By Sohini Sarkar
This article was originally published in PRAYAS, a pilot effort to bring together people working on social protection in India.
Community participation in public sector-led housing and service delivery for the urban poor can determine the success of these projects, says Sohini Sarkar. A look at the experiences of CHF International in building participatory spaces and programmes in urban low-income housing projects in Bangalore, Pune and Nagpur.
The importance of robust community engagement in public sector-driven housing and basic service solutions for India’s urban poor is both widely recognised and yet, scarcely implemented. In fact, the Basic Services for the Urban Poor (BSUP) component of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) launched in 2005 requires 5% of the Central and State grant received by cities to be set aside to develop “City Development Plans (CDPs), Detailed Project Reports (DPRs), training and capacity building, community participation, information, education and communication (IEC).” However, in reality, implementation of community engagement has been far from uniform across the country.
A whole host of factors, including bureaucratic inertia, limited capacity of urban local bodies (ULBs) to pursue community engagement, rapid escalation of urban land prices, and nexus between rogue developers and politicians have posed roadblocks to serious engagement with slum residents. Procedural challenges like the rush to meet deadlines set under JNNURM for submission of CDPs and DPRs, and ill-conceived targets that do not accommodate the somewhat time-consuming nature of participatory planning and implementation, has more often than not resulted in symbolic rather than real attempts at engaging communities.
Socio-economic challenges in slums and informality of tenure in slum communities also make them susceptible to “vote-bank politics”. However, there are inherent challenges to implementing participatory processes, which need to be understood and addressed.
In 2008, CHF International (CHF), an international development organisation, launched the Slum Communities Achieving Liveable Environments with Urban Partners (SCALE-UP)—a pilot programme funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF)—to improve slum conditions and the livelihoods of urban slum residents. The overarching goals of the programme were to build the capacity of on-ground organisations that worked with and represented the interests of the urban poor, and ensure that the “voices of the poor” were integrated into urban planning. The programme was implemented in three Indian cities (Pune, Nagpur and Bengaluru) and two in Ghana (Accra and Sekondi-Takoradi). SCALE-UP India supported two broad categories of pro-poor urban projects: housing, infrastructure and urban services; and economic development.
SCALE-UP supported several affordable housing and service delivery projects under JNNURM/BSUP, targeting slums in Pune, Nagpur and Bangalore. CHF provided a mix of grants and technical assistance (TA) to build the organisational capacity of CBOs, local NGOs and local government entities, especially their ability to effectively engage in participatory planning and implementation. SCALE-UP also provided TA and grants to strengthen the relationship between ULBs and local partners through joint training workshops and site visits. In Pune, where the Mahila Milan was contracted by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) to build 750 houses, SCALE-UP supported Mahila Milan to secure architectural and engineering services through task-based contracts.
SCALE-UP collaborated with the PMC, Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers (SPARC) and its people’s movement partner Mahila Milan, a network of poor women’s collectives, to complete in-situ upgrading of seven slums and mobilise an additional four slum communities to relocate to alternative housing sites in the Yerwada administrative ward.
In Nagpur, CHF, in collaboration with the Evangelical Social Action Forum (ESAF), a local NGO with strong roots within Nagpur’s slum communities, trained slum residents in participatory planning. CHF and ESAF worked with slum communities and the Nagpur Municipal Council (NMC) to prepare project proposals for five slum communities, and in the process enabled the NMC to secure about $14.7 million for the implementation of slum redevelopment and housing for over 1,430 households.
In Bangalore, CHF was invited by the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagar Palike (BBMP) to assist with the implementation of a slum redevelopment programme, which was designed to provide subsidised housing for about 1,174 residents in 13 slums. Unlike Pune and Nagpur, where slum communities as well as SCALE-UP partners were brought on board early on to help design the programme, external consultants working with little or no community consultation designed the basic architecture of BBMP’s housing projects. CHF worked in collaboration with Bangalore Mahila Milan to develop a strategy to secure retroactive buy-in from slum residents.
Engaging the Community
A variety of factors, including socio-economic and cultural profile of the slum communities and the political, economic and regulatory framework play a role in shaping any community engagement process.
For SCALE-UP, the efforts to secure buy-in of relevant stakeholders starts early during its proposal design phase, when CHF staff reach out to JNNURM officials, municipal commissioners, mayors, and local NGOs and CBOs in different cities to pitch the idea and secure their buy-in.
Once the programme is launched, CHF staff and their local partners meet with relevant city councils to secure their buy-in and enter into MOUs. For instance, in Nagpur, CHF staff held weekly review meetings with the Municipal Commissioner on the progress of work in the slums allocated to SCALE-UP, and daily meetings with the Slum Rehabilitation Authority staff and Slum Department of NMC for on-site execution at Jattarodi and Wanjara.
In some cases house-to-house visits were conducted to explain the project and encourage slum communities to participate. In addition, local partners often conducted entry-point activities to raise awareness about SCALE-UP and start off on a good note like eye check-up camps, health clinics and solar lamp distribution.
Spatial surveys and data analysis, including detailed plane table surveys and analysis of existing layout of settlements-plot size, state of shelter, the number of settlement plots, non-residential uses, access roads, religious places, community amenities, shops and facilities are conducted. The survey data is analysed and integrated into a geographic information system-based management information system (MIS). This is followed by a detailed socio-economic analysis of kuccha housing. The data from socio-economic surveys is used to identify eligible beneficiaries. Once beneficiaries are selected, individual beneficiary files are developed for each household comprising:
Each beneficiary is provided a copy to retain as part of his or her legal record.
