Seven Propositions and One Challenge from Ejipura

The recent eviction of over 1500 Economically Weaker Section (EWS) households from Ejipura in Bangalore (see here, here and here) to make way for a high-end mixed-use development (with some EWS housing for “original residents”) is just one a series of millennial evictions that have scarred the landscape of Indian cities and yet another instigated by an order of a High Court. Below are seven quick propositions on how to understand these evictions, how to respond in the immediate and near-term.

One: the “illegality” of the Ejipura settlement has to be seen in the context of a larger failure of the state to build adequate and legal EWS housing. The Kundu Committee Report 2012 states that India, overall, has a housing shortage of about 19million housing units. Of this, no less than 95% is in the EWS and LIG category. There is, then, a systematic failure to build enough housing the poor can legally own or rent – is their occupation of vacant public land then “illegality” or the “impossibility of legality”?

Two: The move to label current Ejipura residents as “unauthorized occupants” and pit them against “original residents” is a strategic move to pit the poor against each other while distracting from the real question of the inadequacy of affordable, accessible and safe shelter that they can afford. Current Ejipura residents have resided in their homes for years – why does long-term rental from an “original allottee” (who may never have lived in Ejipura at all) bear no weight? Authorities often claim that original allottees need to be protected because EWS housing often passes on to non-poor, richer users. But the fact that current residents have all been given EWS cards by the municipality certifying that they qualify and are eligible for EWS category housing implies that there is no evidence of such fraud here.  The EWS cards should be enough to qualify them to be part of any redevelopment scheme and refuse any charges of them being “fraudulent” or “ineligible” to participate in any redevelopment. Let us be clear: this move may well be motivated only to reduce significantly the number of households to be resettled — the number of “original allottees” will be significantly less than the number of current residents.

Three: The eviction and the exclusion of long-term current residents goes against the policy trends across the city, state and the centre to refuse forced evicitions to move towards in-situ upgrading. The Rajiv Awaas Yojana directly recognizes the right of all current residents (regardless of whether they are “original allottees” of any kind) to shelter in the city and upgradation. The emerging policy framework insists on a wide definition of inclusion of all current residents regardless of length of tenure in the city as long as they quality, as these residents do, in definitions of EWS and LIG housing.

Four: The lack of access to enough legal housing does not impact the poor alone. The rich also build illegal housing in a differeny way: the Unauthorised Colony. Yet when the illegality of the rich results in “regularization” through schemes like akrama sakrama and that of the poor results in forced eviction, is the selective application of law and planning just?

Five: When the local MLA says that there “is nothing he can do” against the order of the High Court, we must both contextualize and challenge this statement. The Executive arm of the state – the government and urban authorities – have long selectively fought or thrown their hands up in front of judicial orders. When the judiciary challenged the regularisation of illegal colonies of the rich or when (in Delhi) they attempted to “seal” illegal shops in residential and other areas to enforce planned use of the land, the executive did not claim there was “nothing they could do.” Instead, they took on the Court legally as well as passing ordinances, drafted new law and modified the relevant Master and Development plans to make new solutions possible. The decision not to explore any of the possible means of executive action is a conscious choice not to act as opposed to the helplessness professed by the MLA.

Six: Contravening current judicial precedence, international human rights obligations, and adherence to emerging local policy regimes, the eviction in Ejipura occurred before adequate alternative resettlement was in place. After tremendous public pressure, a resettlement site near Sarjapur Road may (and it is important to stress this “may”) be ready in “six to ten months.” The impact of such a transition on vulnerable families that are already further impoverished due to the shock of demolition can only be imagined. Further, experience from eviction in other Indian cities has shown that the “transit” from eviction sites to resettlement colonies can take no less than 19 years, or often, not happen at all.

Seven: The decision to use land that housed the poor – let us set aside for a moment whether they were or were not authorized – for a redevelopment towards higher-end residential and commercial use itself cannot escape scrutiny. The massive and increasing shortfall in housing for the poor that the Kundu Committee found did not create itself. It is created through multiple decisions to use urban land not for “low-value” uses such as housing the poor but “high value” uses like the proposed high-rent development in Ejipura. Fundamentally, here, there is a battle on how to value land: should its use be determined only by the rent it extracts and the market value it offers; or are other paradigms that measure its use as shelter, its possible impact on reducing deprivation and both present and inter-general poverty? Critically: how do we institutionalize these other measures of the value of land so that they may impact and govern our decisions on land use?

Why have Indian cities been unable to find integrated and holistic solutions to ensuring adequate shelter for all? One of the answers lies, perhaps, in an original sin: the absence of a right to housing, or even a right to shelter, in the Indian Constitution that can stand as a parallel, for example, to the Right to Education. The absence of such an articulated right implies that the Judiciary cannot draw upon a right against which to judge or base its decisions on housing; that the evicted residents of Ejipura can approach the government or the Courts asking for discretion rather than entitlements; that the state, as a whole, cannot be held accountable for not embracing new systems of land value that address the particularity of our housing bias and shortage; that we cannot hold state policies, budgets, and resource allocations against the standard of how they move us towards more inclusive housing the way we can for education.

