structures perpetuated by builders under the rehabilitation projects. CRIT attempted to tweak the building byelaws and existing policies in order to maximize programmatic space for low-income user groups. At the same time, CRIT was aware that urban housing policies, while addressing the issue of shelter, fail to connect housing to the fundamental right to work and ability of the poor to participate in the urban economies. It’s design plans attempted to account for this paradigmatic shift from an organized smoke stack economy into an informal, often home-based economy that has not yet been reflected in mainstream planning practices and housing policies. CRIT’s design intervention suggests that there can be more than one model for developing low-income housing apart from the state slum redevelopment and housing models. Policy makers, planners and architects therefore need to explore models that secure the poor with housing without impacting their claims to economy and right to work.

Law, Regulations and Development of Low-Income Housing: Legal regulations concerning land use, land acquisition and construction of buildings have varying effects on the development of low-income housing. As mentioned above, in Mumbai, the SRA-mandated model of slum redevelopment brought into force in the mid-1990s, drove several large and medium-level builders to undertake slum redevelopment projects because of the availability of development rights in lucrative parts of the city. Housing developed under such rehabilitation schemes have been of poor quality, causing inconveniences such as lack of electricity and water infrastructure to the rehoused groups. Those at the receiving end of such schemes and laws, Omar Razzaz (1993) suggests, then attempt to “re-redefine” the regulations to suit their conditions. Razzaz did not suggest this in a negative sense, but to indicate that there is a clear distinction between property rights and property claims in that a property right is an enforcement of relations between a person holding something of value with others by law, and when such property enforcements are brought into being, they are likely to impact different groups in different terms, producing winners and losers.  (341, 342) It is therefore useful to pay attention to the implementation of legal regulations on the ground, their impact on different groups and how these groups respond to the implementation.

An important factor in the development of low-income housing concerns land, which as mentioned in the introduction, is a contested terrain between the state, market and citizenry. Property is a dynamic entity in that its value keeps shifting over time. Thus, when a railway line is constructed around a certain piece of property, its value, which was initially nil/low, now rises in response to the creation of the infrastructure and the expectation of people flocking to the area to purchase houses and to set up commerce and industries. (Razzaz: 1973, 345, 346) With the growth of financial markets worldwide, there has been an increased investment in real estate. In fact, Joe Studwell (2007) in his work on the south-east Asian business tycoons points out that the tycoons often invested their idling millions into vast tracts of real estate so that these would reap benefits in future in case of rise in property prices. This, in part, saved the tycoons and their establishments from the south-east Asian financial crisis which otherwise wiped off the savings of the middle-income and poorer classes. There has also been an increase in construction conglomerates that are now involved in frenetic construction of townships and luxury apartments in major cities and islands across the world. In India, builders such as Hiranandanis, Rahejas, DLF, etc. have several resources at their disposal and play an important role in influencing the state’s land use and land acquisition policies. The portfolio of urban development and land is usually under the control of Chief Ministers across states in India, thereby making land a highly politicized domain. Large builders can usually bribe senior bureaucrats to pass contracts and legitimize land acquisition in contrast with small and medium-level builders who may not have similar resources.  When big builders largely dominate the market to the extent of eliminating small and medium-level builders, there is a clear impact on development of low-income housing (though, as we have seen in the previous section, it is not merely builders who help to create low-income housing and that poor groups themselves create low-income and spur rental housing). This also creates unfair competition in the land and property markets and often impacts poor groups leading to massive evictions, as was seen in Bangalore when the information technology industry was developing and infrastructure for the industry was being developed by the state government and other para-statal agencies. This may lead one to suggest that regularizing land titles can enforce security of tenure. But as Razzaz (1993, 349) suggests, legalization of tenures does not invariably bring security of tenure. “… a tenant in Cairo in a rent-controlled apartment might have more security of tenure than a first-time home buyer risking to default on his or her mortgage payments.” Quoting Doebele, Razzaz (1993, 349) points out that  “Security of tenure is not so much a legal category as much as the perception of the occupant of his security in relation to the investment contemplated.” This holds true in the case of Land Acquisition Acts (LAA) where the state can acquire land in the name of public interest. Under this LAA, state governments can acquire land as long as they can prove that such acquisition is in the general welfare of the public. Here, legal title is no guarantee that the state will not acquire the land under LAA. In one case, namely the New Rivera Co-op Housing (1996) 1 SCC 731, the Supreme Court passed a judgment stating that if the land is acquired for a public purpose activity, then it does not matter if such acquisition has been made at the expense of people’s right to shelter and livelihood.  Land acquisition acts for purposes of establishing industry (on agricultural lands) such as the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Act (KIADA) can be even more draconian in that the land acquired is directly transferred to the company and those dispossessed of their lands have no option other than to accept the compensation awarded by the government.  Currently, agricultural lands located on urban peripheries are under the watchful eyes of industries as well as large builders to establish software parks, Special Economic Zones (SEZs) as well as townships and luxury apartments. This further infringes on low-income housing because earlier, slum rehabilitation housing was constructed by moving the slum dwellers from central city areas to the fringes of the city and now as urban fringes are gaining in property values for both industrial and housing purposes, there is a danger that the rehoused groups will be moved farther away.

