Indian SDI Alliance Awarded 2016 Curry Stone Design Prize

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Today the Indian SDI Alliance, made up of the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF), Mahila Milan (Women Together) and their support NGO, SPARC, will be awarded with the 2016 Curry Stone Design Prize Vision Award at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Mumbai.

The Curry Stone Design Prize is a highly recognised social impact design award, celebrating engaged practitioners and the influence and reach of design as a force for improving lives and strengthening communities. The Vision Award recognises individuals or organisation s that have significantly inspired the design profession and the communities they engage through their continuing commitment to social impact design.

Yesterday, in the lead-up to the award ceremony,  SDI President Jockin Arputham (who is also president of the Indian NSDF) and Sheela Patel, chair of the SDI Board and executive director of SPARC, spoke at the Curry Stone Design Prize Forum, a one-day symposium examining the role of design in facing the challenge of urban poverty. They were joined by former awardees and experts in the field of urban planning and design.

Visit the Curry Stone Design Prize website to learn more about the Indian SDI Alliance’s award-winning work. 

Improved Sanitation Improves Half a Million Lives in Pune, India

By Maria Lobo and Mahila Milan


Sanitation has been the shame of India. More than 50 percent of people who still defecate in the open live in India. Most of these are from rural areas but many of them are urban slum dwellers.  Public toilets, though available, are all too often  so rundown and filthy that defecating in the open remains preferable. This affects the overall health and dignity of slum dwellers, especially women. The following is a demonstration of a bottom-up advocacy approach to sanitation which is led by the community themselves. This experience challenges the mindset of people who seldom think of slum dwellers as capable of bringing change from below.

Community Toilets in Pune

In Pune, a partnership between the municipal government, NGOs and community-based organisations has built more than 400 community toilet blocks between 1999 and 2001. These have greatly improved sanitation for more than half a million people living in slums. They have also demonstrated the potential of municipal community partnerships to improve conditions for low-income groups.

How it all began

Based on the discussions of female slum dwellers, specifically around the challenge of open defecation, the Indian SDI Alliance (NSDF, Mahila Milan and SPARC) prioritised addressing the sanitation challenge.  Given the huge problems in dense, inner city slums and the lack of formal sewerage connections the community toilet block was tabled as a solution that promoted access  to sanitation In the absence of safe disposal of faecal matter through the sewer connectivity, safety tanks were the next best option suggested .Over time, the alliance built many such community toilet blocks, initially with grants to develop, design, and get acceptance from community groups and municipalities in over 20 large and medium cities across India. In all locations, they began to explore where they could locate a municipality that would take on this strategy at a significant scale.

The first possibility arrived in 1994. The World Bank began negotiations with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) to seek a loan for a large sewage treatment project in the city. This mega-buck, mega-infrastructure project involved a large-scale expansion of Mumbai’s undersized and overtaxed sewer system. Thanks to pressure from local NGOs, the World Bank set one condition for the loan – that the project also address the needs of the poor and, to the Indian Alliance’s delight, include the building of community toilets in a selected group of slums. The project set a target of providing 20,000 toilets, enough for at least a million people at the less-than-perfect ratio of one toilet for every 50 people. When the Alliance was invited to explore ways to get involved, it saw a chance to test some of its ideas about community-managed sanitation at a much larger scale, and to strengthen a constructive partnership between the urban poor and the city government. While the Alliance was keen on community participation in taking up this project, the World Bank had the different approach of setting up a competitive bidding process which pitted one community against another to be chosen for demo projects. In addition the overall procurement strategy did not work for the alliance. So with some regrets the alliance withdrew from this project at that time.

In 1999 the Municipal Commissioner of Pune, Ratnakar Gaikwad, who co-incidentally had been the additional (deputy) commissioner of Mumbai Municipal Corporation while the community toilet project was under discussion, invited the alliance to work in Pune. He devised a sanitation program for the city of Pune  based on the strategy developed by the alliance. It was set up in several stages.  Since 1992, only 22 ‘pay and use’ toilet blocks had been built in the city of Pune. A decision was thus taken to construct around 400 community toilet blocks in two phases starting in 1999. NGOS were invited to apply for a fixed price tender and get contracted to organise communities to design construct and manage community toilets. A formal commitment was sought by the municipality  that the NGO and the community would maintain the toilet block by collecting contributions from the community. The contracts were not only for building toilets but also for maintenance. In awarding contracts, priority was given as follows:

i) settlements of more then 500 inhabitants that had no toilet facilities,

ii) areas where facilities were so dilapidated that they needed replacement

iii) areas where there were toilets but a larger population was forced to use them as against the standard norm of 1 seat for 50 persons.

Bids from eight NGOs were accepted, of which SPARC was one of the selected NGOs.

Meetings in every locality in Pune were organised by Mahila Milan. In the beginning, there was a lot of hand-holding. There were engineers and architects stationed in Pune who were always available for advice and guidance. Every site would be visited every day by an engineer who would sort out problems on the spot. There were regular visits by a team from Mumbai to give overall direction to the programme. Masons and carpenters with experience from within the slums were supported to take on jobs, along with regular contractors. There has been considerable debate about how best to fund the maintenance of these toilets. The Indian Alliance promoted a system whereby each family would buy a pass costing 20 rupees a month. This was based on the income required to cover the costs of hiring a family (who would live in a caretaker’s room above the toilet) and costs of cleaning and maintenance materials. This is much cheaper than the one rupee per use charge used by other public toilets which for a family of five would cost 150 rupees a month even if each household member only used the toilet once a day.

