Tamil Nadu

A march towards affordable housing for urban poor

A housing unit constructed at
Gowthamapuram in Chennai.

A housing unit constructed at Gowthamapuram in Chennai. | Photo Credit: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

On June 11, 1972, when veteran socialist Jayaprakash Narayan was in Tamil Nadu at the invitation of Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, he lauded Tamil Nadu’s policies for the welfare of the poor, especially the work of the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB).

Inaugurating 1,848 housing units constructed at Kotturpuram in Chennai, which was the TNSCB’s biggest project till then, he hailed the services of the TNSCB as the most valuable contribution to the building of a socialist society. The amenities provided in the housing units were a “revolutionary change” in the lives of slum-dwellers, he said.

Legislation and measures for tackling the problems faced by those residing in slums existed even before. In 1933, the Corporation of Madras formed a Special Housing Committee (SHC) to study the problem. The Union government enacted the Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act in 1956. At least four States had adopted similar legislation before the enactment of the Tamil Nadu Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act in 1971.

A survey done by the SHC in 1933 found that there were 189 slums in Madras. In 1953-54, the number increased to 306. In the 1961 Census, the number jumped to 548, with roughly one in every four families living in slums.

First of its kind

Though the Tamil Nadu Housing Board, founded in 1961, began addressing the housing needs of those in slums as well, it could not give the focus and resources the issue demanded. The DMK government, under the leadership of Karunanidhi, rightly recognised the need for an exclusive body to address the problem.

Consequently, the TNSCB, the first such body in India, was formed in September 1970 with the motto of ‘We shall see God in the smile of the poor’. It was formed with a seven-year programme to transform all slums in the city at a cost of ₹40 crore. Two main strategies were followed. One was to allocate small-sized plots to families in places where they resided if it was feasible and provision of basic amenities in the locality. The other was the construction of multi-storey buildings and resettling the people there.

Reports in the media around that time show the government gave a lot of focus to the TNSCB. There were repeated appeals to the Union government for financial aid. Karunanidhi appealed to private landowners to sell their land occupied by slum dwellers to the State government at a reasonable price for redevelopment. A survey was conducted by the TNSCB, which showed the number of slums in Chennai further increased to 1,202 by 1972. With the need for speedier construction of houses, there were attempts to leverage technological innovations in construction.

The tenements inaugurated by Jayaprakash Narayan were considered the flagship project of the TNSCB.

Mixed bag

The Board has so far constructed more than 4.4 lakh tenements and houses. While the progress in providing housing for the urban poor cannot be underestimated, its achievements have been a mixed bag owing to inherent problems in the way the Board functions and the increasing demand for housing due to rapid urbanisation.

Chennai’s slum population was 24% in 1961, but it increased to 29% as per the census done in 2011, four decades after the formation of the Board.

Professors from the Madras Institute of Development Studies A. Kalaiyarasan and M. Vijayabaskar in their book, The Dravidian Model-Interpreting the political economy of Tamil Nadu, have pointed out that interventions in urban housing by the TNSCB have not expanded much to other cities.

Activists and researchers say the problems faced by the urban poor in the work done by the TNSCB can be broadly classified into three categories: the poor quality of construction in many places; forceful eviction and resettlement in places far away from the areas where they resided; and the failure to transfer land rights through the issuance of sale deeds in places where it is possible.

New vision

The present government has given a new outlook to the TNSCB by renaming it Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board (TNUHDB) to stress that its aim is to develop urban habitats and improve the livelihood of the urban poor and not just “clearance” of slums. However, activists have called for changes to the provisions of the Act.

Measures such as involving external organisations in monitoring quality in construction and strengthening community engagement are being done. Habitat development committees are being formed in all districts to bring together different departments and civil society in addressing the problems of the urban poor.

A new scheme, ‘ Nam Kudiyiruppu Nam Poruppu’ (Our habitat, Our responsibility), has been launched to encourage the participation of communities in the maintenance of the tenements constructed by TNUHDB. A State-level committee has been formed to identify land parcels for the construction of houses to avoid resettlement in faraway places. A resettlement and rehabilitation policy is on the anvil.

The seven-year plan of the first Karunanidhi government remained unfulfilled, albeit some progress. It remains to be seen whether the vision of the present DMK government, headed by his son M.K. Stalin, is successful in making Tamil Nadu “slum-free” in the next 10 years.

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2022 10:48:39 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/a-march-towards-affordable-housing-for-urban-poor/article65533033.ece