Posts Tagged ‘Cities’

TDR – Contents and Discontents

December 22nd, 2010

The front-page news of the Times of India dated 11th December 2010 stated: “TDR is useless” according to law and urban development minister Mr. S. Suresh Kumar. Since the past few weeks, the issue of TDR (Transferable Development Rights) has been in the news as elected representatives and citizen groups are increasingly questioning the applicability of TDR for Bangalore. Protests have also been lodged against the coercive and surreptitious tactics used by the BBMP to ‘inform’ citizens about acquisition of their properties for road widening and award of TDR. “We wake up one morning and find these red markings on the walls of our premises saying 1.3 mtrs, 1.7 mtrs, 2 mtrs, etc. We do not know what is happening. Only later, through our friends and neighbours, it becomes clear to us that these red markings are indicative of the proposed width for road widening and that our properties have been marked for acquisition,” explained one of the residents protesting against the proposed road widening at Banaswadi on 28th November 2010. Earlier, in a similar manner, traders and residents in areas such as Rajajinagar and CMH Road found one morning that their properties would be acquired for the metro rail project. “It is like we are being governed by a Chinese regime of some sorts where the government notifies you one fine morning that it is building a mega infrastructure project and our properties will be acquired irrespective of our opinions and protestations,” explained Arijit (name changed to protect identity), a tenant trader at MKK Road. In response to people’s protests that they were being forced to accept TDR, Dr. A. Ravindra, advisor to Chief Minister for Urban Affairs, recently announced that TDR is optional and that BBMP cannot force people to accept TDR.

Why has TDR in Bangalore not gained the kind of currency and purchase that it has in cities such as Mumbai and Hyderabad? Are the problems solely related to the policy and its implementation? This article reviews people’s discontents with TDR and the recommendations that have been put forth by a Committee which was set up to analyze the problems with the TDR policy in Bangalore.

TDR – contents and discontents: The concept of TDR has been borrowed from American cities where TDR was introduced to save farmlands and heritage buildings from the massive transformations and developmental activity that was taking place in the wake of urbanization of big cities. The farmlands and heritage buildings would have been demolished or assimilated into the frenetic pace of building activity had governments of that time not offered the incentive of development rights to owners of such properties. The concept of TDR thus de-links development rights from the physical property and allows recipients to either use TDR on other land parcels that they own or trade these development rights with other individuals or builders who may require it to build extra units. TDR allows for what is known as vertical growth because you can use the development rights despite existing floor space restrictions and build extra units. However, you cannot violate the building codes and the existing zonal restrictions when you apply TDR i.e., you cannot build in excess of the floor space restrictions that have been laid down for each zone in the city. Despite this, a great deal of confusion continues to prevail among citizens whether TDR allows you to legalize existing illegal constructions or building code violations. Such ambiguities in the TDR policy and its application are causing uncertainties among citizens.

A second uncertainty which citizens are confronted with is about how to sell and thereby monetize the development rights awarded to them. Mr. Katta Subramaniam Swamy has proposed that TDR exchange centres be established in each area where citizen can sell the development rights to interested parties so that there is both transparency and guidance in the sales process. Three issues arise in connection with the sales of the development rights:

