Thousands of families relocated to sub-standard housing without livelihood opportunities in Narela seem caught in a freeze frame from the last millenium. Hundreds of public representatives, servants and saviours, busy with the business of their betterment, seem not to see that what should not have been at all cannot be fixed with trifling tinkering.

On 19.02.03 Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit laid the foundation stone for what is to become, two years from now, 'one of the most innovative housing schemes built with alternative materials and technology', 'cost-effective and ecologically-appropriate'. This is a project for 3000 two-room flats, likely to be priced at 2 lakhs apiece, for industrial workers in Bawana. The Chief Minister has directed officials to locate land for similar housing in Narela. Industrial workers' housing was amongst the unconsidered sops announced in the 3-day workshop with industrial associations held in mid-September in the series of bhagidari workshops that our Chief Minister keeps holding with select citizenry, purportedly in pursuit of democratic good governance. Obviously, Delhi government is of the view that what industrial workers in Narela / Bawana need is housing.

On Sunday, 16.02.03, the National Institute of Urban Affairs, our premier urban research and policy institute under the Central Ministry for Urban Development was in Narela, doing a community workshop, along with some foreign students, to identify skill training needs for industrial employment. NIUA's work over the last few months in the area has led it to establish through participatory research methods with fancy ethnic names what everyone in Narela knows from first hand experience and suffering, viz, there are no livelihood opportunities. Unlike Delhi Government, therefore, NIUA obviously thinks what industrial workers in Narela / Bawana need is not housing but industries.

While admitting that it has no clue if and when industries will shift to Bawana from Delhi, NIUA is advising people to upgrade their skills so as to be better prepared for availing industrial employment opportunities, should these arise. Its approach is consistent with the one taken in 2000 by its systemic sibling (sharing the same parent Ministry), Housing and Urban Development Corporation, also a premier national institution of the techno-financial type that also informs MoUD policies, or endorses policies informed by others, notably NGOs, to the Ministry or Ministers. In 2000, HUDCO had astutely observed, even without participatory research, while providing techno-financial inputs for development of Narela and arranging logistics for ministerial visits, that livelihood likelihood looked bleak. Being itself more into building construction and not industrial development, HUDCO had then prescribed skill upgrading for preparedness for a construction industry boom in Narela and set up one of its ubiquitous Building Centres for the purpose.

Lest it be thought that contrary perceptions of, on one hand, Delhi Government and, on the other, NIUA and before it HUDCO, are rooted in any discord between Delhi and Central government, one must hasten to recall that a month ago, on 20.01.03, it was reported that DDA (also a child of MoUD) is contemplating for the Master Plan for 2021 'a social welfare housing scheme for slum dwellers and resettling them near industrial areas only', in flats rather than in plots. This is completely contrary to what is contemplated by the statutory Master Plan according to which DDA is duty-bound to secure Delhi's development, but is consistent with what Delhi Government has just started in Bawana.

Presumably the land for Delhi government's project, illegal under the Master Plan as of now, has been made available to it by DDA. In the matter of industries and their workers, DDA and our Chief Minister (her constant whining about having no control over DDA notwithstanding) are also otherwise bonding in bonhomie. It was at her whim that DDA approved on 20.12.02, arguably without jurisdiction under its Act, a proposal to modify the Master Plan to regularise in residential areas in Delhi industrial units that might otherwise have shifted to Bawana by the Supreme Court deadline of 31.12.02. The Chief Minister is also connected to NIUA through Care Plus, a project of the multi-national NGO Care that the Chief Minister had launched with great fanfare in 2000. Care is now funding our NIUA to do community interventions in its project. (There is plenty more to that madness, but later). DDA, NIUA and HUDCO are inter-connected through their parent Ministry. The Chief Minister is also connected to HUDCO through the shared concern, or at least fashionable posturing, about cost-effective appropriate construction technology. And Care, obviously, is well-connected, too. Its 'partner NGOs' in its Plus project, billed in 2000 to make Delhi slum free in a couple of years but hardly happening at all, are doing well and some are connected with a network of NGOs claiming authority on, among others, livelihood and housing issues affecting the city's poor.

