Is Public Outreach Enough to Overhaul India's Slums?
The government of India has launched an ambitious housing policy plan, dubbed "Rajiv Awas Yojana" (after former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi), centered around a vision to eradicate the nation's slums. With roughly 110 million people living in makeshift homes "with variable access to basic services like water, sanitation and sewage," the government has set before itself a herculean task that, according to Naik, is completely out of touch with the lives it was meant to improve.
Two years ago, charged with the task of implementing RAY locally, social housing initiative micro Home Solutions (mHS) worked closely with a community in Sundernagari, East Delhi, alongside a community-based NGO to design a new, equitable, accessible housing development. But over the course of the project, Naik came to a number of challenging realizations.
"We learnt early on that the community detests the concept of high-rise living, has no faith in elevator technology and since they work from home, their livelihoods are directly impacted by apartment living... Sundernagari residents held a plot of land, however small, as their ideal form of housing. Our carefully created multistorey apartment design, which tried to accommodate their every expressed need, meant nothing at all to the community."
The firm found that the constraints set forth in RAY were often incompatible with the lifestyles of slum dwellers. For example, the government plan specified 25m² units for each family, the adequacy of which both mHS and residents questioned for multi-generational living arrangements – the status quo in India, especially in poor families. While mHS was able to devise a number of features to meet community needs, the plan remains on paper indefinitely.
"For professionals to be sensitive to slum dwellers' needs," he concludes, "we need to spend time in their homes, participate in their community activities, listen to their grouses and appreciate their abilities."