From the beginning the urgency in the project was based on the realisation that the Commissioner was a project “champion” and this project had to be completed during his tenure in Pune. Everyone was learning as they raced around getting things done. The downside of this was that many mistakes were made, and repairing them cost the Alliance resources that the city would not provide. The reality, however, was that if we had hesitated, we would have lost the chance to do this project and to learn from it. It’s a difficult choice but often when working on issues concerning the poor, plunging into untested waters is the only way to produce precedents. And a precedent was established in Pune, as the first location for community toilet construction at a city-wide scale. The program took off in a big way and virtually all slums were provided with toilet blocks (

As soon as the sanitation work in Pune took off the  Indian Alliance  began to once again focus on Mumbai but the World Bank and the municipality continued to go back and forth on how to proceed with contracts. Finally the procurement policy was finalized and the Alliance agreed to take part and their experience of working with slums was made a critical factor in the tender point system. The Alliance got the contract to construct toilet blocks along with two other NGOS in Mumbai. As part of the Mumbai Sewerage Disposal Project, which started in 1999 and is still ongoing in different phases, the Alliance has constructed, to date, 366 community toilet blocks with 6952 seats.

Later, Ratnakar Gaikwad was appointed director of YASHADA, a national training institute for government officials based in Pune. Discussions between his office and the Alliance led to a seminar that included NGOs, government agencies, training institutions, and other institutions that wanted to work on urban sanitation and to create a collective boost to their various efforts to address open defecation.

The work undertaken by the partnership of the Alliance, YASHADA and Administrative Staff Collage India (a major institution that does research and trains a wide spectrum of private and public administrators)  opened the possibility of working in some new cities. But it went both ways: these city processes were fed back as examples in the training and capacity-building sessions that were being held in the two training institutes. In all of these cities, as in every other experience, the Alliance had to struggle for several years to be fully paid for its work.

Tirupur followed Pune and started a sanitation programme in 2004, where the Alliance along with a private sector company (who was contracted to undertake infrastructure projects) constructed 14 toilet blocks with 254 seats. Nineteen community toilet blocks were later constructed in Vishakhapatnam, a port city of Andhra Pradesh, between 2004-2005; these blocks included 232 seats. Vijayawada is a medium-sized town in Andhra Pradesh. The sanitation project here started in 2004 when, at a national sanitation meeting, the commissioner of Vijayawada heard about the Mumbai sanitation project and invited NSDF to work in the city. Seventeen toilet blocks with 128 seats were constructed for a population of 6,400. In 2006, Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation contracted Pune Mahila Milan to construct 7 toilet blocks with 90 seats to initiate its sanitation project. The project in Pimpri reflects the importance of building demonstration pilots which can be picked up and expanded upon. In cities where the federations have the capacity to operate at scale, they can handle the expansion phase. In 2007, a project called Nirmal MMR Abhiyan (Campaign for a Clean MMR) designed a strategy to finance community toilets in slums in Mumbai and 13 other municipalities.


This programme helped to reconfigure the relationships between city government and civil society. NGOs and communities were neither “clients” nor “supplicants”, but partners. The city government recognized the capacity of community organizations, supported by local NGOs, to develop their own solutions. The division of roles was also clear in that city authorities changed their role from being a toilet provider to setting standards, funding the capital cost of construction, and providing water and electricity. The NGOs and community organizations designed, built and maintained the toilet blocks.

It was only after they had started working in Pune in 1998 that the Alliance re-entered the fray in Mumbai, where the World Bank was still committed to a competitive bidding process and where the slum sanitation part of the huge sanitation project continued to face challenges from all sides. After the success of the Pune model and project, the Alliance was contracted to construct community toilets in slums as part of the Mumbai World Bank project and all procurement procedures were redrafted.

In 2000, the Pune municipal commissioner and the Indian Alliance were invited to make a presentation to the prime minister’s office. A Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan programme was announced and the Planning Commission dedicated funds to cities that want to take up sanitation projects (Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan in Hindi means “Mission to clean India”). The planning Commission is the highest Planning institution in India. Between 2000-2008, a partnership between the Indian SDI Alliance, YASHADA (training institute of the government of Maharashtra), ASCI (Administrative Staff Collage, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh), and the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program led to the inclusion of slum sanitation in the training of many city officials. In 2009, after national and state-level consultations, development of city-based indicators and state government agreements, the cabinet passed the national policy for urban sanitation. In retrospect the volume of interventions desired did not take place. In many ways essential recommendations ( e.g. city wide data to create benchmarks for deficits) were taken up but instead of facilitating communities and municipalities to undertake this, the process was assigned to consultants. In this manner over 400 such surveys and follow up projects were prepared but the delivery of sanitation did not occur.

Community based organisations and alliances face the challenge that the production of a sanitation solution and working to set precedents works effectively at a settlement and city scale. However once the process seeks to take a quantum leap to become nationally embedded it gets appropriated in ways that excludes the community champions that drive it.







pimpri toilets


Without Power: Mumbai’s Pavement Dwellers

With no electricity, kids study under a street light at night. 