And lest it be thought that this portrait of inter-connected anarchy arises only from non-implementation of the 74th panacea for decentralisation for power to the people, our MCD has been sutradhar in Narela from the day Narela started. By virtue (or vice?) of its Slum Wing being in charge of Delhi's defunct slum resettlement policy lately struck down by the court (besides of its lately retired chief, like the lately retired chief of HUDCO, having served as the Minister's men-at-work on plenty including Narela), MCD, or at least its office building, has been part of the backdrop against which this star-cast, along with sundry NGOs and academics, continues to chaotically perform nothing in Narela.

And where do the people of Narela (also people of India, supreme by its Constitution) connect into all these inter-connected antics of their representatives and servants and authorities and self-styled well-wishers?

Unsmiling freeze frame

Thousands of families in Narela seem caught, in a freeze frame from the last millenium, in sub-standard housing amidst miles of unoccupied DDA flats where they might have found domestic jobs, waiting for industries that were to shift from Delhi to come and employ them. In the early '90s DDA had constructed over 8000 flats here. It managed to allot (get rid of?) only about 1000 in mid '95. The distance was a major deterrent, besides inadequate facilities. By 2000, plans to shift all that anyone wanted shifted out of Delhi to Narela conjured images of a dump and must have killed the market completely. In early 2002 DDA went as far as doing a fancy seminar to sell Narela as a happening destination, complete with promise of imminent metro and 20% discount. Only about 1000 people, very likely investors, applied. By end year, with reality a far cry from the snazzy seminar-sell and metro being promised in Dwarka, half surrendered their allotments. And so it is that DDA's unoccupied flats go on for miles in Narela and, for no logical reason other than keeping a couple of contractors gainfully employed, DDA is currently constructing 2500 more flats to add to its dubious collection. Meanwhile, in 1996 Bawana began. An industrial estate with 16000 plots, somehow touted as a solution for the problem of relocating one lakh non-conforming units in Delhi, had found 5000 allottees, all of four dozen of whom had started construction, at the end of last year. The Supreme Court deadline of 31.12.02 for relocation of industrial units has come and gone, but even units that might have resigned themselves to shifting to Bawana are now prevaricating in the uncertainty surrounding the illegal regularisation moves on which all but the court tango together.

It is against this broader backdrop that residents of Narela came to be caught in an unsmiling freeze frame at the end of the last millenium. Thousands were shifted from various places 30-40 km away, later used for various other purposes, notably parks, but also offices, etc, but not, say, from problematic sites like Yamuna Pushta routinely ravaged by floods and fires. In the enthusiasm to clear sites 'needed' for planned development - defined willfully rather than lawfully according to the Master Plan - policy was relaxed to allow later cut-off date for eligibility for resettlement. In a most irrational attempt to rationalise this irrational relaxation of an even more irrational rigidity, it was decided that those benefiting from the relaxation would have to pay with a cut in plot size. A government order, that cannot possibly have any basis in law, allowed 12.5 sqm plots, which is half the minimum size normally permissible under the Master Plan. Densities in Narela are, naturally, higher than the maximum permissible under the Master Plan. Most importantly Narela was developed in brazen violation of statutory Plan provisions for integration of the poor in residential development across the city, provisions meant to ensure equitable access to land, infrastructure, facilities, livelihood opportunities, etc, provisions that make segregation of the poor in large enclaves meant only for them illegal if not unconstitutional. The sub-standard development carried out in Narela is of the type that the Plan specifically cautions against for being prone to deteriorating into slum like conditions, which makes Narela a case tantamount to misuse of public land at public cost, albeit by public authorities.

