Let us assume that the goal is uncontested – Delhi, in 2041, should be without the inadequate housing, absent services, and insecure tenure that define the “slum” or the “jhuggi jhopdi cluster”. Getting there is not easy.

Delhi has over 757 jhuggi jhopdi clusters that house (officially) between 11%-15% of the city’s population in neighbourhoods not just materially vulnerable but lacking pattas or title deeds. The city also has a new Draft master Plan 2041. What then does the draft say?

The Draft Plan’s imagination is a singular model: In-Situ Slum Rehabilitation. The In-Situ Slum Rehabilitation or ISSR model is one of public-private partnership where the jhuggi jhopdi cluster is rebuilt on the same site into vertical apartment-style housing. Residents are housed in one portion at the cost of the developer who recoups their investment by using the second portion (or a site elsewhere) for commercial use. The model is widely seen as a win-win: new housing stock, no cost to the state, more land brought into commercial use in the city.

Let us take its merits at their word. We must still ask: will it work in Delhi? Markets run not on fiat but on feasibility. Is there a market for In-Situ Slum Rehabilitation? Second: Is the model, by itself, enough for an urban future without “slums”?

Viability of vertical redevelopment

Short answer: no. The ISSR cannot be the singular solution on offer for the next 20 years of Delhi’s development. The model has long been a part of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and, has been, by far, the least successful of the scheme’s models – only 4% of all housing units built within Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana come from ISSR.

Why is this so? ISSR requires an extraordinary set of things to come together: a land market where developers feel the cost of slum rehabilitation is profitable and comparable to other real estate projects, the right location of the jhuggi jhopdi cluster as well as the right shape and size of its land plot, limited density so all residents can be re-housed, and, above all, a community that is willing to consent to redevelopment and wants it. These elements are not present in most of Delhi’s jhuggi jhopdi cluster.

ISSR’s track record speaks for itself. The model has been open to Delhi to try since 2015. There is no substantial portfolio of projects to indicate that the scheme has uptake in the city. The Delhi Development Authority’s own background study on Shelter for the Draft Plan notes only three current ISSR projects and five that are planned or in process.

The report states that “as per the DDA, the vision is slum rehabilitation of 100 JJ clusters on DDA lands under the In-situ Slum Redevelopment”. Let us, again, assume this ambition is fully realised. Is the Draft Master Plan not to have an option for the remaining 650-plus jhuggi jhopdi clusters in the city?

Put simply: even at its most successful, ISSR can handle a small minority of Delhi’s jhuggi jhopdi clusters. For the majority, we must expand the possibilities on offer. What then could be additional approaches? Two such possibilities are below: city-wide in-situ upgrading programmes, and the creation of a land bank for affordable housing.

City-Wide Upgradation

The world-over, the one practice that has anchored improvements in housing and people’s lives within one generation has been city-wide, large-scale in-situ upgrading. Upgrading differs from ISSR in a crucial way: the existing settlement is not rebuilt into vertical redevelopments. Instead, the focus of upgrading is on improving settlement level services and infrastructure – roads, drainage, sanitation, water, street lights, open space – and the giving of secure tenure that protects from eviction.

Households, sometimes slowly and sometimes immediately, invest to improve their individual dwelling units on their own. Upgrading is a globally known practice (see the Baan Mankong in Thailand) and in India (see the Jaga Mission in Odisha). It is the core global recommendation for housing by UN-Habitat. Upgrading focuses on improving the liveability of housing as a whole, taking all residents on an as-is basis, holding onto rental households in the mix.

Why isn’t it a dominant model then? Perhaps because its improvements are not instantly transformative but incremental. Perhaps because it requires the commitment of governments, public institutions, urban practitioners and communities to sustained engagement to plan and negotiate retrofits and redesigns of what exists instead of razing and building clean new structures.