**Cross-posted from the SPARC/MM/NSDF blog**

If you can read this, you’re not affected. For most urban dwellers electricity is available at the flick of a switch, to power our numerous appliances from our coffee machines to our computers and TVs, but not for all: many of the urban poor still have no access to electricity although the power cables are literally just two meters above their heads.

In the new Energy Justice program of SPARC we have just recently started a survey in order to better understand the needs and problems of the urban poor related to energy. Last week we have been at a settlement of pavement dwellers next to the Western Express Highway in Goregaon, Mumbai who have lived there for at least the last 10 years. Although none of the households have access to electricity, they have energy expenditures between 300 and 750 Rupees per month just to be able to illuminate their homes in the evening with candles and to charge their cell phones at the next kiosk. This costs them between 10-15 Rupees daily.

Pavement dwellers at Goregaon Western Express Highway. 

It is hard to believe, but most of Mumbai’s households have to manage with less than a dollar per day per capita, some of them even with half a dollar. It’s no wonder then that these households seek to avoid spending any money where it is not absolutely necessary and therefore cook their meals on traditional three-stone-stoves. Because most of the men work as casual laborers and are out of the house, it is the task of the women to collect the wood which lasts between 1 and 2 hours every day. Cooking with open fire or on three stones is not only time intensive but also health threatening as the smoke causes respiratory diseases. And this is not done with a cough – the Worlds Health Organization (WHO) estimates that annually more than 4 million people die because of cooking with solid fuels, of which 50% are children below the age of 5. (

We have started our new Energy Justice program in order to develop solutions jointly with the urban poor that will provide better access to modern energy and reduce costs. We will keep you updated here about the further development of this project.

Author : Vincent Moeller is working for SPARC as an advisor on Renewable Energy and Climate Change since June 2014.


The Slum Dwellers’ Nobel Peace Prize Nominee

**Cross-posted from The Guardian**

By John Perry, Friday 10 October 2014 10.28 BST

In nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize, grassroots activists usually compete with politicians. Few of the latter, however, have spent their adult lives searching for peaceful solutions to conflict. Among nominees for this year’s prize, one has spent fifty years trying to ensure that disputes between poor communities and state authorities are not only resolved peacefully but that the poor still gain from them. He may not have stopped a war, but Jockin Arputham, together with Slum Dwellers International, the grassroots movement he leads, were nominated this year for their work in giving a voice to the poorest residents of the world’s biggest cities, showing that non-violent protest and negotiation get results.

Arputham’s activism in what are now the Mumbai slums began in the colony of Janata, where he lived and worked as a teacher. He organised children to protest at the lack of sanitation services by marching to the town hall with parcels of stinking rubbish and leaving them on the steps. By linking up with other community groups to defeat schemes to demolish the slums and leave the occupants homeless, he helped set up the city’s slum dwellers’ federation.

The ongoing struggle led to confrontation with Indira Gandhi’s government. Arputham spent 29 days squatting outside the Indian parliament waiting to see her, eventually obtaining an agreement that Janata would not be demolished until its residents were rehoused. But, when he was returning home, Jockin was tipped off that he’d be arrested, so left he got off the train at the city outskirts and spent days sleeping in a drainage pipe to avoid the police. Under Gandhi’s governments Jockin was jailed more than 60 times, forced into exile, and returned to India only when she lost power in 1977.

With the equally renowned activist Sheela Patel of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (Sparc), Arputham set up theNational Slum Dwellers Federation. In addition to promoting non-violent but imaginative ways for poor communities to win battles with the authorities, they began pioneering work in enumerating slum settlements and developing community savings schemes. Such schemes, now commonplace but then almost unknown, are based on women’s ability to save small sums while working in solidarity with their neighbours, with shared targets of building up enough money to start constructing small homes or begin small businesses.

In 1996, Arputham and Patel started Shack and Slum Dwellers’ International, which today works in 33 countries on three continents. In doing so, they were pioneers of south-south exchange, in which activists from developing countries learn from each other, unmediated (if often assisted) by northern NGOs. The methods they developed in India are now being used worldwide.

The first of their key innovations was slum profiling and enumeration – profiling is a high-level assessment of the numbers of dwellings and other key aspects of a slum; enumeration provides the fine detail. Why are they important? Fundamentally, as a basis for planning what should happen to the slum and its inhabitants, and politically as a means of showing that real people live in slums, the numbers involved and the danger of trying to ignore them. The recent enumeration of Kampala’s slums by the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda provided previously absent data to the city authorities, doubling the number of recorded slums. It has given the federation an important seat at the table in discussing a city-wide sanitation project. Enumerations have often been used to show the scale of rehousing that would be required if slums were demolished – as underprovision of sites for relocating slum dwellers is a frequent issue. (It arose for example in the relocations in Brazil when World Cup stadiums were built.)

Saving schemes are the second key innovation. They are the root to improving slum conditions through self-help, and can also be used to draw in government funding on terms favourable to the savers. The South African Federation of the Urban Poor, for example, boasts 1,500 saving or credit schemes among its affiliates, ranging from 15 to 500 members. Because slum dwellers usually get no subsidy except – perhaps – publicly owned land, savings are often the key way to build up enough capital to start to build a permanent house.

