In most countries, Immigrants shift from rural areas into cities in search of jobs and livelihood. This happens in India too. All “A” cities in India like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad etc. experience the immigration of people. These cities provide these immigrants with work and livelihood. However, the biggest problem is providing shelter for these immigrants. So what do the immigrants do? The make informal settlements and start living there. Yes, housing becomes the biggest problem and so do the settlements, which are called slums.
Dr. Gautam Bhan teaches at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements in Bangalore. He studies how cities produce and reproduce poverty and inequality. Dr. Bhan believes that urbanization of cities is one of the most profound challenges of the 21st century. He had seen that in his own city, New Delhi, there were forced evictions, the brutal demolition of the homes of the city’s poorest who lived in informal settlements. In India, there is a shortage of housing for an estimated 100 million people & many of these people end up living in informal settlements. Dr. Gautam Bhan is boldly reimagining a solution to this problem. He shares a new vision of urban India where everyone has a safe, sturdy home.
He says that it is a fact that our cities are changing and are not capable of handling the immigration issues. An immigrant worker, earning about Rs.15,000 per month can’t think of renting or buying a home in the city. So what does this worker and others like him do? They form informal settlements. Dr. Bhan refuses to call them slums and calls them settlements. One hundred million people are not homeless. They have homes, which they have built for themselves in these settlements. These are cheap homes but not sturdy. They do not have the basic requirements like toilets, drainage, running water.
According to Dr. Bhan, a settlement is not a problem; it is a solution. He says we just have to make it secure and sturdy. Dr. Bhan says that it is impossible for the Government in India to build 20 million affordable homes in the coming years. If we are unable to make these new homes, then what is the solution to this problem, asks Dr. Bhan and in the same breath offers the solution. He states that the settlements need to be recognised as low cost housing. They need to be upgraded by providing them with running water, electricity, toilets and drainage. They have to be made safe and secure. This settlement will then take the shape of a community a colony.
Dr. Bhan strongly states that first and foremost, eviction and bull dozing of settlements has to stop. Never has this resulted in progress in the past, nor will it in the future. We need to change our mindset and start to believe that the laborers who build and run the city have a right over the land of that city. It is a common thought that these settlements are made on illegally captured land. One has to understand that settlements are never formed overnight. They are inhabited over a period of time. And many of these settlements have been in existence for 10 years or more. Dr. Bhan makes a compelling argument by saying “What kind of illegally captured land is this, which was ignored for 30 years and suddenly a day before eviction is declared illegal? A settlement can easily accommodate 15 to 60 percent of a city’s population by using just one, two or maximum ten percent of the land. Can such a huge number of people not have a right over this small bit of land?”
Dr. Bhane states that in Ahmedabad, they started a program where for ten years, 44 settlements were promised there wouldn’t be any eviction & basic necessities were provided to them. In ten years that slum changed into a locality, a place, a world of its own. The government didn’t have to build even a single new home.
Similarly, Thailand launched this program at national scale, benefiting 100,000 people in 137 cities. And every person was given the right to live over that land. But not the right to sell. Use it, settle on it.
Dr. Bhan says that this can happen in other cities of India too. We need to look deep within and get rid of the disgust, disrespect and apprehensions for these settlements that we have. And a first step towards this will be to start calling them as settlements and not slums.