  1. First, it is unclear whether citizens have to pay a tax and undergo some kind of registration process for the TDR they have been awarded. This issue was peripherally raised by Mr. Padmanabha Reddy, one of the leaders of the opposition in the BBMP council, in the meeting organized by residents of Banaswadi area on 28th November 2010 to protest against road widening in their area. Logically, TDR can be equated with capital gains that accrue to individuals by virtue of owing assets. Hence, it is likely that recipients of TDR will have to declare this compensation in their tax returns and also go through a registration process to be able to sell their development rights certificate (DRCs). The details of the process are still unclear.
  2. Second, there is lack of clarity about the monetary/price value of the TDRs. As part of the compensation package under road widening, people are being awarded about 1.5 times the amount of FSI (Floor Space Index also known as Floor Area Ratio (FAR)) as compensation to the area they surrender. Thus, hypothetically, if you surrender about 100 square feet of your property, you will be eligible to build about 150 square feet under your TDR compensation package. Currently, residents and property owners are equating the value of TDR with the values of real estate in the areas where the TDR has been generated and where it will likely be used. Thus, if the value of properties on Bannerghatta Road is between Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 5,000 per square feet, the price of the TDR generated from this area is assumed to be the same. The sale prices of TDR may, however, not fetch similar amounts/values because TDR generated in Bannerghatta Road and sold to an owner or builder in K R Market is likely to fetch prices depending on the building restrictions in K R Market (where lesser restrictions allows for greater use of TDR and more intense building activity) and the overall demand for and supply of development rights in Bangalore, among other factors. Currently, people can sell TDRs in any zone they want to, unlike in cities in Mumbai where TDR generated in one area can only be used in areas that lie to the north of the originating plot. What we can infer from this issue is that the values of TDR will largely be contingent on the demand for TDR and the pace of building and real estate activity in the city.
  3. Following from the above, the third and most crucial issue arises: is there really a demand for development rights in Bangalore? The answer to this question tilts increasingly towards the negative because primarily, FSI in Bangalore is generally high unlike cities in Mumbai where the demand for TDR is greater because of the low FSI restrictions of 1 and 1.5. Secondly, development rights in Bangalore are awarded to individuals who are mostly owners of 30×40 sites and the volume of TDR awarded to each individual is fairly low. Therefore, a builder wanting to purchase TDR has to bargain with about hundreds of individuals who have been given small amounts of TDR in order to generate a voluminous amount of development rights that s/he can use in his/her building project. This process of bargaining is highly uncertain because people can either buy in or pull out of the process at any time depending on how the property markets are behaving and the values that real estate are fetching at a given point in time. From here, we can deduce also that TDR pushes up the costs of land acquisition for a builder and these high costs are transferred to future buyers.

To TDR or Not To TDR: In the light of the above uncertainties and criticisms, a Core Committee was established to study the problems with the current TDR policy and to come up with recommendations. The Committee clearly recognizes that a great deal of uncertainty about TDR prevails because citizens do not perceive a market for these development rights. It has therefore been suggested that existing zonal restrictions be reviewed thoroughly and that FAR be reduced in order to increase the demand for development rights. This implies that for a new policy to be made to work, new regulations and restrictions will have to be implemented. Consequently, this will only create new illegalities because tall buildings, which were built earlier at a time when the floor height restrictions were lower, will now come under the scanner of the new planners and regulators.

Secondly, the TDR committee has recommended that the BBMP use the instrument of bridge finance and buy back the TDR that it issues. This recommendation raises a few interesting paradoxes. Firstly, TDR is issued because municipalities and local governments are strapped for cash, and because they cannot give monetary compensations, they award development rights. If the BBMP is already reeling under financial deficits, how can it be expected to buy back the very TDR that it issues? To resolve this deficit issue, the bridge finance mechanism has been recommended. However, bridge financing, where the municipality borrows from capital markets or from state and central government agencies, comes with its own share of conditionalities and regulations which municipalities must adhere to. In some cases, local governments have to collateralize their assets in order to access bridge finances in the first place. Thus, the bridge finance recommendation is analogous to forcing the river to flow through new blocks and channels, opines urban theorist Dr. Solomon Benjamin. Moreover, the recommendation that the BBMP buys back the very TDR it issues and create TDR banks explicitly implies that the municipality will actually be tailoring and shaping Bangalore’s property markets to emerge in a certain way, thereby enhancing the possibilities of rises in land values and prices in the near future. This is a clear indication that governments are acting in particular ways, either on their own or under pressure from certain quarters of the state, to create property markets and raise real estate values.

