Bageshree S.

It is mandatory to take approval of Housing Secretary

Slum Janandolana wants the Government to scrap the new rule

The order puts poor people in far-off districts at a disadvantage

Bangalore:Finding a legitimate living space in cities seems to be getting tougher by the day for the poor. A recent notification by the Government on slum declaration is one more step in this direction.

The State Government has issued a circular stating that it is mandatory for all deputy commissioners to take approval from the Secretary of the Housing Department before declaring any habitation as a slum in their jurisdiction. Hitherto, deputy commissioners had the powers to declare slums if they were satisfied that the residents had been living there for a reasonably long period and all the stipulated conditions for declaring a slum were met. Once a slum is declared, people of the area become lawful residents and can demand basic amenities in the locality such as water and electricity.

Slum Janandolana, an organisation fighting for the rights of slum-dwellers, has written to the Principal Secretary, Housing, appealing for withdrawal of the circular. It has said in its appeal submitted on April 10 that this would prove particularly difficult for slum-dwellers in far-flung districts such as Bidar, Gulbarga, Belgaum, Raichur and Hubli, since activists and slum-dwellers would now have to make several trips to Bangalore to press for their cases.

Describing the move by the Government as a blow to social justice, the appeal said that about 70 per cent of the people living in slums were Dalits and 28 per cent were religious minorities and backward classes.

Isaac Arul Selva, convenor of Slum Janandolana, said the last two-and-a-half years had seen many efforts to push the poor out of the cities with the real estate lobby wielding enormous political clout.

“Not a single slum has been declared in the last couple of years and the present circular makes it nearly impossible for the poor to fight for a legitimate living space in a city,” said Mr. Selva.

He saw it as part of a design to make our cities “slum-free” by simply stopping the process of declaring new slums.

He pointed out that the circular had a clause that said that ownership of the land had to be taken into account before declaring it a slum, which was a “ploy” to favour the real-estate lobby.

S. Ganesh, convenor of Bengaluru Slum Janara Kriya Vedike, said there had been a sustained effort to push the poor out of the city limits. “Most government housing schemes for urban poor push them further out of the cities by relocating them to city outskirts rather than give them land rights in places where they have been living, in some cases for generations,” he said.

Organisations and activists working on issues of the urban poor were planning a campaign to bring pressure on the Government to withdraw the circular. There are over 5,000 slums in Karnataka, according to one estimate. Of these, about 2,000 come under the purview of the Karnataka Slum Clearance Board.