A quick take on slum redevelopment

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Ashutosh Limaye of Jones Lang LaSalle

Considering the amount of negative press they get, it is not immediately apparent that there are also less negative ways of looking at them. For instance, slums represent an extremely high-density model of residential settlement. In this respect, they make the most efficient use of limited land possible.

Moreover, slums tend to form around primary workplace catchments and business districts, which means that they represent an immediately accessible support work force.  The relocation of slum-dwellers takes up a lot more real estate resources than leaving them precisely where they are. Since projects built for the resettlement of slum-dwellers are invariably in far-off locations, the cost of their services goes up because they have to commute far longer distances. This means an increase in the salaries that slum-dwellers will justifiably ask for if they are relocated.

However, it is certainly an inalienable fact that slums detract from the overall quality of life – both of the slum dwellers and those living in the vicinity. In a city like Mumbai, rehabilitating slum-dwellers who have their settlements along railway tracks is probably the most important, since these slums reduce the efficiency of the transport system. By relocating slum dwellers, this land can be put to much better use and add to the city’s quality quotient. Redeveloped slums result in improved property demand within and around the said areas.

With slum redevelopment, large parcels of land can be opened up for proper development, thereby adding to supply in congested areas and exerting downward pressure on existing property rates. Moreover, demand increases because the area’s profile is given an upgrade. To aid slum redevelopment, the most progressive step the Government can take is encouragement of the PPP model. Many SRA schemes that follow this model have seen success in Mumbai, with names such as Akruti, HDIL, Unitech and Hiranandani coming readily to mind. It would not be inappropriate to state that the PPP model has managed to boost a name like Akruti to a high level of national recognition, despite the fact that the company has no significant land holdings in the city.
The PPP platform is currently a very workable one in cases where a slum rehabilitation proposal can be raised to the implementation level. The possibility that an even more progressive model will evolve cannot be discounted, however.

That said, there are certainly challenges to effective slum redevelopment. Most slums exist on unauthorized areas, on land which does not belong to the slum dwellers. Land ownership is a major issue. If a particular slum exists on Government-owned land, this problem can potentially be overcome. However, if it is privately owned, there is often resistance from the owner in parting with it. Another challenge is the creation of a database of existing slum dwellers.

In Mumbai, there exists no authentic and acceptable record of slum dwellers for planning authorities to work with. This syndrome is true in most slum areas around the country. Also, while regulations and policies are in place for SRA, their implementation is important to avoid misuse of the liberated land.

There is also the problem of resistance – slum dwellers are very wary of any kind of proposed change in their accustomed way of life, since they live on a socio-psychological edge to begin with. The proposals that are being floated are progressive, but the slum dweller’s inherent insecurity and mistrust oppose their implementation.

On cannot help but think of the Dharavi redevelopment project in Mumbai, which was talked about a lot before the whole project went into bureaucratic limbo. Dharavi falls in a prime locality between BKC and the Lower Parel mill district. This means that projects there would naturally cater to high-end property buyers. With the applicable FSI there, there would be enough left for luxury housing projects after rehabilitation of existing hutments. With an FSI of 4 instead of the usual SRA ceiling of 2.5, the Dharavi redevelopment project would result in a truly world-class development.

As we know, this project is currently in suspended animation because of a quagmire of pending Government approvals. Even if and when  these approvals finally come through, the time-frame for completion would probably be between 8-10 years.

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