There is perhaps no greater symbol of the gap between rich and poor than the city slum, especially in Mumbai, home of the world’s third most expensive office market. Alongside the flight path from Mumbai international airport, no less than 85,000 people are crushed onto a mere 110 hectares of airport-owned land. India’s high flyers can’t fail to see the slums as their flights take off. Only last month the national governmentannounced plans to start removing them as a ‘security threat’. That could be the next test of Jockin’s non-violent methods.

Diary on Relocation: Leaving Water Street

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This document is the first entry in a diary of events that unfolded in the first week of November 2012 when several breakthroughs in negotiations between Milan Nagar, a cooperative of 536 pavement dwelling households formed in 1986, and the City of Mumbai allowed for the rebuilding of a partnership between the two stakeholders and an agreement that all Milan Nagar members would be housed in tenement housing through a relocation and rehabilitation process facilitated by the Indian SDI Alliance of SPARC, Mahila Milan and NSDF. 

This diary will tell the story of the events and experiences that make up this process. They may not be in a chronological order but will serve as an attempt to document the communications, visuals that the process on the ground in Mumbai.

Negotiating for a Swap

A number of months ago, pavement dwellers reported that people were illegally occupying tenement homes constructed by the MMRDA and BMC for pavement dwellers from across Mumbai. Of course, this created a problem for the families intended for the allotted housing. When this information was presented to the Mumbai Municipality, discussions began as to how to move the “ghuskhors” (squatters) from the tenements so that pavement dwellers could move in. What emerged from this discussion was the realization that unless the entitled households from the pavements were properly identified, empty houses would continue to be invaded in this manner, as the authorities would have virtually no way of knowing the identities of the entitled households.

It was at this point that Jockin Arputham, president of the National Slum Dweller Federation of India, suggested that the pavement dwellers who were meant to move to the land at Milan Nagar, but have not been able to due to complications there, be able to occupy the tenement homes currently occupied by the “ghuskhors.” In exchange, pavement dwellers from other parts of the city will be able to occupy the housing at Milan Nagar once it is completed. This was accepted as a logical and feasible solution.

After getting the support of the municipality and police commissioner, the plan was finalized. The municipality gave a list of the “ghuskhors” to the police, who then removed them from the tenements and remained on the site for several days. In the meantime, Mahila Milan prepared the list of entitled pavement dwellers, as well as all the necessary documentation to make the allotments and undertake the relocation as soon as the “ghuskhors” were removed.

On 5 November documentation of 70 households living on Water Street in Byculla began. Videos of each street were made, photos of every household taken, and all documentation prepared. The households participated with local leaders in the assignment of housing allotments. On 6 November the “ghuskhors” were removed and on the 7th one person from each allotted household spent the night in their new home. At this point, the NSDF team made sure every house had a functioning fan and light after the previous residents moved out. The next day, on 8 November, the first 70 households began packing and were given transportation to move to their new homes. On 9 November the families broke down their huts on Water Street and the next street will begin the enumeration process, get their allotted home and begin to plan their journey. 

On the Pavements of Mumbai: Finding Hope & Making Change


Pavement dwellings & daily life in Byculla.


In the past month a major event has come to pass for the women who began this worldwide movement of slum dwellers nearly 30 years ago on the pavements of central Mumbai. After so many years, the women of Byculla have finally begun to move into their own homes. 

In the coming weeks, SDI will cover this important story with a series of blog posts describing the history of Mahila Milan, SPARC and NSDF and how a handful of young professionals connected with a group of women living on Byculla’s sidewalks to create the spark that would eventually evolve into a national, and then international, movement. 

This first post in the series will take a quick look what it means to live on the pavement, highlighting the innovation of the urban poor and their incredible capacity to find effective solutions to the challenges of daily life. 

Byculla home

Sundar Burra offers a helpful definition of “pavement dweller” in his 2000 paper, “A Journey Towards Citizenship: The Byculla Area Resource Center, Mumbai” : 

Pavement dwellers are households who live and raise families on pavements (sidewalks). The basic requirement fo the establishment of a dwelling is a stretch of pavement, free from vehicular traffic, usually 2-3 meters long and 1-2 meters deep from the kerb to the wall of the property bordering the pavement. The first occupation of a stretch of pavement is usually a family settling to sleep on the pavement surrounded by their meagre possessions, followed byt he erection of a plastic or saching sheet stretched from the wall to a point near the curb of the pavement.Thereafter the lean-to tent will gradually be replaced with slightly a more permanent structure of second-hand poles, packing cases, timeber boards, cardboard, occasionally loose bricks covered with plastic sheets. A second floor is often build to provde additional sleepling space, though the ground floor ‘ceiling height’ is rarely more than 1.5 meters and that of the loft a metre. 

Byculla home


Please keep an eye on this space for more on the history of Byculla’s pavement dwellers, as well as the story of how the women of Mahila Milan have been able to negotiate for alternative housing in a way that provides a win-win solution for the communities and government alike. 

Sheela Patel attends IMF AGM in Tokyo


Sheela Patel at the Annual General Meeting of the International Monetary Fund, held in Tokyo last week. 

