KOLKATA, 28 DEC: A working group of the National Advisory Council (NAC) has called for a moratorium on all forced evictions or evictions without following a transparent process adding that diversion of land earmarked for the poor to other uses should attract stringent penalties.
“There should be no displacement without prior and full resettlement and rehabilitation,” states the draft of reforms recommended by the NAC’s working group, comprising Dr NC Saxena and Ms Anu Aga, and convened by Mr Harsh Mander, for Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), a Central scheme for the urban poor. The draft was open for public comments till 15 November. The recommendations were finally communicated to the Centre on 20 December.
The Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), a scheme announced by the President earlier in 2009, focuses on slum dwellers and the urban poor. The scheme aims at promoting a slum-free India in five years and focuses on according property rights to slum dwellers. According to Dr Pronab Sen, Principal Adviser, Planning Commission, the slum population in India is expected to touch 93.06 million this year. The NAC recommended that to prevent future slums, 25-40 per cent of land in city development plans should be reserved for housing of urban poor, and for creation of new social housing stock. The livelihood activities of slum dwellers should also be taken into account in this planning process, and space for livelihoods should be reserved both in slums and rehabilitation sites.
Meanwhile, according to the West Bengal Municipal (Amendment) Bill, 2011, each municipality would have to create a separate fund called “Basic Services for Urban Poor Fund” for delivery of basic services to the urban poor within their respective jurisdiction, including inhabitants of slum areas. A minimum of 25 per cent of the funds within the budget of the municipality would have to be earmarked and used for providing basic services to the urban poor, including slum dwellers, on a yearly basis.
As per the UPA government’s proposal for this scheme, the schemes for affordable housing through partnership and the scheme for interest subsidy for urban housing would be dovetailed into the Rajiv Awas Yojana which would extend support under JnNURM to states that are willing to assign property rights to people living in slum areas. The NAC working group recommended inclusion of the most vulnerable city residents into the eligibility slab for the Rajiv Awas Yojana and settlements of scattered homeless persons who do not live in groups, settlements of the “precariously housed”, or persons who live in pavements; parks, vacant lands or even waste dumps and domestic help who live in the houses of their employers. “The Union ministry for housing and urban poverty alleviation may issue guidelines that these categories are covered on priority basis,” the working group recommends.
The decision about whether the settlement is untenable and relocation of the slum absolutely necessary should be made after due process that is transparent, participatory and fair. The Rajiv Awas Yojana guidelines currently prescribe in situ development of slums to be the norm, and relocation of untenable sites to be the exception. However, the recommendations suggested that a clear process to establish the criterion for what is the definition of tenable and what constitutes “untenable” and “hazardous” lands should be established, made widely known to the people, and decisions taken on a case to case basis through an open, transparent due process. A committee should be constituted, including independent experts and representatives from slum dwellers’ associations, which should decide on the tenability of slum sites with reasoned orders in writing, which would be appealable.