In 2000 there was a lot of hue and cry about sorry conditions in Narela, with nearly all NGOs and politicians making a big fuss about small problems and neither themselves drawing attention nor leaving space for professionals to draw attention to the illegality and untenability of what was going on. As always in the Delhi discourse, the gaze remained glued on plump red herrings and as the dialogue grew louder, the herrings grew plumper. Criticism about inadequate bus services led to announcements, usually at Ministerial visits, of more bus routes and bus passes for cheap bus travel. Criticism about the plight of school-going children led to announcements, likewise, of plans to set up schools with excellent architecture. Criticism about money problems for house building led to unprecedented direct loans from HUDCO, besides the ubiquitous Building Centre for low-cost construction support and some fashionable empowerment, by NGOs, of women to form saving-and-credit groups to recover loans. This sort of endless creativity in finding the right answers to the wrong questions does nothing to change, say, the fact that puny plots in high density layouts make slums and segregated development denies Plan entitlements of equitable access to a basket of benefits. Not only do problems persist in defiance of symptomatic treatment (bus routes and passes and schools, for instance, continue to be the stuff of political promises and poorly informed PILs), the discourse is completely obfuscated to permit logic-defying co-existence of contrary positions.

Amidst all the sound and fury about Narela back home, our country report for Istanbul+5 UNCHS (Habitat II) in 2001 said in a box titled 'Narela: A happy example of relocation and rehabilitation', "A major initiative has been taken by the Government of India in collaboration with the slum wing of the city government of Delhi to relocate and rehabilitate slum dwellers from the most untenable and disaster prone sites in Delhi to new areas by providing them access to land at affordable rates, infrastructure and also tenurial status for land ownership in the joint name of the husband and wife. About 10,000 families have been shifted and each family allotted a plot measuring 18.5 sq.m. with potential for vertical expansion. Financial assistance through loan on concessional terms is provided for construction on plots allotted to the families. A provision has also been made for primary and secondary schools, police station, dispensary, park and community centre. Adequate bus services are in place. This has been done by taking people's consent and confidence. Employment opportunities are being created by locating industries in the area."

Of course, this is a big brazen lie with some trivial half-truths. Equally, all the continuing to be promised benefits of bus routes, schools, training, etc, are lies and half-truths.

Pro-people politics?

Narela was a bad mistake and bad mistakes need bold corrections not trivial tinkering mechanics. Incidentally, while no one seems inclined to consider a bold correction, nearly everyone does admit that Narela was a big mistake. In September 2002 MCD Commissioner, visiting parts of it, called for a review of the slum resettlement policy as it was leading to development far from satisfactory. In November 2002 Union Urban Development Minister announced all but abandonment of slum relocation in view of telling experiences of social and economic disruptions. DDA was directed to come out with a proposal for an in-situ flatted alternative for slum re-housing. In December the Mayor and later the Chief Minister were also taking stock of problems. Sadly, the moment of introspection did not last long. The Court quashed on 29.11.02 Delhi's illegal and defunct slum resettlement policy and election-year exigencies made it incumbent upon all to rally around against the court order, practically demanding reinstatement of what permitted a nightmare like Narela despite the statutory safeguards of the Master Plan.

Now the consensus is clearly hardening in favour of reinstatement of the policy permitting sub-standard resettlement or, on the rebound, in favour of sub-standard in-situ multi-storied re-housing. These alternatives in disregard of statutory entitlements to standard low-income housing are both illegal and tantamount to downsizing of entitlements. Successive Congress and BJP governments at state and centre have already been promoting and implementing these and such alternatives. What is alarming is that while the political third front and civil organisations, as long as they were not organised together, were at least not endorsing this denial of entitlements, they now seem to be working in tandem to practically lead from the front in demanding all this. The announcement by the Minister of in-situ free flats, for instance, was precipitated by a visit by former PM VP Singh, who is emerging as the face of the organised pro-poor and anti-government front on housing and livelihood issues in Delhi. The consensus against the court order, again, was precipitated by the joint initiative of his Jan Chetna Manch and Sajha Manch, a collective of NGOs, including ones associated with the Care Plus project. For reasons best known to them these pro-poor groups seem more interested in themselves positing patchy alternatives to match patchy alternatives being posited by those in power instead of simply insisting that people's entitlements form the framework for judging any alternatives. Nor are they inclined to represent, as distinct from co-opt, citizens' groups themselves taking the latter, more disciplined, position. Large groups of slum dwellers have themselves challenged since 2000, including in court in mid-2002, the illegality, with reference to Plan entitlements, of the slum policy that the court later struck down in a matter in which slum dwellers were not represented and government failed to place before the court the facts about their entitlements. But in the consensus being actively built against the court order in the name of the people, none of the self-styled people's representatives have bothered to represent this view with any seriousness. Likewise, after the Minister announced in-situ free flats for those not yet relocated illegally, several groups from Narela wrote to him to say that before any one else this option should be offered to them at their previous places along with compensation for loss of livelihood, etc. They, too, have found no support for representing their view.