Pictured: Far Right, Sheela Patel (Chair of SDI). Next to her Jim Yong Kim (President of the World Bank) and second from left Christine Legarde (President of the International Monetary Fund).  

 At a related event, Sheela Patel spoke about the role of the urban poor in building our urban future: 

“I come to this session with a very confused sense of identity. Everyone has a different idea of what a civil society actor is, so perhaps it will be easier to say why we do what we do, and how we seek to influence.

My organization in India, and the international network of organizations that I represent, Shack Dwellers International, represents people who have found that global investment in cities, infrastructure, and other capital investment, have found these processes produce exponential increases in eviction. As a citizen, the right to be provided services, and so on, cities do not plan to accommodate the poor. Most people that work in human rights in this field, will know that the law upholds the development plan of the city. By giving you a notice, the city has the right to evict, without a responsibility to give you anything in return. The inability of having the right to reside, of citizenship, means the civil society movements emerge form people who feel they do not have the rights that they are entitled to.

Why a global network? Because many of the aspects driving these processes including the thinking, are globalised. All finance ministers control the purse strings, most in the South have rural constituencies, and see the city as simply a place to manufacture and produce.

Our architecture is from grassroots up to local. Secondly that the processes to provide voice, has not yet succeeded. Hence our community leaders who have fought evictions and others, eventually we aspire to have them instead of me and professional advocates sitting here, I and others are seat-warmers.

My colleagues are not enabled to speak in these forums, so if you are in the business of development, learn the language of development, rather than force them to learn the language of these places.

My most important lesson is that most instances the government does not know what the poor want, nor how it could be delivered. Treating poor people as consumers of development is a mistake. The poor survive despite development, and can participate in providing new solutions that go to scale if they are part of the process, its execution and design.

Fourth, the whole issue of engendering development – most of our partners were mainly men who used to fight eviction and development. The issue of habitat, creating safe neighborhoods, the responsibility of doing so is also women’s. So what agency are we giving to them? We promote new generation of women’s leaders.

Note, everything that poor people want in cities is ‘illegal or inappropriate’. We produce our efforts to challenge development norms. We have examples of interaction with the WB, and in many instances WB projects involve eviction – termed ‘involuntary resettlement’. We have shown again and again, that involving poor people in design and execution of projects, you succeed in far more successful projects.

Local economies and processes can hugely benefit form participating in this process. Our work is challenging processes, from local to global. We seek a voice, not by saying ‘we have a right to be there’ but by demonstrating that we can succeed by taking different approaches.

We as development actors require new strategies of interaction – one of the biggest challenges is that the world is becoming more urban. Most people in cities will be working and living informally, so how are these exclusionary practices going to impact that, and what does it mean to be this intermediary in institutions or with individuals who seek development.”

For a full report of the event, click here


Relocation & Rehabilitation in Mumbai

MUTP Relocation Project, Mumbai

**Cross-posted from SPARC’s CityWatchINDIA blog**

What is Relocation and Rehabilitation (R&R)?

Whenever people are being continuously evicted from their land by the government or some other national or corporate authority, families must relocate.  Often this happens when the government decides to undertake infrastructure expansion projects like road-widening, flyover construction, rail expansion, etc. and these project plans encroach on families living in public places like slums, railways, and power lines.  In these situations the government often tries to uproot these families and move them to remote locations.  This process of shifting communities away from public land in demand is called relocation.  Rehabilitation involves helping to situate and establish communities in their new homes post-relocation.

In this process of relocating and rehabilitating, SPARC and the Alliance help organize communities and encourage them to be active in planning and executing all relocation activities in partnership with the local government. Initiating dialogue with the families, assisting in the shift, helping with registrations and paperwork, and smoothing the social transition from one neighborhood to another are all part of SPARC’s relocation and rehabilitation program.

Concerns Surrounding R&R

While R&R often serves the wider interest of the city, it leads to hardship for the individuals who are forced to move. For this reason SPARC feels that relocation should be minimized to the extent possible, and when R&R is unavoidable the relocation site should be as close to the original communities as possible.  Throughout the R&R process, outside individuals and organizations should be as respectful of the needs and demands of the relocated communities.

SPARC R & R Philosophy and Involvement

SPARC supports communities in the relocation process by giving them the tools to conduct surveys and enumerations in their current settlements and future settlements, establishing savings and credit programs so that families have enough money for the shift, and arranging for inspections of the new locations provided by the government to make sure they have legal utilities available and enough space for all in the new relocation site.  SPARC also assists with rehabilitation activities like transferring ration cards and election ID to the new relocation site, updating tax paperwork, arranging for government BEST buses to make new stops at relocation sites, identifying good schools in the new neighborhoods for the relocated children and fighting for affordable tuition for these children, and seeking employment opportunities close to the relocation site for relocated community members.  In addition to these activities, SPARC also requires that grievance redressal mechanisms exist at the community, federation, and government levels so that people know where they can go to express concerns.

SPARC believes that communities subjected to R&R must be well-organized and deeply involved in the relocation process from the beginning.  Throughout the relocation the state contracting institution and relocating communities must communicate and develop a mutually acceptable arrangement for relocation. SPARC can help facilitate this communication since the organization’s role is respected by both parties.

