Government records may say that on-the-site slum re-development in Kanpur brought big benefits to dwellers, but reality is quite different

It is now widely agreed that instead of evicting slum-dwellers or shifting them to the outer margins of cities, efforts should be made for on-the-site re-development of slums. In other words, slums should be re-developed at the same site in such a way that slum dwellers can have better housing and other essential facilities.

While in principle a forward looking concept, things can go terribly wrong if such a scheme is implemented without the participation of people and if the implementation is marred by corruption.

This appears to have been the experience of Navinagar Kakadev slum re-development in Kanpur. Seen from a distance, this appears to be a good achievement as an impressive looking multi-storeyed building now stands in place of the old slum. But get a little closer to talk to the people here and a different reality emerges.

Quite close to the new building a cluster full of kutcha dwellings still exist. A woman living here explains, “Many original slum dwellers still live here as they were not allotted flats in the new colony. Once the new building started coming up, several fake claimants emerged. They got the flats while genuine slum-dwellers were deprived.”

Another woman says, “We've too borrowed money on a 10 per cent monthly interest. We borrowed a lot of money just to be able to pursue our case. We wrote many applications, and went to meet several babus. But nothing happened. Only our debt has piled up. Now there is a bigger threat,” she continues, “Some officials have been coming and telling us that we've to vacate even these kutcha dwellings. Where will we go? We've no other home in this city.”

So a slum re-development project which started with so much hope for slum dwellers may end up turning many of them into homeless people.

But what about those who got flats in the new multi-storeyed colony that has come up for the slum dwellers? Ironically even most of these ‘beneficiaries' are not happy. As one of them said, “The quality of construction work in this building is so poor that plaster and pieces of concrete keep falling off. When it rains our roofs leak, toilet pipes leak all the time. So we do not know what will be our fate in a few years' time?”

A social activist involved with the community says, “We shudder to think what will happen to such a poorly constructed building at the time of a calamity like an earthquake.” The people living here, however, are more concerned about the here and now. As one of them said, “We had to pay Rs. 16,000 at the time of gaining possession of one flat. We did not have the money, so we borrowed at high interest rates. After paying the monthly interest and the repair work, we find it difficult to survive.”

One indicator of the disillusionment with the new colony is that those who were left out of this scheme are not so eager now to pay Rs. 16,000 for such a flat.

“Rather than shift to such a colony, I'll prefer that we get security wherever we are living now, along with some essential facilities.”

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