PART ONE: India needs more plans

By: Janaki Kibe, South Asia Associate


1_Growth of urban slums
Urban slums have grown in response to insufficient housing options for the urban poor


When I tell people in India that I’m an urban planner the response is a uniformly enthusiastic, “Oh great! India needs more planners! We have no planning!”


While it’s true that the total number of town planners registered with the Indian Institute of Town Planners hovers around 3,000—meaning that there is only 1 town planner for approximately every 100,000 urban dwellers—it’s not entirely true that we have no plans.


We actually have a lot of plans; they’re just poorly thought out, coordinated and implemented.


If you look at a city like Delhi, you find multiple visions for the future Delhi represented in the City Development Plan, the State Plan, the Delhi 2021 Vision Master Plan, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and the Rajiv Awas Yojana.


Yet, according to a note filed before the Supreme Court on management of municipal solid waste, “A sizeable population [of the city still] lives in unplanned areas having no proper system of collection, transportation and disposal of municipal solid waste.” So what’s going on? Why do we have this giant disconnect between the plans on paper and the results on the ground?


Poor project design and weaker project implementation.


10 toilets equal 10,000 votes? I say build them now!


A lot of development plans are driven by the ebbs and flows of political ambitions and the electoral schedule.  It’s no surprise that the months leading up to election season are the noisiest, not just with the din of politicians, but also with the sounds of bulldozers and motor graders. The pot hole ridden roads that emerge after the election, however, illustrate the short-term approach to a lot of planning in India. It is poorly conceived and too deeply swayed by a get votes right now mentality.


When you’re working on a fast approaching deadline, you don’t have time to conduct lengthy participatory planning consultations or feasibility studies. Heck, you might not even have time to enforce any sort of quality control checks. Maybe you can swing in one community meeting, but let’s be serious, time is of the essence and those community members do like to complain. The result: poorly thought out development plans that often exclude the insights and depths of real community engagement and planning.


To give an example, in 2005 the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MoHUPA) launched the ambitious Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) to address the development needs of urban India. With the grand goal of “augmenting social and economic infrastructure in cities, ensuring basic services to the urban poor including security of tenure at affordable prices, initiating wide-ranging sector reforms and strengthening municipal governments to decentralize” JNNURM was a loud declaration that 21st century India would purposefully drop its rural garb and embrace an urban one.  


The Integrated Housing and Slum Development Scheme (IHSDP) emerged as a byproduct of the decidedly urban focus of JNNURM.  IHSDP, which is meant to complement JNNURM and applies to all cities and towns that are not covered under the JNNURM, was designed to improve the conditions of urban slum dwellers who do not possess adequate shelter and reside in dilapidated conditions. The scheme seeks to enhance public and private investments in housing and infrastructural development in urban areas. Unlike other government programs that have focused on slum clearance and renewal, the IHSDP focuses on in-situ slum upgradation. The IHSDP program functions by offering subsidies for slum upgrading and housing improvement to eligible households based on a needs-based assessment.


In theory, the IHSDP provides a much needed alternative to traditional slum clearance and relocation approaches. It acknowledges informal housing as settlements that have great potential for improvement and upgrading. In the context of rising land costs in urban India, it avoids the problem of having to buy expensive land and capitalizes on the central locations of many slums.


While policymakers always envisioned households bearing some of construction costs of home upgrading—initially households were scheduled at contributing between 10-12% of total construction costs—the IHSDP subsidy has increasingly fallen short of total construction costs. Construction and labor costs have increased in the last 7 years—meaning that a subsidy that was once envision to cover 88-90% of total construction costs now covers as little as 30% of the construction costs.



*Based on a series of informal interviews and anecdotal data collection from Jodhpur


Wait a minute, if households are able to pay up to 70% of the construction costs surely it means they’re not as poor as we think!? Wrong. It turns out, after speaking to residents in Jodhpur who are partaking in the IHSDP most residents are plugging the funding gap by turning to high-interest rate loans that are being offered by moneylenders. And when I say high interest rate I mean 60% per annum. In essence, a government program that is meant to help fund housing improvement may actually be driving poor households into making financially poor and irreversible decisions. Sounds a bit like the subprime crisis doesn’t it?


[Continued next week in Part 2.]

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