 SPARC’s History of R & R

In 1995 pavement dwellers were included in the list of people entitled to government R&R and SPARC began helping pavement dwellers throughout India relocate onto freed government lands.  Also in 1995, SPARC helped design the R&R policy for the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP), which affected slum dwellers along the railway track.  Since then, SPARC has worked with Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) to relocate these households. In 2000, households from Rafique Nagar along the airport runway were relocated with the Government of Maharashtra’s department of housing facilitating this process. In 2008 SPARC also began working with Tata Power Company to relocate 2,000+ households away from electricity lines so that the company could expand and update its distribution network to provide more reliable power to households throughout Maharashtra.

MUTP Relocation Project, Mumbai

MUTP: An R & R Success Story 

In the 1990s people riding on the Mumbai railway system could reach their fingers out of the rail cars and touch the slums.  Slums encroached on the rail lines all up and down the tracks, with some people making their dwellings just a few feet from the trains whizzing by.  People living on the side of the railway needed to constantly cross the tracks for daily activities like visiting the markets, walking to school, defecating, or gathering water.  Day to day countless people were hit and crushed dead by the trains. Train drivers suffered psychological trauma from killing so many innocent people, even though they drove at only 15 km/hr to avoid as many killings as possible.

 One Mahila Milan member, Sulakshana Parab, explained how she lived on a small 6×13 plot on the side of the railway in Tata Nagar, Govandi, with no water, electricity, or toilet access.  She would spend her days in constant fear that trains might kill her husband, children, or neighbors while they were out of the house.

Something had to be done, and the Mumbai Urban Transportation Project (MUTP) was the response.  MUTP required that 10m of space be cleared and protected by high walls on either side of every rail line.  This would enable trains to run safely along the tracks at 45 km/hr, allowing three times as many trains to run through the city each day and one third of the prior commuting time for all those dependent on rail to get to work.  With nobody living along the rail lines, many fewer deaths-by-train would occur and train drivers could do their job without killing innocent civilians.

In order for the MUTP dream to become a reality, the city would have to relocate some 20,000 people away from the railroad track. But where could they move?  The World Bank agreed to fund the project on the condition that the people living on the side of the railways get relocated and rehabilitated to a safe and permanent location.

Even before relocation was announced, some rail-side communities had began forming into federations to protect women in the community who faced danger of rape and assault when were forced to defecate on the rail tracks because of a lack of proper sanitation facilities.  Upon hearing about a possible relocation for all rail-dwellers, federations rallied to organize themselves for the proposed move.  First they made plain table surveys and maps and numbered every house in their neighborhoods.  Then they assigned individuals in the community to represent every block of twenty households, and registered each of these households so that they could prove the existence of their rail-side homes to the governments.  Every Sunday for eight years members of the federation went out to survey lands throughout the city in hopes of finding suitable lands for relocation.

In addition to embarking on these many surveys and enumerations, federations initiated their own savings programs.  At first most families could not scrape together 100 rupees of savings, but after participating in well-structured and reliable savings programs implemented by the federation families reached the point of having 15,000-17,000 rupees each stored away in their individual housing savings: enough to construct a new home.  The savings programs also enabled people to take out loans in emergency situations or to start their own businesses.  With strong savings rail-dwellers became confident that they would be capable of building and funding their own homes if they could acquire a suitable plot of land.  Some communities hosted housing exhibitions with model homes made out of cardboard, saris, or cement and other real construction materials to introduce the community-at-large to the various designs that were being considered for the new homes.

Originally the government had planned to temporarily resettle the rail-dwellers in Mankhurd in northeastern Mumbai.  The government was not sure who owned the land in Mankhurd, but the federations knew that the land was available because of the extensive surveys they had carried out over eight years.  Families began to relocate to Mankhurd, and soon after they settled in there the World Bank adopted a policy that governments undertaking relocation had to provide new shelter for families before their current homes could be demolished.  Because the Indian government had not lived up to this demand, the once-temporary Mankhurd land was ruled to become a permanent relocation site for the rail-dwellers.

In total 20,000 people were relocated away from the rail-side under MUTP, and 17,000 of them were assisted in the relocation and rehabilitation process through the work of SPARC, NSDF, and Mahila Milan.  In the new Mankhurd relocation site, children are safer since they can play outside without the threat of speeding trains.  “Here the kids’ lives and our lives are saved,” Sulakshana Parab remarked.  She was relocated from the rail-side to a new apartment in Mankhurd Building 98 and speaks highly of her new home.

The federation in Mankhurd now takes the form of a “Central Committee” of 17 buildings, each of which has its own leader.  The Central Committee has done much work to clean the sewage connection and ensure that it stays functional, and they also work on improving the general cleanliness and garbage management of the Mankhurd neighborhood.

When people lived along the railway tracks the threat of trains was petrifying and nobody wanted their sons or daughters to marry into the rail community out of fear that eventual grandchildren would grow up in unsafe conditions.  Once the families moved to a permanent and safe location, this mentality changed.  Formal buildings made the rail-dwellers formal and acceptable citizens.

When instituted correctly relocation and rehabilitation can be a huge opportunity for families to uplift their living situation, safety, and employment.  The key is that communities themselves must provide the energy and momentum to move the relocation process forward, and they must drive the process from its inception.  The poor know what kind of solutions will actually address and overcome their problems, and they are capable of making these solutions come to life through proper organization and collaboration.