Designed by the community
Communities were also engaged in design of the housing units. For instance, in Pune Mahila Milan staff (comprising women form the slums) collaborated in designing and redesigning of models and dissemination of information with the communities. If it involved additional costs, beneficiaries were required to pay extra. In in-situ slum upgrading, a final design approval was obtained from the beneficiary and a legal agreement signed between the building contractor and the beneficiary. In cases where the design involved multiple adjoining houses, a joint meeting was organised by the local CBO/NGO attended by the contractor and the beneficiaries to receive a joint consent.
Local CBO/NGO partners also worked closely with beneficiary households to mobilise savings for beneficiary contribution. They also liaised with local banks to open joint accounts with the beneficiaries, followed up to ensure timely deposits and evaluated beneficiary passbooks at each phase of the construction process.
In the case of in-situ slum redevelopment, local NGO/CBO partners also helped the beneficiaries establish housing cooperatives so that the housing received under BSUP stays in good shape without additional external assistance.
SCALE-UP’s programmatic experiences regarding affordable housing and basic service delivery have provided CHF International with valuable lessons that will enhance future slum upgrading/redevelopment programmes:
Training of trainers (ToT), that comprise building capacity of select group of CBOs or individuals drawn from a relevant pool of stakeholders is a popular capacity building strategy. However, without adequate monitoring it is difficult to ensure that the trained individuals/CBOs will either want to or be able to transfer the learning to a wider group. Capacity building efforts need to be designed to ensure that the knowledge is not restricted to a few groups or individuals.
Communities with existing grassroots organisations or a shared history of mobilising for other socio-economic causes tend to fare better than their counterparts who lack such organisations. For instance, in Bangalore, where BBMP had not ensured community consultation during the programme design phase, slum residents were sceptical and at times openly hostile to ULB officials visiting their slums for enumeration activities. However, SCALE-UP chose BSUP-approved slums where Mahila Milan was already active and despite a late start, were able to fast track the mobilisation process due to the trust they had built
On the flip side, past history of local partners and associated perceptions can also threaten participatory processes. For instance, one of the SCALE-UP partners had conducted surveys for the SRA scheme and many slum residents associated their presence with potential threats of relocation. Blind faith in the normative superiority of grassroots organisations and networks needs to be substituted by a pragmatic analysis of their perception by communities and ULBs, and at times reorienting their modus operandi or creating new grassroots based entities may be needed for ensuring success.
Moving forward: Public sector-led efforts for affordable housing and basic services for the urban poor cannot afford to alienate the communities they plan to serve. As Brian English, CHF’s Chief of Party for the SCALE-UP India programme points out, “Time and time again we saw government-subsidised slum upgrading schemes fail because they did not consult or include the communities in their planning. Communities simply said, ‘we don’t want it’ and this brought the projects to a standstill.”
Securing community buy-in makes for better products, reduces wasteful expenditure and time and cost over-runs that occur when slum residents refuse to move. It also improves the chances of sustaining the investments as beneficiaries develop a greater sense of ownership and stake through participatory planning processes.
Engaging slum residents in participatory planning is easier said than done. Slum communities are rarely, if ever, homogenous. A range of diverse and vested interests exists within slums, making the process of consensus building challenging and time consuming. Also, raising awareness, removing scepticism, and securing buy-in of slum residents to participatory processes can also be labour intensive and lengthy.
Further, there is a need to revisit the distinction between kuccha and pucca houses. The flexible definition of puccahouses under JNNURM often results in exclusion of households that have made partial investments in upgrading their houses but lack the resources to complete renovation from the in-situ slum upgrading process. This creates challenges for community mobilisation and consensus development.
In some of the slum pockets in Yerwada, Pune, where beneficiary selection had already taken place before SCALE UP activities were launched, many residents complained about feeling “punished” or “deprived” for taking the initiative towards minor upgrades. The cost for these changes and additions could be given to the beneficiary. For several houses, which have constructed pucca houses but do not have 270 sq. ft. or an individual toilet, regulatory reforms are needed to provide for the additional cost on the same basis as for completely kuccha houses.
Currently, most of the local governments in India implementing BSUP-funded interventions lack the organisational capacity and tools to effectively engage in inclusive governance.
Examples of improvements that could create the right set of incentives for local governments to engage in inclusive and pro-poor governance include: mandatory inclusion of a detailed community engagement plan by local governments as a qualifying condition to receive state or central government funds for housing projects for the urban poor; improving ULB’s procurement processes for slum upgrading and redevelopment projects where a context-driven plan for participatory planning accompanied by a detailed budget is made part of the competitive bidding process; developing in-house capacity in GIS-based management information systems at the local government level; and mandating sharing of survey data and analysis with the communities and administrative under community consultation guidelines.
Sohini Sarkar is a Senior Programme Development Manager at CHF International. Ms. Sarkar is also pursuing a doctoral degree at American University, Washington DC, focusing on the housing crisis of the urban poor in India. She can be reached at email@example.com.
This article is part of Prayas Edition 5: A place called Home. Click here to download the eMagazine edition.