Conclusion: In this paper, we have seen:

1.    That housing in the case of the urban poor is closely linked with their participation in urban economies; and
2.    That legal and institutional mechanisms such as land-use regulations and building bye-laws can invariably infringe on low-income housing, especially in a market which is mainly dominated by big builders.

Clearly then, there are various complexities to which policymakers need to pay close attention. Firstly, low-income housing projects need to bear in mind the claims of the urban poor to the economy via land. Consequently, in-situ slum redevelopment and housing is beneficial to poor groups because it preserves their economies and strengthens their claims on the city administration to provide them with basic infrastructure. In Indian cities, in-situ rehabilitation is highly contested especially when the slum is located on a high-value real estate location. In this case then, powerful builder conglomerates employ muscle power to displace the slum dwellers.  Housing policies such as the slum rehabilitation policies in Indian cities disrupt the economies of the poor thereby not only destroying their entrepreneurial drive, but also making it difficult for them to re-establish their economies in the new rehabilitated settlements. Policy therefore needs to view housing in the context of the urban economies that the poor spur and participate in.

Secondly, the Right to Information (RTI) Act, particularly the clause on Duty to Publish needs to be made mandatory on para-statal agencies that contract slum rehabilitation projects by awarding development rights to the builder to build commercial housing in other (usually lucrative) parts of the city. These agencies must provide up-to-date information on where the builder/s has used the development rights and to what extent. This can go some way towards preventing malpractices in the rehabilitation projects and forces builders to be transparent in their utilization of development rights. However, public agencies and builders do not wish to make this information public because this information is highly political in nature. In the past, an active citizen in Mumbai attempted to bring out this information by filing RTI applications with a para-statal agency in Mumbai. In response to his application, the agency responded by blatantly stating that it will not provide him with this information. This indicates that rehabilitation schemes are tainted with corruption and malpractices. In fact, the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA), which is responsible for slum rehabilitation in Mumbai was recently closed down under charges of gross corruption and hand-in-glove practices with builders. Civil society groups working with squatters as well as citizens groups can use this information to hold both the state and market accountable.

Thirdly, there is a need to move beyond the presumption that it is the state and/or the market that can provide low-income housing to the poor and low-income groups. Across cities in India, migrant groups and poor groups residing in slums have created housing on their own. Through his work in Jordan as well as from empirical evidence from across the world, Omar Razzaz (1993: 350, 351) has found that slum dwellers and squatters invest in developing high quality housing because this reduces the chances of demolitions/evictions. This, among other factors, leads Razzaz (1993: 349, 351, 352) to conclude that there is “an assumed casual relationship between legal rights, security of tenure and investment in land.” Therefore, legalization of tenures can be a highly political project. In the urban context in India, the state, particularly the local administration plays a crucial role in legitimating these settlements to protect them in future from evictions/demolitions. This then means that municipal corporation needs to have substantial autonomy from state governments because eventually, the Chief Minister who heads the state government, controls the portfolio of land and urban development.

Finally, there is need for genuine free market in the builder industry i.e., all levels of builders – small, medium and large, must prevail in the economy at any point in time. This helps to ensure that there is potential to develop all forms of housing and not only luxury and high-income housing as we are currently witnessing in Indian cities. There is a need to conceive and develop policies to further this form of market. At the same time, there is a strong need for various groups among the citizenry to be aware of the legalities pertaining to land and to be vigilant to forms of corruption where the builder lobbies attempt to influence the political machinery in their favour.

Bibliography and References:

Benjamin Solomon and R. Bhuvaneswari (May 2001), Democracy, Inclusive Governance and Poverty in Bangalore, Working Paper 26 – Urban Governance, Partnership and Poverty, The University of Birmingham, May 2001.

Collective Research Initiatives Trust (CRIT) (2007),“Housing Typologies in Mumbai”, May 2007. Study also available on Last accessed on 16th November 2007.

Razzaz Omar M. (Nov. 1993), Examining Property Rights and Investment in Informal Settlements: The case of Jordan, Land Economics, Vol. 69, No. 4., pp. 341-355.

Singerman Diane (1995), Avenues of Participation: Family, Politics, and Networks in Urban Quarters of Cairo”, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Studwell, Joe, (2007) Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and South-East Asia. Profile Books, London.