From the above, a third and crucial issue arises which the TDR committee has failed to address i.e., there is no mention of what becomes of tenants who are living on properties that are acquired for road widening. In Mumbai, TDR is a coercive instrument where not only are owners shortchanged but, simultaneously, there is no consideration for tenants who have been living or carrying out trades on the acquired properties and who may not be able to afford to purchase their own properties. Instruments such as TDR suggest that governments and policy-makers are imagining property markets as made up only of owners; there is no space for tenants in their imaginations and policies. Similarly, if the BBMP creates a TDR bank and consequently pushes the prices of land values in Bangalore, it is tenants who will perhaps be hurt much more than owners.

Finally, it is heartening to note that the TDR committee recognizes and endorses citizens’ views that there must be alternatives to road widening. The Committee has proposed a list of alternatives to road widening such as putting grade separators, improving public transportation, among others, to resolve the compounding problem of vehicular traffic and congestion across the city.

We are still left with the question therefore, whether this city needs TDR or not. In the wake of increasing protests not only from citizens, but also from elected representatives, the verdict appears seems almost clear – no TDR. It remains to be seen how policy makers will respond to this negative demand …

An abridged version of this research piece is published on

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House, home …

July 9th, 2009

House, in a city where this possession is prized, valued and loved

House – personal or matter of policy?

Home – personal or matter of policy?

The next time around, I am taken to Rehnuma’s ghar, her home. But this is not Rehnuma’s house. It is rented. Her brothers and father are building a house next to the rented jhonpada/hutment. I ask Rehnuma – when did you start the construction.

Yesterday, she says.

When will the house be completed?

Tomorrow, she answers.

So soon? I ask astonished.

Yes, no brick and cement to be used. This land is disputed. Demolitions have happened here. So, we are afraid to build something pucca/concrete.  When the house is done tomorrow, we will take our belongings and go there.

Meanwhile, her mother complains that the road outside the house is a mess – hamaare neta ko bol dege ki us mein mitti daal dein.

I ask Rehnuma where the toilets are.

Jungle mein jaate hai. Yeh badi mushkil hai. We have to go to the jungles – that is a big problem.

We move on. I am told that most people build their homes with bamboo poles and tin sheets – easy to build and dismantle. Most  people have a little stilt outside their houses to prevent the rain water from coming inside.

And then we were passing Wadala yesterday, in the BEST bus. At one point, we came across a stretch which was a deep pool of water. The driver stopped the bus. A minute later, the passengers stood up to see what is going on. Then, one of them shouted – drive on! The driver pressed the accelerator and strode ahead. As we moved on, we splashed all the water into the houses which were built on the pavements. Some had water inside their homes. We added more. Residents of the houses came out on the street and yelled abuses at the bus driver. But we had crossed the stretch …

Each day, I move across the city and watch how people have built their houses – someone else’s doors and windows help in making privacy for someone else. Door numbers and house numbers. Some poster of a Congress Neta or a MNS flag adorning some balconies. A ladder connecting the top and bottom floors. The top floor like a bunk – you squeeze to get inside. Some houses on footpaths. Some on hills. Some along railway tracks. And the concrete houses that have been built in the suburbs and edges of the city – some people doubling their homes as shops and trading spaces. Some running beauty parlours inside. Some have reorganized the space and adorned it with beautiful things. And it amazes me to no end how each house is a reflection of the family’s dreams and aspirations, is a source of their politics and consciousness, is their place in the city. And I wonder …

House – personal or matter of policy?

Home – personal or matter of policy?

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City, Nights and Fear

June 30th, 2009

9 o’clock

10 o’clock

11 o’clock



inside their homes – the peoples

but, this is Mumbai, does not sleep – the city that does not sleep.

Someone asked me the other day – but you said that people do not sleep here in Mumbai. Look around, everyone seems to be asleep – and he smiled. I thought to myself, maybe it is the weekend and so everyone is sitting tight in their homes.

