Slum removal scheme tweaked to make it more effective

New Delhi, June 18 (IANS) The Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), billed as the government's most ambitious scheme for ridding the country of slums, is to be tweaked by changing the norms relating to its funding pattern and granting property rights to make it more effective.

The government had launched RAY in June 2011 to bring about a "slum-free India" by tackling inequalities in urban planning and land

management practices. India's slum population was estimated at 93 million in 2011.

The two-year preparatory phase of RAY ended June 2 and was marked by "slow progress" on some laid down objectives.

Officials of the ministry of housing and poverty alleviation said they have decided to improve the scheme by incorporating suggestions from states.

"We would move the cabinet by July for change in some guidelines to make RAY more effective," a senior official, who did not want to be

quoted, told IANS.

He said there may be a big ceremonial launch to mark the roll out of the "regular" RAY scheme.

The official said the ministry had received feedback from states about the need to relax funding norms for housing projects under RAY.

He said the present guidelines say that 50 percent of the cost of building a house is to be borne by the state, urban local body and the beneficiary.

"We intend to change guidelines so that insistence on 50 percent cost to be borne by slum dwellers and municipality is removed," the official said.

He said the ministry was proposing a flexible criteria which stipulates that financial support for housing should be 60 percent for big cities, 80 percent for small cities and 90 percent for

the northeastern states.

"We also intend to link the unit cost to scheduled rates of construction in the states," the official added.

He said there had been reluctance from some states on the key reform of assigning property rights to slum dwellers as land is a state subject.

"We are suggesting some other mechanism like long-term lease," the official said.

He said that new guidelines will lay more thrust for creation of physical infrastructure in slums apart from shelters.

He said 195 cities were released funds under the preparatory phase of RAY for undertaking activities like slum surveys, GIS (geographic information system) mapping, preparation of slum-free city plans and preparing pilot projects.

The scheme, the official said, will now extend to the entire country.

RAY envisages inclusive and equitable cities in which every citizen has access to basic civic and social services and decent shelter. The vision is to be realized by encouraging states to tackle problem of slums in a definitive manner.

The ministry had faced flak from parliament's standing committee on urban development for "very slow progress of work" in the first phase of RAY in carrying out preparatory activities. It said the ministry could have completed the work in a time-bound manner.

The committee, whose report was tabled in parliament during the budget session that concluded May 8, strongly disapproved the "inordinate delays" by cities in preparing slum-free plans.

The committee also noted that results were "very low" in respect of capacity building and only a few states had law on mandatory reforms, including reserving 25 percent of the land for economically weaker sections in every new public and private residential development.

Ministry officials said that land legislation has not kept pace with the country's urban growth.

They said the urban population was 28 percent in 2001 and was expected to rise to 41 percent by 2031 and slums would grow unless there is greater thrust on providing affordable housing.

"There is need to create space within the formal system of planned living and working spaces to accommodate the informal working classes. Market distorting shortages of land and housing should be corrected," an official said.

He said the majority of the urban poor live in slums and squatter settlements in inhuman conditions that deny them dignity, shelter,

security and in an environment that can breed disease.

The country's slum population was estimated to be 93 million in 2011 based on the findings of an expert committee set up by the ministry.

The committee estimated that Maharashtra accounts has the largest population of slum dwellers at 1,81,51,071 . Other states with large slum populations are Uttar Pradesh (1,08,78,336), Andhra Pradesh (81,88,022), Tamil Nadu (86,44,892), West Bengal (85,46,755), Madhya Pradesh (63,93,040), Gujarat (46,62,619), Rajasthan

(38,26,160), Karnataka (36,31,147) and Haryana (32,88,292).

In Metros such as Delhi, slums exist cheek-by-jowl with the affluent. The capital's slum population in Delhi is estimated to be 31,63,430.

Former president Pratibha Patil, in her address to the joint session of two houses of parliament in June 2009, had announced the government's

intention to create a slum-free India in the next five years through RAY.

However, ministry officials later said that the goal was "aspirational". They said that effort was to realise the target of a slum-free India by 2022.

(Prashant Sood can be contacted at prashant.s@ians.in)

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