Liang Lawrence Land Acquisition: Towards a New Paradigm, a presentation, available on Last accessed on 6th December 2006.

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Touching lives …

April 16th, 2008

It is not very often that this has happened to me in Bangalore, but that it happened, I wanted to see if I could express what I felt in words …

So it was one of those days when I had just finished some amount of Ph.D. writing and was competely smashed because of lack of sleep and food. I thought I would not be able to take the stress anymore and was beginning to feel worried about how I would manage write further. The difficulty of thinking, then putting those thoughts down in words, making it sound coherent, ensuring that you have referenced enough and checked out all the arguments that have been advanced and how you defend your own thoughts … arraaaarrrrrrggggggggghhhhhhhhhh! Just as much as it is tremendously exciting, so as much it is painful. I want to do it and I also don’t want to do it! But what the heck …

Eventually, JC said “let’s go down” and those words never sounded like “let there be light”. I walked down with a heavy weight on my head, shoulders and feet – each step a drag, the sounds around me making no sense or difference because I am feeling numb. We talked a bit, and I tried to gather some excitement. Eventually, I realized that coffee is what I most needed. So we walked to the nearest Cafe Coffee Day to grab one of their sugary-milky concoctions which pass off for coffee but actually, it is the ambience that you drink and pay for!

So here we were (or there we were!), plonked on the sofa and waiting to place orders. We were browsing through the newspapers, reading funny stories about how students prolong their Ph.D.s in order to stay in the Bangalore univ hostel and enjoy maadi the cheap food and acco. We chatted a bit about the stresses in our lives and then, he came. He was one of the waiters in Coffee Day that day. He was from the North East and was very cheerful. HIs cheerfulness and his warm smile were so unlike the rest of the Coffee Day staff. His smile felt like waiting tables was the most meaningful thing he was doing in his life at that time. He seemed so much in tune with what what was happening then, not perturbed about the future or preoccupied with the past. He took down our orders and went about his business, clearing tables, cleaning them and then occasionally chatting with the staff at the counter.

It was one of the most unusual experiences in recent times when someone else’s warmth rubbed onto me to so positively. I felt so immensely grateful to him for his smile and genuineness. Suddenly something came alive within me and I so desperately wanted to talk to him, to find out who he was, what he did, etc. I never came to do any of that.

We finally had to pay and leave and I felt like putting in a generous tip. He returned the change, but I gestured to him that this was his and he smiled one of his cheerful smiles and kept the tip. At that point, I did felt that the tip was both material and immaterial. I really hope I can see him again at Coffee Day and this time, talk to him, know his name and know who he is …

Coming from Bombay where sitting on sea fronts and walking through railway stations fetched me several friends who were originally strangers in the mass of crowds, Bangalore suddenly felt depthless. M also mentioned how he felt this city was flat. But off late, the hope that I bear in me is that there will be strange encounters and strangers will turn friends, and I will discover myself and my honesty anew each day …

This post, dedicated to him and the warmth that he bore in him, for touching my life in those brief moments of heaviness for which I will be forever grateful …

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Of politics and positions

April 11th, 2008

I have been following the construction of the Metro in Bangalore and the various kinds of conflicts that have arisen during the construction process. Almost daily, newspapers report of court cases where people are fighting for their right over private property and are unwilling to give up their land for the construction of the Metro. It seems like this is an interesting phase in the trajectory of Bangalore City.

A week ago, a friend told me about how they have formed a group to protect Nanda Road. Nanda Road, located in Jayanagar, is one of the few green roads in the city. According to the plans, a Metro station will appear right at Nanda Road, thereby destroying the road forever. The group out to save Nanda Road consists of residents of the area. Some of my friends in Bangalore who are not from this city, but who have lived in Jayanagar, have also mentioned how they would be keen to protect Nanda Road since it is one of the only few green roads in the city. It seems like people develop affiliations and emotions with a place even if they are not long-time residents of the city. And the city is vested with these forms of affect.

Last week then, I was discussing the Save Nanda Road initiative with a group of journalists. When I mentioned that this group has been formed around Nanda Road, consisting of residents of Jayanagar, one of the journalists remarked, “Ah, this is a middle-class initiative!” and almost rubbished the initiative. I defended weakly stating how people who are not born in Bangalore, who have lived along the road, have memories of the place and some form of emotional attachment and would be willing to protect the road. But she was convinced that this is a middle-class initiative and implied that it did not deserve to be paid attention to.

That evening, I wondered about how we position ourselves around issues of development and politics in the city. Does a progressive line of thinking have to take an anti-middle class stance on issues? Or does urban politics demand an examination of every unique issue before positions can be taken?