Perhaps because it does not create marketable assets of housing units but complex, real, lived communities. Perhaps because the land doesn’t return immediately to market circulation as real estate. Upgrading is not glamorous. Yet like the lives that built that housing slowly, incrementally, it reflects most closely what housing is to residents: time and life. It is housing where people, rather than the house, are the point.

Images from the Jaga Mission from Hinjulicut in Odisha.

Is there enough land?

Even upgrading, however, is not enough. To get to the root of housing unaffordability, we must bell the cat. We must talk about land. Today, Delhi’s unauthorised colonies are being regularised. In the Draft Master Plan 2041, they can be regenerated, renewed, repaired. What stops us from extending similar recognition to jhuggi jhopdi clusters? “We can’t let go of land like this!” is the familiar objection.

How much land, then, is it? Here is the most startling of facts that makes our hesitancy to simply remove insecure tenure from our urban present very hard to defend. All of Delhi’s 757 jhuggi jhopdi clusters occupy just 0.5% of the city’s land. Less than half a percent of land on which individual or collective titling programmes would mean that no one would fear a bulldozer at their door.

Does at least one in every ten of Delhi’s residents not have a right to 0.5% of the city’s land? Let us take one more example to drive home how skewed this number is. In 2017, New Delhi had 31.72 lakh cars. Models made that year had an average size of 45 sq. ft. In other words, for these cars to just stand still, you needed 13.25 sq. km of land, which is nearly 1% of the city’s land – twice that of land under jhuggi jhopdi clusters.

How much land do we need?

Source: Bhan et al (2020), Isn’t there Enough Land? Indian Institute for Human Settlements: Delhi.

For secure and just urban futures, the Draft Plan must do more than just expand models to allow both upgrading and ISSR. It must do what planning is meant to do – intervene into an inequitable land and housing market and regulate it. It must reserve land for affordable housing. This is not, as it may seem, a radical idea – the Plan determines routinely land that must be “off the market” when it reserves land for public infrastructure, for open spaces, for environmental uses, for heritage. Land banks for affordable housing are well within a market-based strategy for urban development, especially one that acknowledges the risk of market failure as much as of state failure.

There are many ways of doing this within the Plan’s existing powers. One of the mandatory reforms, in fact, of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana – which the Draft Plan cites several times – is the creation of an Affordable Housing Zone. What could such a zone look like? If such a zone, following the precedent of Brasil’s Zones of Special Social Interest, covered every existing jhuggi jhopdi cluster and made space for new affordable housing, reserving even 5% of just the city’s public land would lay the foundation for more equitable housing futures.

Rather than reserving land for affordable housing, the Draft Plan relies heavily on affordable housing reservations in new private housing to generate low-income housing stock, reserving 15% of built up area in new developments for housing for the economically weaker sections. Such inclusionary zoning, as it is called, is essential.

Yet to make a dent in the actual demand for affordable housing means that all these multiple strategies – city-wide regularisation and upgrading of existing jhuggi jhopdi clusters, inclusionary reservations in new private housing, ISSR projects, expanded affordable rental housing, and land banks for affordable housing – must be deployed.

A broken housing market needs re-structuring, not just repair; it needs rafu, and not just marramat. To do anything else is to return to the conceit that we all want a “slum-free city” without being willing to do what it will take to get there.

Gautam Bhan teaches at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bangalore, and is part of the Main Bhi Dilli campaign.

This is the first of a five-part series on the draft Delhi Master Plan 2041. Read the entire series here.

All the authors are writing in their individual capacity but also as part of the Main Bhi Dilli Campaign. The Campaign, a network of individuals and organisations based in Delhi had been engaging with the drafting of the Master Plan since 2019 with a focus on informal work, housing and inclusive planning.

As a campaign, they consider their work to be on-going until the final plan is published. Therefore, their hope with the series is offer not just critiques but propositions, suggestions, revisions and changes to the Draft Plan. All the suggestions offered here have also been filed as official submissions within the planning process’ suggestion and objection mechanisms. The articles have been put together by Gautam Bhan and Mukta Naik on behalf of the Main Bhi Dilli campaign.