Then, returning back home at 11:15 PM at night, sitting in the cab, I looked around. A sense of fear had also gripped me – how will I return home? When will I return home? When will I snuggle up in my bed and feel safe. How can this happen to me in Mumbai – the city whose prodigy I am. Fear, that feeling of lack of safety, was creeping up my neck.

Sitting in the taxi, I asked the driver – no public on the streets?

He said – Sunday nah? Little public out at night.

But, I prodded further, even the bus services into the city have reduced at night. What is th deal?

The buses kya? They run empty at nights and so, the BEST has decided to reduce them. But yes, the streets are empty at nights these days, after the bamb-kaand.

Bamb-kaand? You mean 26/11?

Yes. After that, people have reduced going out at nights. A sense of fear has gripped people. We taxi drivers, our income was mainly from the fares we got at night. Now, that has reduced drastically. All the shareef, good character people don’t come out at nights. It is only the badmaash, the bad characters, that come out at night. Plus, so much naaka-bandi, police watch. Who will come out? Which shareef person will come out?

Just a while before the driver was drawing a distinction between the shareef and the badmaash, I had watched a bunch of well-dressed prostitutes and one of their clients in the classic white kurta and pyjama, laughing and making jokes around the corner of a hotel at Grant Road. And I had thought about respectability. Now, I think of the shareef, the badmaash, and the night and the city – transformation, perhaps it is happening at these subtle levels.

Then, I watched the city last night as we rode past one end to the other. Are the streets really silent? Is this what the bamb-kaand has done? Penetrated into the fabric of the city and spread fear …

We halted at a signal around the corner of one of the posh Western suburbs. There she was – no fear – just dexteriously weaving the flowers through the thread and making garlands, perhaps readying herself for the clientele in the morning who may want to offer the flowers to their gods and goddesses, allaying a fear of a different kind (that between the devotee and the devout). She weaved away quickly, without care. Is she afraid, I thought to myself?

Then we passed the roads. There they were, those people, those people we call slum dwellers. Three hutments jutting out from the walls, just onto to the streets. They had also called it a night, lying down in their beds, drawing their sheets onto themselves. There they were, stepping into the world of dreams and nightmares and desires and hopes and aspirations – some had their TV sets on, some just oblivious of the roadside traffic and preparing to go off to sleep. Are they afraid?

Then, we went pass the highway, those big roads that have been created to facilitate the movement of cars (and traffic). On the highway, covered under blue plastic sheets, supported by a few poles, they were also going off to sleep. Perhaps they were construction workers who had settled into a little space on the footpath and called it a night. Perhaps they were contract sweepers, spending their last few days in the city before the rain lashes vehemently. They were almost calling it a night, drifting off (or just about to …) … Are they afraid?

And then, just a little ahead, three-four men and women, playing hide-and-seek in the bushes by the side of the highway, perhaps some kind of a foreplay. They seemed happy, playful. Are they afraid?

Fear – what of?

Fear – of what?

Fear … and the city sleeps at night …

Fear … and we sleep to prepare for another day to come …

Fear …

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Global City, or the City an Enigma?

June 26th, 2009

I stepped out of Lokmanya Tilak terminus this afternoon, expecting to hail a cab from the taxi stand, get into one and start the ride to my destination. It was raining. Cab drivers were at the platform, asking passengers if they wanted taxis. I refused to pay heed to any of them, knowing that they would ask for the sun and the moon as fares. I stepped out of the platform and the station. In the face of the rain, I walked here and there, asking for taxis to take me where I wanted to go. Around, I heard cabbies charging passengers Rs. 500 for rides to Borivali and passengers agreeing to the fares. So, what’s going on? No cabbie at the taxi stand is willing to come along with me to my destination. Is it because it is relatively less far as compared with other fares? I then caught hold of the havaldaar mama (the famous lower level cop) and told him that I was unable to find a cab and I did not know where to go. He asssured me that he will get me one in a minute or two. I was not sure whether to believe him or not. Choosing the latter option, I continued with my search. Eventually, one cabbie came forth and asked me where I wanted to go. He agreed to ferry me to my destination on the condition that I pay him a flat rate and not go by the meter.

