Making India's cities free of slums has been a promise successive governments have made. The UPA had launched the Rajiv Awas Yojana in 2009, vowing to get rid of the urban ‘eyesores’ in five years. The NDA launched the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana in 2015, subsuming the Rajiv Awas Yojana. The PMAY’s avowed mission is Housing for All.
Its aim is to get rid of all slums by 2022 by providing houses to slum dwellers. According to the 2011 Census, about 13.92 million households live in 33,510 slums across India. The centrepiece of the PMAY is providing housing through credit-linked subsidies—enabling even the very poor to pay for new affordable housing. But more than two years later, very little progress has been made. A recent analysis by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs revealed that of the 3,102 projects approved under the mission, only 83 projects involving 60,305 houses from six states have taken off.
The mission has been hobbled by many issues, the primary one being land-related. Almost all slums are located well within city limits, often in the heart of the cities. But most states have tried to relocate the slum dwellers to the city outskirts by building houses for them in the peripheries. They are going against the principle of in situ slum redevelopment.
This means that beneficiaries are moved to temporary housing while their new houses are constructed on the original site. Very few slum dwellers find this appealing as it entails a long commute to their workplace. But the states justify it saying land is scarce within the cities. Unless the land issue is resolved, this commendable scheme could end up like others, good on paper but unworkable on the ground.
Another critical aspect of freeing the cities of slums is to increase economic activity in the hinterland. As long as villages offer few job opportunities, cities will continue to act as a magnet, attracting villagers by the thousands who will ultimately find space only in the slums.