Countries that face inequalities similar to ours – South Africa and Brazil most notably – have articulated rights to housing in their constitutions. The presence of such a right has made possible innovations in these countries such as the new forms of inclusionary zoning (could Ejipura not have been re-classified as a “Zone of Special Social Interest” to make it legal and protect its residents?), new measures of land value in public budgeting and finance (how do we quantify the inter-generational developmental impact of even poor quality housing for the children of the Ejipura households and compare it to the rents and profits of redevelopment?), long-term investments and resource allocations in increasing housing stock (whether by the state, regulated through the market, or through regularisation of the housing stock the poor have already built for themselves!); or even land-banking to anticipate future migration into the city. The range of remedies are long and each is plausible and possible but each of these must fight against a conception of contemporary urban development that measures land and value only in terms of economic rent rather than human use. Fighting for the right to shelter maybe on paradigm on which this fight can begin.

15 thoughts on “Seven Propositions and One Challenge from Ejipura”

  1. In India when it is Dalits and minority no system and law will work. it is again proved in the EWS case affected people are Dalits, Religious and Linguistic minorities

    1. Agree totally, Selva, that caste and identity are an important axis here, as they always are in the impunity with which some evictions can be carried out over others.

  2. If the idea is to give pucca houses/flats to the EWS, while making some more houses/flats for the non-EWS, to fund the entire project, I think, it is OK. There is no gain without pain.

    1. The problem here is that the “gain” is a glitzy new mall while the pain is felt by the residents of Ejipura. The new houses are going to be built on HALF the land that was originally allotted for these people. Also, just by the way, while the mall is being constructed, the former residents are now on the streets in make-shift tin huts. They’ve also been abused (and arrested in some cases) by the authorities for sleeping on the footpath.

  3. Thanks for your very well put together article. In some of your points you seem to be saying that if Ejipura was a RAY project it would be OK. There would be no distinction between original allottees and unauthorised occupants (assuming of course that all the rules and guidelines would be followed). Also, things like transit housing should, in principle be taken into account if there was a proper framework of laws and rules for redevelopment. In theory at least, all this is already part of the right to housing being promoted by the central government as a part of RAY.

    However you also make a more complicated point about high value and low value uses, and about this cross subsidy model of redevelopment. This is of course an important and useful point, but I am wondering whether there isn’t some inherent conflict between this position and right to housing? Could you elaborate a bit on how this sits with everything else you say?

    1. Hi Arjaka, I don’t think that there is a necessary conflict. Brazil and South Africa, more recently, but also the public housing-led Singapore and Hong Kong in the past, as well as the city-wide upgrading schemes in Bangkok, Manila and Jakarta, to name cities that struggle with issues close to ours, have attempted to balance different valuations of land through a number of mechanisms. The Right to Housing need not take a single, absolute form of delivery or entitlement frames — so I think its well possible to think about how, for example, one can reach proportionate allocations of land for low-income housing without saying that high (rent/economic) value developments can also occur. The question is asked and answered at city level — my point is more that while we know how to measure one and put it in budget lines, we don’t have good metrics of the other. In the realpolitik of planning, that which cannot be put on a budget line doth not exist. So some part of this story is pushing ourselves to articulate such entitlements to shelter in forms not just captured in RAY but that go beyond them.

  4. Nice article. all laws are only applicable on poor and state only supports to rich and powerful people, for powerful and rich all rules and regulations are fake. Ejipura slum demolition is an example of such strategies of state which supports capitalists only.

  5. I think a greater evil (than the original sin) is a complete lack of political will to take social responsibility, especially for our most deprived sections. In fact, the entire political game is geared for assisting the small fraction of our most privileged snatch basic resources and rights from our largest fraction – the poor. It is an immoral society where basic human rights, especially of our poor, have to spelled out and fought in courts before they even get acknowledged, let alone considered. But that being the case, a campaign for constitutional right to shelter is becoming an urgent necessity.

  6. Thanks for the article on Ejipura eviction. It is sad to see how after demolition the state has agreed to extend stay of residents till end of academic year but same point did not occur to them while giving orders for demolition. Further the site for relocation i.e Sarjapur is very far from current location, State’s promise’s to provide house for a house but what about livelihood and cost of living that would be impacted due to this relocation. These are well document impacts of such slum evictions. Right to livelihood and Right to education both get hugely impacted, clearly shows state’s pro capitalist stand.

  7. The vast number of poor in the cities are a consequence of the exploitative system, abley protected and promoted by the State. The more devalued the unorganised sector workers are the greater the prrofitability of enterprise and comfort of the rich. Just imagine – the urnorgansied labour force – a family of 5 living in a fairly decent house of about 50(0 to 600 sft instead of 150 to 200 sft of the current slum house, having adequate water to bathe every day, imagine them wearing washed and neatly pressed clothing every day, eating 3 good nutritious meals, sending their children to quality schools and also getting proper health care, rather than an injection just to get back to work immediately … if this were so, then, even a domestic worker, a pourakarmika(sanitation) worker would have to be paid at least 25000 rupees a month. There is a conscious and constant attempt to keep this labour force poor, insecure, impermanent. They have discovered the best mechanism of keeping wages low – plenty of workers living under flyovers, footpaths, slums. The fight is much more deeper.

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