The basic idea of urban governance rests in the devolution of political power by which urban plans are decided and executed � not by the whims of the elected bodies but by the will and aspirations of the people residing in those urban areas. This idea has been developed in the last couple of decades in almost every urban centre across the world to address the multidimensional issues that emerge due to rapid urbanisation, unprecedented influx from rural to urban areas, crisis of purified water supply, dumping of waste, degradation of water bodies and air due to contamination, drainage facilities, and shortage of recreational and market areas.
The rapid growth of urban population also poses some serious challenges, particularly in settlement and housing, and has outpaced the development of some basic minimum services like water supply, sewerage and solid waste disposal, which are far from adequate.
In such a context, urban governance is becoming a sensitive, contemporary discourse that encompasses a host of economic and social institutions.
To address the housing problem in urban India, the present Central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) scheme in June 2015. The scheme aims to construct about two crore houses in the country from 2015 to 2022. The beneficiaries include homeless citizens, poor urban people and citizens belonging to Economically Weaker Section (EWS) and Lower Income Group (LIG) categories. The PMAY seeks to address the housing requirement of urban poor, including slum dwellers, through certain verticals � 1) rehabilitation of slum dwellers with the participation of private developers using land as a resource, 2) promotion of affordable housing for weaker section through credit-linked subsidy, 3) affordable housing in partnership with public and private sectors, and 4) subsidy for beneficiary-led individual house construction.
The first programme of this mission, regarded as the primary and most crucial component, is In-situ redevelopment, where land would be used as a primary resource. Here, the government will allow private developers to develop and construct houses and finally a portion of such constructed houses would be provided to eligible slum dwellers. This approach aims to leverage the locked potential of land under slums to provide houses to eligible slum dwellers, bringing them into the formal urban settlement.
Now, some crucial questions have emerged concerning Guwahati with respect to this programme, which needs special attention before implementation. If the land of a particular slum is taken up for �In-situ� redevelopment for providing house to all eligible slum dwellers, and if the land is Central government land or State government land or owned by Urban Local Body (ULB) or some private individual, then before the process of redevelopment starts, such slum should be compulsorily denotified. Whether such denotification has been initiated by the Revenue Department of Assam in the context of Guwahati is a pertinent legal question for implementing this programme.
The next relevant question is whether the Government of Assam is planning an open bidding process to select a private partner for slum redevelopment. Under this project, the State government and cities would, if required, provide additional Floor Area Ratio (FAR), Floor Space Index (FSI), Transferable Development Rights (TDR) for making such slum redevelopment projects financially viable. Though slum rehabilitation grant of Rs 1 lakh per house on an average is admissible as per the PMAY guidelines, the State government has the flexibility to deploy this central grant for other slums being redeveloped with private participation except slums on private land. This guideline also mentions the flexibility of a State or Union Territory to deploy this central grant � it means that the government can utilise more than Rs 1 lakh per house in some projects and less in other projects but overall, an average of Rs 1 lakh per house is calculated across the State or UT.
It is important to inquire about the process adopted by the Government of Assam for selecting private builders for slum redevelopment in Guwahati, and the government�s plans to utilise the said grant?
Unfortunately, the Assam government is yet to start the preliminary survey for identifying slum areas in Guwahati that would be covered under this programme, and has been intentionally delaying the demarcation of notified land in slum areas. Also, due to non-publicity of this programme as well as the overall government policy, people don�t have any knowledge or concerns about the benefits. Therefore, even three years after the launch of the PMAY scheme, a comprehensive beneficiary list is yet to be published by the authorities with respect to slum areas in Guwahati.
Last but not the least, what are the criteria framed by the State authorities to include or exclude slums in this programme? As per the guidelines issued for PMAY, the State government has the absolute authority to decide whether the constructed houses in the slums will be allotted on ownership rights or on renewable, mortgageable and inheritable rights. The State government should provide all kinds of basic information regarding this housing programme to slum dwellers of this city, to identify the beneficiaries who really deserve housing.