By Carlin Carr
The city of Ahmedabad, India, is one of the country’s—and the world’s—fastest growing urban areas. This capital of Gujarat state has a population of nearly six million and is the seventh largest city in India. The city is experiencing many of the same issues as other mega-cities in the country, like its larger neighbor Mumbai. In spite of this, Ahmedabad is known for its entrepreneurial spirit and inventive nature. After all, it was from Sabarati Ashram in Ahmedabad that Mohandas Gandhi led the people of India on a non-violent freedom struggle to victoriously overcome British rule. Three decades later in 1972, the pioneering Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) formed in the city, and today is one of the leading organizations for underserved women in India, and perhaps the world. The city is also home to the Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship, which comprises students, faculty and alumni from the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, and is “passionately committed to helping disruptive innovations and aspiring entrepreneurs succeed commercially.” It is not surprising, then, that this city is hosting the international traveling exhibit “Vision of 10” in October 2011, which showcases a vision for 10 sustainable cities in 2030. Ahmedabad is the only Indian city featured in the exhibit, mainly for its progressive transit system Janmarg.
In keeping with the forward-looking innovation that runs through the city’s blood, a new project was launched in July 2011 to make Ahmedabad a “slum-free city.” What is surprising, though, is that in a city of such out-of-the-box thinking and entrepreneurship, the Gujarat state government has decided to adopt Mumbai’s Dharavi slum redevelopment model (Dharavi Redevelopment Project or DRP) as it embarks on an ambitious plan to upgrade the living quarters of 440,000 slum dwellers in the city. Initially, the project, called “The Regulation for the Rehabilitation and Redevelopment of the Slums 2010” and run by the state’s Urban Development Department (UDD), will focus on 1,200 families who reside in the “crime-prone” slum of Amraiwadi. Under the public-private partnership model, an Ahmedabad-based private contractor will develop 1,136 three-story unit flats, each of 39 square yards, for allotment to slum dwellers currently living on government land in Amraiwadi. The buildings’ one-bedroom apartments will have a drainage and drinking water system and will also have a landscaped garden and school, if all approvals go as planned. However, Ahmedabad’s ideal-sounding model has created a longstanding storm of controversy in Dharavi.
The Dharavi Redevelopment Model
In 2004, the Dharavi Redevelopment Project, a complex multi-stakeholder public-private partnership initiative that includes international developers, bureaucrats, state agencies, civil society and social movements, was presented to various stakeholders, and since then has been highly criticized for its top-down approach in bulldozing a “worthless eyesore.” The goal is to rebuild the area in the likeness of Shanghai.
The state-facilitated PPP “artificially” sectioned off the small but densely populated area into five areas that were each bid upon by different private developers. Furthermore, in pursuit of making the area into an “economic hub,” critics say the government and its partners have neglected the existing thriving economy in Dharavi, which The Economist valued at US$500 million in 2005. “Dharavi is a highly developed, socially diverse and economically productive area that is the outcome of generations of investment and self-development with little assistance from authorities or formal institutions,” says the Hindustan Timesresponse article.
Knowing this, Ahmedabad has gone forward with a similar PPP model for its government-run slum redevelopment initiative. Under Ahmedabad’s Slum Rehabilitation Policy, the builder can utilize the space left after constructing houses for the slum-dwellers for commercial or other purposes, says a DNA article. Also, the floor space index (FSI)—the ratio of the total floor area of buildings on a certain location to the size of the land of that location—will be raised for builders who develop slums under the policy. And, continues the article, “the realtors will also have the liberty to use the higher FSI for that project or for their project elsewhere in the city that is planned on an area of the same size as the slum they are developing.” The pro-builder policies and the potential to turn the land into commercial space are economic incentives for the developers that will, similar to Dharavi, call into question the entire focus of the project and whether the redevelopment will really help the people who currently live on that land.
Affordable Housing in Ahmedabad
Ahmedabad’s dynamism is reflected in the numerous affordable housing initiatives that have cropped up recently. “Housing is a game changer,” says B.R. Balachandran, an urban planner and Executive Director of DBS Affordable Home Strategy Ltd, who champions a low-cost housing model that offer a “holistic” approach to integrating its clients into the formal housing system. DBS looks beyond a concrete building or residence into a package of products and services that facilitate their customer base’s transition to formal ownership of their property. DBS’ target population makes between INR 10,000-30,000 (US$200-600) per month to pay for the units that start at INR 4 lakhs (US$8,000) for 220 square feet and go up to 9 lakhs (US$18,000). “The market needs to develop for this segment,” says Balachandran. The company offers social services that support housing, including facilitating access to home loans, financial literacy, livelihood support, education and health services. Most important, however, is the “active handholding” as families who have mostly lived in slums and informal settings move into housing ownership. This is critical component in making housing a “transformational intervention,” says Balachandran.
This transformational intervention is what the Dharavi Redevelopment Model is lacking and why its potential in Ahmedabad is questionable. The top-down approach and leap from slum to high-rise misses the need for incremental steps towards integrating the urban poor into the formal housing market. The high-rise as a structure also fails to take into account the nature of how the poor live, work and socialize. In Dharavi, this has been a leading criticism of the redevelopment project: that the poor need open spaces—not small, confined flats on upper-deck floors—so that livelihoods, which often require street space for selling or rooftop space for drying, continue to thrive.
The house is an investment in their future, and, says Balachandran, “there needs to be incremental investments in this that the community needs to be a part of.” In other words, simply “replacing a bad house with a better house” lacks the holistic approach and involvement that DBS believes is essential to moving people up the value chain and into the formal housing market. For this to happen, government investment in housing has to simultaneously involve investment in moving the poor up the socio-economic ladder by including health, education and “equipping them to deal with life.”
DBS has partnered with Saath, an Ahmedabad-based NGO committed to empowering and enabling the upward mobility of low-income urban households. In addition, Saath and DBS have launched a spin-off social enterprise called Griha Pravesh, a “first-of-its-kind” housing facilitation center that will act as a facilitator for clients to make more informed decisions about their home purchases; financing; and integration of community development initiatives with. Since some urban poor slum dwellers may be reluctant to move to a new area where employment opportunities and health and education services are less available than their current situation, Griha Pravesh will ensure access to programs such as those created through Saath. Examples of these programs are Saath’s Urmila program, which trains women to become “home managers” for urban households, as well as Saath’s Umeed that provides vocational training for youth from vulnerable households in areas that include business process outsourcing, bedside patient assistance, customer relations and information technology.
DRM’s Potential for Success
Ahmedabad is just setting out on the long and complicated road of slum redevelopment. As the project progresses, the government will need to keep as its focus the betterment of the people living in the slums, rather than a “beautification” of the city, which will ultimately lead to an incongruence in goals for the players involved. And, more importantly, a misaligned approach could lead to a loss of livelihood, social structures and way of life for the nearly half-million poor in the city. DBS’ affordable housing model acknowledges an important point in housing upgrading for the poor: the process that is needed to successfully integrate the disenfranchised into the formal housing market. The Ahmedabad government has at its fingertips some cutting-edge resource centers, such as the Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship, as well as Griha Pravesh, and affordable housing models to work with. The time is now for Ahmedabad to truly make its city into a “Vision of 10” urban environment where all of its residents benefit from the creative, lively spirit of ingenuity that is so effusive there.
The opinions expressed on the Searchlight South Asia site are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Rockefeller Foundation.