Why? If not by meter how else do you expect me to come with you?

Madam, it has been raining since morning. I am afraid that there will be water clog in the direction where you want to go. There is a lot of traffic. If you agree to pay me Rs. —, I take you where you want to go.

I agreed, despite my reservations, because it was not worth standing in the face of the rains with luggage and parcels. We began our journey, and as it often happens to me in Mumbai, I started talking to the cabbie. He wasn’t the chattering types. So I had to think of questions or topics for a conversation.It was not easy, but some things he said were very insightful.

What is this bridge they are making here, I asked, pointing to an under construction structure outside the Lokmanya Tilak terminus?

That? That is the new link road connecting Kurla East and West sides with Santacruz and Chembur.

So, I heard that they are revamping the Lokmanya Tilak terminus station?

Yes, they are expanding.

How? By adding more railway lines?

No. They are going to demolish the ticket counters where they are now and shift them to the rear side. Some work has been done and it is looking very posh.

Yes, they were clearing out some of the slums and extending the station.

Slums? Clearing? No. That does not happen.

A little while later:

How is the traffic in the city?

It has increased.

Increased? But they are making all these flyovers and expanding the roads?

That only increases the traffic.

So, has your business been affected because of the new private taxi services?

No, it is still the same. Local person will travel by local taxis. Moreover, these private taxis are expensive. They have to pay the driver and they get very little in their hands at the end of the day.

A more little while later:

Bombay has changed a lot.

Changed? Hahaha! No, it is still the same.

But all the development is now happening around Malad side.

That is true, but South Mumbai still remains South Mumbai.

Some more while later:

Do you have to pay to stand for fares at the newly developed Santacruz domestic airport?

Yes, but we had to do that earlier too. Even at Lokmanya Tilak terminus, we have to pay 10 rupees to park.

For a moment, I was a bit puzzled when I heard this piece of information. Are the parking rates still the same at the domestic airport and the revamped train terminus?  When you hail a cab from the domestic airport and even from some of the train junctions, the fares are twice/thrice the usual rates. Earlier, cab drivers used to levy these fares on the grounds that they have to pay halting charges to the airport authorities (or perhaps the cops and security guards) and hence, the fares had jumped up. I tried to connect the bits of information that had come through in the conversation – the belief about the posh-ness of the upcoming railway station and the levying of the higher fares. It struck me then that people at all levels are participating in the imagination of the global city which is materializing through infrastructure improvements. Perhaps the posh-ness of the revamped airport and railway stations had caused the cabbies to believe that they could levy higher fares, thus cashing in on the infrastructure improvements in their own ways. That the aspiration of the global city or the Shanghai/Singapore etc imagination prevails at all levels is not a new insight. Even my Arjun bhai, the hawker who I used to talk to outside the VT Railway station four years ago, would tell me how computerized railway passes were now a sign of modernity. In my last visit to Mumbai, my TC was complaining how issuing of tickets has become slow and cumbersome because the old punch-and-pop system has been replaced by a dot matrix printing machine which slowly spews out a card like ticket – the card ticket now being a sign of the revamped city!

Why this change at the cost of efficiency? I asked my TC.

Because we want to build a Shanghai or whatever international city out of our Mumbai, he said.

It is amazing how the aspiration is shared among people at all levels even when the global city is materialized at costs which might seem/are unjust and unfair. Yet, the imagination and aspiration prevails. People participate in it when it happens and label it in their own ways.

As I once again step into the city, trying to unravel it, to understand it and therefore myself (who has been lost), I tell myself,

… the city will be an enigma. Our every attempt to know and control it makes it known and yet,  unknown in other ways and facets.