Taking the Reigns: Slum Dwellers Drive the Upgrading Process in Pune, India

Pune, India

By Ariana K. MacPherson, SDI Secretariat

In March I came across Mukta Naik’s piece for Global Urbanist blog on her firm’s involvement in a project to redevelop two slum clusters in Delhi as part of the national Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) housing scheme. While her piece highlights a number of key principles in the creation of cities that include rather than marginalize the urban poor – arguing, for example, for in situ upgrading rather than relocation, and the central participation of slum dwellers in the planning process – I felt as though in the end, there was at least one critical departure from my take on the role of slum dwellers in the production of future cities. Naik concludes her piece with a statement that, “in the end, many of the demands of slum dwellers are not implementable” and the onus lies on the urban planning professionals, architects and engineers to advocate on their behalf for more realistic solutions, and to convince local governments of their rationale and viability. 

The experience of urban grassroots social movements and individual communities proves that slum dwellers are more than capable of devising realistic, implementable, solutions to their own housing and infrastructure needs. Although the process may be longer than one driven by professionals, its success is often more sustainable, and more relevant – characteristics that benefit both the government and the slum dwellers in the long term. To this end, local governments across India and the developing world have in many cases (and often after much negotiation, exchange visits to other projects, and even some heated disagreements) been brought into the process, convinced of the viability of these projects, and seen the concrete benefits of involving communities in all stages of the upgrading process – from planning to design to construction to maintenance. In addition, I would argue that the role of the professional is not to provide the right answers, but instead to ask the right questions; not to advocate for the urban poor, but rather to support their voice so that they can  advocate for their own needs and, ultimately, their own solutions.

One of the most notable examples of this is happening 1,500 kilometers from the scene of Naik’s article, in Pune, India, the second largest city in Maharashtra state after the megacity of Mumbai. Here, organized communities of the urban poor have been working for roughly twenty years to build a social movement that results in concrete improvements in the lives of slum dwellers. This alliance includes a national collective of women’s savings groups, Mahila Milan, a national slum dweller federation, NSDF, and their support NGO, SPARC

During a trip to Pune in January, I met the leaders of Pune’s Mahila Milan (MM) in their local office above a community toilet project constructed and managed by the women of MM. This group of women manages projects ranging from housing construction to water and sanitation to large-scale government-sponsored resettlements. Starting with management of daily savings, the MM women have learnt the necessary skills for management and coordination of human as well as financial resources. 

Pune’s Mahila Milan began their upgrading work by taking up an in-situ upgrading project for 1,200 households in the settlement of Yerwada under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission’s (JNNURM) Basic Services to the Urban Poor scheme (BSUP).  Here, old tin shacks have been torn down and replaced with one, two and three-story single and multiple family homes in the style of townhouses and small apartment blocks. Inevitably, political battles crop up during this aspect of such projects. The process of demolition and reconstruction requires the facilitation of intense negotiation by MM’s members and leaders. The ways of managing these grievances are maybe the most important lesson of all, and highlights MM’s integral role in the process.

In Yerwada, MM have driven all aspects of the project: from community mobilization to design of re-blocking plans and upgraded houses to negotiations with city government around building regulations and provision of infrastructure and basic services. Using social technologies such as self-enumeration, community mapping, and daily savings, the women of Mahila Milan have been able to engage at all levels, bringing empowering tools and information to both the people on the ground and the officials in town hall.

One of the most fascinating things about this project is the use of space. Most of the homes’ footprints are no bigger than 250 square feet. By adding a second floor, this footprint is nearly doubled, allowing extended families to live comfortably together. One woman’s home is a narrow triangle of only 170 square feet. The second story nearly doubles this, and MM has ensured that she has permission from the municipality to build a third story once she can afford it. 

In addition to reconstructing the homes, MM worked hard in Yerwada to realign the structures, widening pathways and making space for municipal water, sewerage and electricity connections. Management of construction was made easier thanks to MM’s direct involvement as overseers of the construction process. Footpaths, widened from crevices to lovely pathways, are now lit by street lamps. MM worked with the families to construct homes suited to their needs and personal aesthetic. Homes are painted bright colors, and front doors hung with bright flowers. It is clear that this is a community. Not a slum. Not an informal settlement. It is a neighborhood, with families living and working, improving their homes and walking their kids home from school. 

Following the successful upgrading in Yerwada, the Indian SDI Alliance’s community-owned construction company was contracted by the city to construct 750 homes in 7 additional settlements across Pune: Bhatt Nagar, Chandrama Nagar, Mother Theresa, Netaji Nagar, Sheela Salve Nagar, Wadar Wasti and Yashwant Nagar. 

Prior to PMM’s involvement in slum upgrading in Pune, city government had experienced local resistance in their attempts at slum upgrading. This was due largely to a lack of community involvement in the development of upgrading plans. The state was proposing high-rise housing projects or individual subsidies and loans, neither of which appealed to the communities. Once Pune’s MM got involved, they were able to assist the wider community to develop housing solutions for in situ development and relocation that are at the same time community designed and delivered and viable in the eyes of the city government. So far, Pune MM has constructed roughly 3,000 units in situ across Pune using a blend of subsidies, loans, and community contributions.