Professional policy-making?

The lack of political opposition and the intellectual, if not moral, bankruptcy amongst city NGOs, that allows public authorities like DDA and MCD to function in irrational and illegal ways in the service of political rather than statutory mandates is something that Delhi has become resigned to. Narela, however, demonstrates with rare clarity implications of failures of research and policy-making institutions - implications unacceptable in the world's largest democracy.

By the time HUDCO was writing in 2001 our national report in which it included Narela as a box-item example of happy relocation, it already knew better and, possibly, was privately saying oops. In 2000 it had, in its inimitable one-size-fits-all style, set up one of its Building Centres promising, as always, the moon - brisk cost-effective house building with appropriate cost effective technology, cadres of trained construction workers to make hay while the construction boom shines, excellent architecture of community buildings. Like nearly all HUDCO Building Centres, HUDCO's effort stopped at the last. In the midst of palpable hopelessness stands wondrous Building Centre architecture - community centre, school, creche, baraat ghar - all in disuse (except the community centre and that too only because the community very sensibly decided enough was enough and replaced HUDCO's lock with its own). The cost-effective appropriate technology has not inspired local house-building because it does not actually end up being very cost-effective and also because the much-celebrated rat-trap bond takes a couple of extra inches in wall thickness, unaffordable in terms of space in the puny plots, especially the 12.5 sqm ones. The spontaneous construction boom has not happened because self-help housing does not quite generate construction sector employment and, all the institutional inter-connectivity notwithstanding, neither the flats that DDA continues to build nor the ones that the Chief Minister has now founded are contracted to the Building Centre.

Now the failure of the HUDCO Building Centre initiative to dent the livelihood problem in Narela has been swept under the carpet by NIUA. The people of Narela must surely be bewildered by the mysterious ways of expert participatory research and analysis that sees employment opportunities in industries yet, and perhaps unlikely, to come but fails to see monstrous projects useless as housing interventions but at least good for livelihood generation. Why NIUA's livelihood interventions in Narela are not connecting to initiatives of its sibling authorities by way of one Building Centre and 2500 maybe more flats under construction is a question with no possible valid answer. NIUA's ostrich-like projectised intervention is completely de-linked from its mandate of objective and holistic assessments to inform policy. And it is absolutely alarming that our national institutes are available to multi-national NGOs for such things, even if they are inconsistent with other activities, besides mandate, of the institution. In Narela on 16.02.03 NIUA personnel were advising the community that education is no use nowadays and skill training is hot, hip and happening. Barely weeks ago, when NIUA was making community interventions for improving school enrolment in its much celebrated but yet to be independently evaluated PEEP project, the position was there is no solution without education. There can be an endless intellectual discourse to rationalise these contrary positions, but the point is that discourse has not already happened in the community and at least some are not comfortable with shifting stances more suited to salespersons of fast moving consumer goods than to public authorities with policy roles. It seems NIUA is also doing for Care Plus similar intervention in a slum in Wazirpur industrial area, where the priority problem participatorily identified is industrial pollution. There NIUA is helping the community not to get the industries shifted to Bawana for synergistic solution also of the livelihood problem in Narela but for their own resettlement. The only policy that can be shaped out of interventions like the NIUA-Care ones is of 'cleansing' the city of industries and low-income settlements to spare prime land for redevelopment.

