By Irbaaz Shaikh*
Several housing projects for the people belonging to the economically weaker sections (EWS) were initiated by the Gujarat government for shifting the poor neighborhoods containing slums and other temporary dwellings near the Sabarmati river to other areas, so that the Sabarmati Riverfront Project could be completed. Before asking people to shift to the new project sites, the state government made several promises to the people about its new housing schemes – that these houses were sustainable, that various facilities provided in the city like education and healthcare would continue at the new sites, that they would not have any problems with their livelihood, and that there would be enough transport facilities to take them to the rest of Ahmedabad.
But we find that the new EWS housing projects have not been as rosy. So far, at the nine EWS sites where SAATH is working — in Dudeshwar, Behrampura, Vasna, Odhav and Vatva — out of a total of 20 that have come up, 6,374 houses have been constructed, in which approximately 4,562 families are living. Many houses are still empty, as people are not moving in. The reasons for this are not difficult to fathom.
The places where the people have been shifted are more than five kilometers away from their previous location. As a result, due to the remoteness of the new places, many residents find that they are unable to carry on with their previous jobs. In fact, they have to travel very long distances to their place of work. Also, lack of proper transportation facilities has complicated their problems. This has mainly led to many women leaving their jobs as caretakers and home managers, as they cannot afford the substantial costs of travelling very far and returning back to their homes at night. After all, they have to take care of their children, their families and their homes. And, of course, there is the issue of their safety.
Before shifting them to the new sites, the state government promised the slum dwellers that the housing schemes where they were being moved would have good water supply, and that there would be necessary sanitation facilities, too. But all this was found to be only hyperbole, as many people found out that there was no proper water supply. In many houses, even today, there is no water supply connection. And at places where there is connection, water supply is highly erratic. In many places, although proper sanitation and waste disposal facilities exist, awareness has not been created among people by the authorities on how to use them. Also, maintenance of these facilities by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) is almost non-existent. This double combination – of not knowing how to use proper facilities and non-maintenance of the provided facilities – has resulted in many people becoming victims of outbreak of avoidable and preventable diseases.
The AMC has the mandate for maintaining these sites for a period of two years, during which time organizations like SAATH have taken up work with people to organize them to ensure that they are ready and equipped to take on the maintenance and upkeep of the housing sites. It is an uphill battle, as the process of rehabilitation has been haphazard and fraught with many questions.
Effect on education
The worst impact has been on children’s education. A proper educational facility for the peoples’ children which was promised by the state government is missing. In many cases, especially in places like Dudeshwar, Odhav and Isanpur, there are no municipal schools in the proximity of the sites. A SAATH survey shows that, as a result, 5,467 children from about 1,825 families were deprived of the fundamental right of proper education. At other places, like Behrampura, Shahwadi and Vatva, although schools are there, there are other problems like long distances to be covered by children to study. Travelling is a difficult option for children, who mostly walk to schools. SAATH survey suggests that there are 8,211 such children from 2,737 families.
Also, in the schools themselves, there are various problems like absence of teachers, no electricity, no furniture and no toilets – factors due to which the dropout rate of girls in primary schools is particularly very high. At most of these places, there is no high school, with the result the children who pass out from primary schools have no other option but to discontinue their schooling.
All the sites were promised to have one anganwadi each and a healthcare centre, too. At most of the sites structures for anganwadi and healthcare have been built, yet these remain abandoned. The quality of the anganwadis which are working is not up to the required standard for the small children.
The proposed solution
It is in this context that SAATH, with its EWS projoct, decided to help people in different ways by partnering with the AMC to work at nine sites. The SAATH project aims at building housing associations with strong committees, bringing about awareness among people about living at these sites, facilitating the collection of maintenance charges and also provide loan repayment. SAATH has formed committees in nearly all the nine sites and is in the process of registering them with the registrar.
The project is aimed at formation of residents’ associations and facilitates like collection of maintenance charges and loan repayment. Various programmes are carried out by conducting house visits, organizing night meetings, having direct interaction with the community, etc. It does all this by having a participatory approach towards the beneficiaries.
In Nava Vadaj, for example, a committee was formed with selected representatives to solve and attend to the matters of the slum dwellers from Balolnagar area, who had shifted to the new site. Regular meetings were conducted with the committee members in order to orient them about their roles and responsibilities. After regular meetings, the committee was given the structure of an association which was named as Jay Mahadevnagar Association. All the mandatory formalities and legal compliance were met with a thorough participatory approach, determined by people themselves.
Night meetings were organized in order to introduce the committee to the people from Balolnagar, and have discussions regarding the roles and responsibilities of the association. The committee was given the form of an association by taking the following steps:
- Registration with the charity commissioner.
- Submission of the documents and completion of other formalities.
With the joint efforts of the committee and SAATH, finally, the association was given legal recognition in July 2010 (which is also the registration date of the association). With the passage of time, a sustainable approach was adopted by the SAATH team to support committee members to continue with their activities, which included filing of complaints with the authorities against pending issue.
SAATH also works for creating awareness about forming peer-pressure groups to present their cases to the authorities. At the same time, it makes people aware of the facilities that the state government has already made for them by performing street plays in localities, and by organizing and promoting drawing and poster-making campaigns and competitions among children.
Yet, people participating actively in SAATH programmes remains a big challenge. They have lost trust in the system, especially the administration. Even then, SAATH has been working with people to make the administration aware of the lacunae and work towards solutions so that those who are seen as poor are given their basic rights and services. Even then, the biggest worry that continues to bog the new sites is what will happen to the children who have been dropped out of schools.
*With Saath Charitable Trust