These citywide successes provide an important node for learning across a transnational network of organized slum dweller federations that spans the Global South.  Groups of slum dwellers, support professionals and government officials from across India and the developing world travel frequently to Pune to learn from the experiences of the Pune MM and city officials. In the past few years, these exchanges have inspired groups from neighboring Orissa to South Africa to Brazil as to the power of community participation in the upgrading process.

In addition to serving as a center of learning, Pune has become an example of successful slum upgrading for the wider urban development community. Students from Pune University and KRVIA in Mumbai, as well as universities in Sweden, Australia and the United States have all traveled to Pune for research work and urban planning studios.  

The upgrading experience in Pune clearly disputes claims that slum dwellers are not capable of conceiving and implementing their own solutions. Of course, professional expertise is often necessary in implementing large-scale upgrading projects, but it must be deployed in ways that support the experience-based knowledge of slum dweller communities. Indeed, it is this experience, skill, and history that led this community to come into being in the first place. We have to constantly be thinking and acting with the question in our mind: Does this further marginalize the urban poor? Does my work as a professional minimize the decision-making influence of residents in planning for physical upgrades that will affect their lives? Do my thoughts, actions and words serve the creation of an inclusive city, or a fragmented one, where the urban poor are kept on the periphery?

For it has been proven that through the mobilization of organized slum dweller federations like Pune’s Mahila Milan, the urban poor can take the reigns of their own development, and that city governments are often quite happy to come on board.


SPARC’s Strategy for Community Toilet Block Construction and Maintenance in India


**Cross-posted from the SPARC CitywatchINDIA Blog**

Due to the lack of availability of toilets in many communities and the dissatisfaction that communities feel towards toilets provided by municipal corporations, SPARC has launched its own community toilet block initiative in partnership with local communities.

SPARC believes that community toilet blocks are the best way to confront the issue of unsatisfactory sanitation conditions in slums.  SPARC advocates for community toilets rather than individual toilets because the size of most slum dwellings means that in-house toilets tend to dominate the interior space of the home, leaving less space for living and sleeping.  Furthermore, the smell of in-house toilets overwhelms homes and requires constant maintenance and attention.  Alternatively, community toilets allow for more space in individual homes and less overall time spent on cleaning and maintenance of the toilet facility.

Toilet block construction projects facilitated by SPARC differ from the toilet blocks built by government municipal corporations in many ways.  Whereas municipal corporations will build new toilet blocks without consulting communities, SPARC ‘s toilet blocks utilize community participation at every level—in design, construction, and maintenance.  SPARC toilet blocks are always connected to a main sewer line with access to adequate water and electricity even if that means building both overhead and underground tanks, whereas municipality toilet blocks do not always come with legal grid connections and extra capacity.  SPARC toilet blocks ensure privacy by including separate entrances and areas for men and women, and a separate squatting area for children.  SPARC toilet blocks also always come with a care-taker, appointed from the community who is responsible for the facility.  This is an improvement upon the municipal corporation model that does not consider maintenance of the toilet block to be a priority and does not account for maintenance practices in pricing or construction.  Last of all SPARC sells monthly subscriptions to the community toilet block where monthly family passes cost Rs. 20-25 irrespective of the number of family members or the number of toilet uses.  This system, coupled with an additional income of 1 rupee per use paid by passers-by, ensures that the toilet block remains financially accessible to all families while also funding its own operation.

SPARC sees community toilet blocks not only as a product that has the capacity to improve sanitation in slums, but also as a process in which toilet block design and construction can serve to rally community members to mobilize, organize, collaborate, and negotiate.

SPARC’s model of toilet block construction, subscription, and maintenance seems to deliver the desperately-needed clean and safe waste disposal facilities that families seek, which in turn improves health, productivity, safety and quality of life within urban communities.   SPARC has constructed 358 community toilet blocks to date and has also secured contracts to build another 613 toilet blocks moving forward. This means 371450 individuals in 74,290 families currently have access to safe and clean toilet facilities, and the number of people impacted by the projects continues to rise as new contracts are secured.  SPARC’s community-built toilets work because they are affordable and well –maintained and because families have a stake in their creation, use, and maintenance.


A toilet in one of the most successful community toilet blocks in Dharavi, Mumbai. 

After a SPARC toilet block was constructed in her community, Sukubai Dengle from Kamgar Putala slum in Pune raved about the many improvements brought about by the new toilet block: “The two-storey toilet block has been built by SPARC and Mahila Milan. There is water in the toilets and no queues. There is no tension. And the toilets are so clean. I have a toilet in my house, but actually I like the new public toilets so much that I prefer to use them. Ever since the new toilets have been built, there is less sickness. The old toilets used to be so dirty that larvae used to come out of the chambers. The filth caused sickness. And children used to defecate in the open drains. Now there is such a good arrangement for children to squat that they go to the toilet happily. The new toilets have made a big difference in my settlement. I feel I live in a good area.”

Community toilet blocks are much more than structures or products; they are catalysts that enable community mobilization, coordination, empowerment, and improvement.  Proper sanitation in communities and safe and clean facilities for disposing of human waste have an impact that reaches beyond basic safety and health, instilling in poor communities a sense of ownership, commitment, and pride that will inspire further organization and growth.