Indeed, the fundamental question in the projectised interventions of both HUDCO and NIUA in Narela is why are they doing there what they are doing and not doing what they should be. As a premier techno-financial institution HUDCO ought to have blown the whistle on Narela for its brazen illegality in relation to sensible planning law or, at least, carefully monitored the development for timely corrective interventions and lessons for the future. Instead it stretched its mandate to become direct participant in, even promoter of, the illegal and technically unsound project by designing model units to somehow fit on sub-standard plots, hard-selling not so appropriate standard appropriate technology, extending individual loans, etc. And having done so, while it hastily box-item-ed its fake success in our national report, it did not bother to ensure success of any kind for the people of Narela. As a premier research and policy institution NIUA might have done well to monitor from a distance the hurried massive relocation of industries and low-income settlements in order to inform continuing policy announcements of its parent ministry in both matters from a birds' eye perspective of their connected implications. Instead it has chosen to do community advocacy in a few slums for some multi-national NGO project formulated without rigour in the pursuit of open-ended and unmeasurable goals. And having done so, it is failing even to draw obvious connections or note glaring inconsistencies within the ambit of this limited intervention.

The Narela antics of our premier research and policy institutions suggest that we have no independent research and policy institutions. The respect and resources they command are undeserved and the development discourse they dominate is doomed to mediocrity, unprepared to objectively define problems and, therefore, incapable of producing solutions.

Narela needs ...?

On account of their own involvement with delivering or protesting little details in Narela all development-walas seem disinclined to accept the simple fact that Narela is not working because it cannot. Nothing about Narela was justifiable and it is owed to the people of Narela that the mistake be undone. It is easy to argue that it is pragmatic to let bygones be bygones and move ahead from where we stand. But concerted efforts in Narela have proved that going ahead is not getting anywhere. In any case, pragmatism cannot become an excuse for lack of accountability or for injustice. And, viewed in only a slightly broader perspective, it may be most pragmatic to settle once and for all the issue of undisciplined development - by undoing Narela.

The people of Narela have been making efforts to ameliorate their living conditions. These efforts are not nearly as glamorised as the token gestures of politicians, NGOs, PIL lawyers and urban academics, but they are more substantial and more sustained. On livelihood issues, likewise, all the rest have only promises and meaningless training to offer, besides show-casing for academic or dignitary visits the HUDCO Building Centre, the paltry NIUA community participatory intervention, etc. It is the people themselves who have been engaging on the more sensible demand for ongoing construction work in Narela to be contracted to the Building Centre, which is managed by a construction workers' union. Last year, when government announced property tax for them, it was people themselves, unaided by expertise of HUDCO, NIUA and NGOs, who wrote to MCD Commissioner to object. They said that those forcibly shifted by the state to sub-standard development with unsatisfactory conditions, lately acknowledged by the Commissioner himself, were deserving of a compensatory not taxation regime. Likewise, in November, when the Minister announced that those not forcibly relocated from Delhi would benefit from free flats wherever they are, it was again the people themselves who wrote to make sense out of madness. They said that there was no reason for them to be treated like guinea pigs for lessons only for other's benefit and that accountability was in order and required the same offer to be first extended to them at their previous places or comparable ones.

The people of Narela understand the problem more clearly than others do and with sharpness that prolonged privation can imbue in instinct are sighting bold solutions. Unfortunately, it is the others whose voices carry and are now beginning to temper with their pettiness the voices of the people. But the others would do well to whisper and to listen - because the lessons from Narela have far-reaching implication for the discourse on housing, livelihood and governance and also because 10,000 families can shout to be heard if their patience runs out.

Posted by Gita Dewan Verma: 2003-02-21, last modified July 10, 2006

On 20 Feb 2003 the NIUA organised a presentation by American students with whom the NIUA was working in slum settlements. The presentation was focussed on three settlements and students worked with communities for about six weeks and organised community workshops to identify issues. As informed by one of the faculty members from NIUA coordinating the workshop it was explained that four years ago NIUA started with PEEP project and two years ago they joined hands with CARE PLUS which is part of CARE India in turn part of CARE International. CARE PLUS's agenda is to work on issues such as water, sanitation and livelihood. Jointly CARE and NIUA took three settlements (intending to upscale to 20) which the students studied. Three settlements were Ganga Ram Colony, Narela, Udham Singh Colony, Wazirpur and New Sanjay Amar Colony in East Delhi with livelihood, sanitation and water issues respectively. The presentation was made to invitees from the USAID, USAID-FIRE project, DfiD, DDA and SPA.