The city, an enigma …

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Right to the City? – Rethinking Urbanization, Urban Restructuring, Change and How the City is Accessed Physically and Symbolically …

October 30th, 2008

David Harvey published his piece “Right to the City” in the New Left Review Issue of September-October 2008. Briefly, he describes the capitalist process and how the city has been the space for investing surplus capital. Specifically, this is done through the constant construction boom, be it housing or infrastructure creation. Harvey is suggesting that the global crises which has affected cities across the world (also because these cities were deeply implicated in the conditions that produced the crisis) is now offering an opportunity for the marginalized “classes” of the world to come together and take control of the “surpluses” which are generated at the expense of the cities. He proposes that if the marginalized people across the world were to unite, they could probably demand a human right to the city which goes beyond merely accessing individual urban resources. The right to the city involves re-creating ourselves in the process of re-creating our cities, in consonance with the higher values of equality and social justice.


The above is a very, very brief summary of Harvey’s article, as I read it. I have been thinking about this article for a while, especially Harvey’s ideas and his use of certain concepts like capital, labour, finance capital and markets, to arrive at some of the conclusions in the article and for elaborating some of the arguments that he is making against private property. Let me try to dissect this article bit by bit and present some of my ideas which have emerged from the fieldwork that I have been conducting in Bangalore and Mumbai and partially in Delhi.


I think that we are living in a time of change. This change often appears to be very sweeping, almost wiping off the ground beneath our feet (ground being both physical and symbolic). We are also living in a time where we are bombarded with information and as Prem Chandavarkar recently pointed out in a forum, we are unable to attend to all this information at once. We are somehow more inclined to attend to urgencies and crises. We are also living in a time when the change is brought about because of crises such that change and crises seem interchangeable. Hence, I suggest that the challenge before us is to attend to the change and crises in their most minute details.


The city is also no longer the same entity which we used think of fondly. I remember, not so long ago, when I was this wandering researcher in Mumbai who wrote about the city and its everyday life with a sense of passion and romance. And then came the construction boom, which Harvey refers to in his article, and we saw old built structures being razed to the ground, the mill lands converted into luxury apartments, and the springing up of shopping malls. It seemed like everything old about the city was rapidly being wiped off and the city was becoming this alien entity, or, as Harvey puts it, the space where surpluses of capital were being generated.


In this frenzied pace of change, the poor were being pushed out of the city, to its edges, almost being invisibilized. When thinking about the urban poor and the city, we either tend to veer towards the ‘social justice’ angle or we think of the poor as ‘illegal encroachers’ who occupy urban spaces and are then, under the restructuring of the city, given individual houses for free.


I want to suggest that in this frenzied and often violent pace of change (and crises), we pay attention to the way in which people are trying to access the city. When I say “accessing the city”, I mean establishing physical presence in the city, consolidating presence, and developing belongingness (to put it very crudely). Very often, as Asef Bayat has explained in the case of the urban poor in Iran, the urban poor access physical space in the city and other urban services, in very quiet, ordinary and subtle ways. Harvey’s idea of the revolution as a means of instituting “justice” emerges from a fixation with a city of the past and from an assumption of the “marginalized” and the “urban poor” as a homogenous, composite and harmonious community.


Let me bring here some of what I heard, saw, read and narrated to me during my fieldwork in Bombay in June-July this year. Certainly, in many areas that I visited, slum rehabilitation projects undertaken by the slum rehabilitation authority (SRA) and private builders were rampant. Just right then, many potential slum resettlement and housing projects were being rapidly stalled because of the excess of slum TDR in the property markets. To explain briefly, many builders look to buying Transfer of Development Right (TDR) certificates because it allows them to construct more floor space than is otherwise allowed by the regulations. TDR has been scarce and therefore highly valuable. In Bombay’s property markets this year, the market was over-flooded with slum TDR certificates which are sold by builders who provide “free housing” to the slum dwellers in lieu of excess TDR given to them by the government. I was struck by this development because it forced me to think about how value around land is created and how this value is never constant, even though it may appear fixed for a certain period of time. This incident provoked me to delve deeper and understand the social, political, cultural and economic relations that develop around land and property. These relations are emerging from time to time, sometimes deeply entrenched in power, sometimes radically transformed under moments of crises but always evolving because existing people are consolidating their positions and new entrants are coming in, changing the relations and the equations on the bases of which these relations were created.