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Travel and crossovers …

April 4th, 2008

“Don’t tie your hair up. You look older than your age. What work do you do?” Victory asked me.

“I go to the slums and travel around a lot,” I said.

“With kids you work huh?” Victory asked.

“No, I like to watch how cash circulation and rotation takes place among people in the slums,” I replied.

So here I was (or should I say ‘there I was’), in the saloon, with Victory who eventually, a few hours ago, cut my hair. Victory is neither male nor female. I don’t know what she is. And I cannot care because she is one of those few people who have crossed the biological boundary of male and female. The rest of us travel between these two boundaries psychologically, personally and spiritually.

This morning, as Victory was snipping away my hair, I asked her where she was from.

“Calcutta. Three of my brothers are married there.”

“Ah, my sister is married in Calcutta.”

“Yeah. I was working for 18 years in Bombay. But the problem is that if you do not have a place of your own in Bombay, then it is very difficult. My boss there had a maid. So my boss’s house was a few feet away from the sea and this maid had a little jhopda between my boss’s house and the sea. She told me, ‘pay 10,000 rupees and create a jhopda here, next to mine.’ I said I can’t live amidst these people and flatly refused. Then, a few years ago, I went to Bombay and saw that that jhopda was now a two storey building with proper electricity and water supply.” Victory started laughing as she said this.

“Now, only if you would have listened to her; you would have had become a real estate owner in Bombay. How we don’t take these pieces of advice!”

Victory laughed again. She started sprucing my hair and telling me how to style it and then look wild as I traveled through the slums.

“Yeah, I look wild there anyway. And the men are a tough cookie to talk to.”

“Yeah, they can eye you and you can have a tough time, like those American girls who would come down to Calcutta and join the Mother Teressa foundation to become nuns. They would dress in white sarees and look like satyam shivam sundaram. One of the girls was cornered by the men and my mother turned around to her and told her to go back to her country. We did not see her after a while.”

Victory told me that her home in Calcutta was at Bonga which is the border village between Bangladesh and India.

“At that time, there was no Bangladesh or East Pakistan. We would walk across freely.”

We talked all the while as she went snip-snip at my hair. We spoke of  saloons in Britain and according to her, the British, after the Egyptians, are the best hairdressers because they wear wigs.

“So do men make better hairdressers?” I asked.

“Why do you say so? People say men are better cooks but women are very good with their culinary skills too. There is nothing like men are better than women in certain skills. Both are good. It is like there is no Western or Indian hairstyle. Hairstyle is hairstyle. But you see all these make-up artists in the film industry, like Cory Walia. They are all gay. That is because you need to think in a feminine way to do make-up for women. Like Jackie Shroff can be the ultimate man but he cannot dress up a woman! But society does not accept gay people. There are laws against gay people. I think marriage and family are all personal issues and the government should not interfere in these matters.”

We talked for a while more about Europe being highly Christian and Hitler massacaring the homosexuals during the Holocaust. When she finished, she said it was nice talking to me.

So here I was, or there I was, or somewhere in between, in this city where I feel lost and found at various points in time. At one point in time, I was looking for those thrilling and exciting experiences in the city which would get me to write. In my mind, that distinction between the exciting everyday and the mundane everyday was clearly drawn up. But here I am, discovering people and drawing myself into encounters and interactions. Here I am, somewhere, traveling through people, their minds, my mind and myself. And there are crossovers, at each moment …

I am still finding myself …

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Memories, experience, the city and change

March 12th, 2008

It was an interesting ride across most parts of the city on that Sunday. Actually, there were multiple rides …

We first traveled from Shanthinagar towards Malleshwaram, that serene part of Bangalore where vegetarians and Kiran Rao’s parents abound. The work for the new airport at Devanahalli is proceeding at a quicker pace. Along our way, we noticed roads being done up, preparations for installing more magic boxes, traffic lights being taken off and the roads being widened – all of this for a smooth transition to the new airport. We noticed that at some places, the widening of the roads was appearing to transform the entire landscape of the area. The boundaries of the golf course were being altered. It seemed like the trees would go in the process of road widening. It is at moments like these when most of feel lament about the city being lost and gone.

Then, that evening, we went to Cubbon Park and it was choc-a-bloc full! All kinds of people were there, with parents, children and family. Cubbon Park somehow seemed to be that experience which I would enjoy in the hanging gardens in Bombay. The park was rife with activity – joyrides, eats, drinks, noise, festivity, play, laughter, cackling, you name it! The atmosphere in Cubbon Park seemed like Bangalore was not gone anywhere, that the city was still very much there!

The two very opposite experiences in a day forces me to think about change and the city. What is it about the city that changes? How does change impact city? What are the details of this change? How do we understand the changes that are taking place in cities? How do we adapt to these changes?

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