Some of the concerns, which such a presentation raised, are highlighted below:

1. Database and Methodology

The work done by the students was based on PLA techinques. While such techniques do provide quick results but issues of community representation, interpretation and selection of what the community is saying are serious concerns such methods have difficulty addressing. For example in one of the community workshops at Narela discussing livelihood issues, very few men were present. Moreover, since the students were constrained due to language problem, the quality of their output to large extent depended on what was presented to them by the field coordinators.

2. Selection of Issues

It seemed apparent from the brief introduction that since CARE PLUS is working on three issues of Water, Sanitation and Livelihood, the issues selected by the 'community' also coincided with these three issues. How such priorities are decided is important to understand because in the name of community representation, institutions, in this case , NIUA seem to be supporting what is the agenda of the NGO.

3. Unconnected project level approach

Even if one concedes that these priorities were selected after methodologically correct approach (which is highly unlikely) the disconnect between projects done by NIUA alongwith CARE PLUS is difficult to comprehend. There appeared no attempt to connect the projects to larger city context. For example in case of Narela, livelihood was identified as one of the issues and it was assumed that skill training should be the thrust for the communities to be 'prepared' when (and if) the industries move in. On the other hand in Wazirpur case where interventions were sought for sanitation mentioned that their resettlement is inevitable because of industrial pollution.

This is completely disconnected to the larger picture where polluting industries have been asked to relocate. In that scenario one can easily ask for Wazirpur settlement to be not relocated and work on issues that such a scenario might raise. Moreover, presently there have been various court interventions on slums and industries issues as well as the process of master plan revision for the city is ongoing. The work seemed to be conducted as isolated settlements unconnected to the city by any policy context.

Thus, today we solve their sanitation problem and then relocate them to Narela and then work on solving their livelihood problem which is likely to be created with resettlement. These are thus short term solutions which national level institution like NIUA should refrain from endorsing.

4. Objectives of the project

One of the central theme of the overall project was to make use of the 'Community Based Information System' (CBIS) for various urban sector interventions. While there are issues of decontexualising techonological solution from the larger politics of development which I will not raise here, it was proposed that this CBIS system will provide a 'bargaining leverage' to the communities. Communities will also be able to access employment, training related information. While logistics of such an idea will provide difficulties, let us for the moment not focus on them also. CBIS was created under PEEP project which NIUA began to work on four years ago. As professionals we have been hearing that such database exists but considering that one of the functions of NIUA is to disseminate information and inform policy, why such a database should be unavailable in the public domain is unclear.

Secondly the CBIS presented by students showed the maps and information generated by the communities and then transferred on GIS platform. There appears to be a complete faith on the skills and perceptions of the community and accuracy of the maps was not considered an important aspect. This can be a cause of concern especially if such a database is to be related to issues of land. Accuracy of information was also suspect since in one of the maps illegal water connections were shown concentrated only in one part of the settlement and other part had all legal connections and reasons for such a distribution was not explained. While participatory methods are useful for quick understanding of settlements, their issues and concerns but for such information to be used for effective decision making and action requires other professional inputs and skills. It was very difficult to understand as to what was the role of the professional in this exercise and what was it that NIUA was rendering as professional expertise (besides using Arcview) which the NGO and Communities were unable to do themselves.

This is not to be interpreted as redundancy of such institutions but more that institutions like NIUA need to shift their focus to larger (city and national level) policy concerns rather than intervening at community levels which NGOs are better equipped to do. Their role as independent research institution comes under cloud if they are seen as pushing the NGO agenda at the cost of holistic interventions for urban development. Moreover, their role is also to strenghten the quality of policy making through their professional expertise rather than depend completely on community driven information systems. For me as an academic, the experience was a learning as to how in the present context, NGOs manage to coopt institutions and we as professionals end up suspending critical and questioning perspective to situations. We need to seriously explore the constraints and assumptions we operate with that result in weakening our positions as researchers, academicians and professionals.

Poonam Prakash on February 24, 2003 11:54 AM