The newspapers also at that time reported how the government of Maharashtra was offering higher TDR to builders who would rehabilitate slum dwellers residing on and around the Santacruz domestic airport land. I surveyed some of the slums in these areas and saw that slum dwellers residing in different parts of the area had formed cooperative societies by mobilizing an old law/rule which allows slum dwellers to negotiate with builders and also undertake self-development if they form cooperative societies. Does one capture this move in terms of “social movements” or “collective action” which is what Harvey would be prone to do? I argue that the language of “social movements” and “collective action” cannot be applied to this situation because despite the formation of cooperative societies, not all the slum dwellers were on equal par with each other. They had come together at a moment, whether their move had emerged from emergency or precaution or calculated action. If a builder were to come tomorrow and start negotiating with the individual cooperatives, there would likely emerge elements from within and from outside who would want to stake all kinds of claims over the land parcels. Thus, in a meeting where an organization was educating some of the slum dwellers about how to negotiate their re-housing terms with the builders, some of the women started mentioning how those residents who had established their dwellings after 1995 and after 2000 were using the re-housing opportunity to obtain documents that would help them consolidate their claims over the land. These women also spoke of the trust and mistrust that developed during the various phases of negotiations with the builders that produced strange forms of alliances and opposition between people of the same area. This shows how individuals and groups are plugging into crises to consolidate their claims in ways that are not apparent to those of us who theorize about their lives and actions.


I hold strong reservations against Harvey’s central idea of the “human right to the city”. I argue that this notion of a right closes/fails to recognize the multiple avenues and mediums by which people try to negotiate their access to the city. It is presumed that by granting a right, you streamline people’s access to the city. But the city is not a controllable entity. It is an evolving space. And this space evolves through the mobilization of graft and of circuitries of power, politics and the state that may not appear legitimate and righteous to those of us observing from the outside. Let me narrate here the final case to illustrate my point. I refer to “housing rights” which are supposed to ensure that the poor and the marginalized get secure and dignified housing space and access to land. Much has been written about the rehabilitation and resettlement of slum dwellers under the road development projects in Mumbai. The rehabilitation process and the quality of housing provided to the former slum dwellers have been criticized. What I found interesting in one of my visits to one such rehabilitation housing colonies was how people were using the space within the house and in the open areas within the colony to carry out various kinds of economic and commercial activities. In this case, slum dwellers were given a house, in a sense a clear “property” but that awarding of property – bounded, legal space – did not prevent the way in which the space was reconfigured by individuals and some groups. Some of the women in this colony began squatting on the streets to sell vegetables; they were reported against for violation of property regulations. The new leaders from the community, some of them “transformed” in interesting ways from their older avatars, began to negotiate with the municipality to let the women retain their access to the space and continue with their livelihoods. The language of housing rights is couched in two assumptions: one of a bounded, legal space which will guarantee security and second, the housing right imagines the house in terms of ownership and not in terms of tenancies. Land accessed in various ways by individual and groups is viewed as “insecure” – certainly, it is an insecure process, but if the avenues through which these persons can negotiate their multiple claims over the land are widened/kept open, then that insecurity can turn into a resource for the city.


I therefore contend that instead of conceptualizing access to the city in terms of rights, we think of how those spaces through which people develop belongingness towards the city and ownership of the city be examined. This can prove to be a resource to conceptualize urbanity and contemporary cities. The ghost of restructuring in Chinese cities, which is now being excavated and demystified, is daunting our imagination of what is going on in our cities. But what is really going on in our cities is much more than what meets the eye (or the mind’s eye). It is time to think of the city anew, not in terms of a city of some harmonious past which Harvey seems to romanticize!


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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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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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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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