When Kuccha is better than Pucca: How JNNURM built uninhabitable housing for the urban poor in Puri

By Ratoola Kundu

Given the bias in urban policy towards large metropolitan cities, the selection of smaller but economically or culturally significant towns for financial and technical assistance from the centrally sponsored JNNURM was a welcome change in policy interventions. However, the implementation of the scheme at the local level has been affected by existing socio-spatial inequalities, the nexus between key stakeholders in the towns (stemming from their control over local and regional land and other resources), and the lack of capacity at the local level to determine their plans of action. Given the top down nature of the scheme’s implementation and the lack of a comprehensive approach to the complex challenges affecting the urban poor in smaller towns, the Basic Services for the Urban Poor under JNNURM not only failed to provide the promised services, it also led to a significant worsening of housing and livelihood conditions of the urban poor, as the following excerpt from a case study of Puri reveals.

Puri, a town of approximately 2 lakh inhabitants, in the land eastern coast of Odisha (one of the least urbanised regions of the country), was chosen as a recipient of JNNURM funds given its significance as a Hindu pilgrimage centre and tourist town for several city wide infrastructure projects and some specific projects relating to the improvement of housing and related services in select informal settlements. In spite of the fact that Odisha has passed progressive legislations with respect to informal settlements such as the Slum Rehabilitation and Development Policy (GOO 2011), the case study shows the ground level difficulties in implementing an inclusive agenda.

First of all, the decision to select only nine slum settlements from a total of 46 slums further excluded an already marginalised migrant population working in the temple and tourism economy of Puri. It thus exacerbated the existing socio-economic, caste based and spatial inequalities between the long established, tenured (or patta holding) settlements in the centre of the town, located around the temple complex and the new migrants who lived in more precarious locations or encroachments such as along the sea coast.

Given the lack of competence at the urban local body, projects were drawn up by a combination of local strong men (local contractors, local politicians), parastatal agencies, consultants, and NGOs working with the urban poor as intermediaries. Thus the actual intended beneficiaries – the urban poor inhabitants, were excluded from the process of decision making. This resulted in the narrow localised reinterpretation of BSUP as a housing improvement project and severely underestimated the amount of money required to complete the housing improvements. Thus basic services continued to be neglected. The design of the housing improvements led to uninhabitable spaces and in certain cases the destruction of livelihood spaces located within traditional houses. With local contractors pulling out of the project suddenly leaving several houses semi-finished, many households were forced into borrowing money or pawning valuables in order to complete their houses, thus worsening their economic condition. The following case of Mangalasahi settlement in Puri is an excerpt from a larger study, “Implementation of JNNURM- BSUP- a case study of the housing sector in Puri”.

Images of old kuccha houses in Puri. Source: Rajkumar Sahoo


Makeshift arrangements by beneficiaries in JNNURM’s partly constructed houses. Source: Rajkumar Sahoo


The Case of Mangalasahi

Manglasahi is a 200-year-old slum located in the city of Puri and is inhabited by daily-wage labourers, hawkers and vegetable vendors. Their annual income varies from Rs 8,000 to 15,000. Most lived in ‘kutcha’ houses made with local materials that had no drainage facility, no drinking water and no sanitation. Despite being situated on either sides of the National Highway, the internal roads of settlement were in very poor condition. Only as recently as 2012, a local politician (MLA) inaugurated a public toilet for the settlement.

The Basic Services to the Urban Poor (BSUP) work order for Manglasahi was sanctioned in 2009 through a contractor. Once the work order was issued the contractor arranged for construction material to be delivered on the site giving the residents hopes of new homes. However, within a month he left the site without notice. Out of the 41 beneficiaries not a single construction was initiated, despite several residents’ involvement in the initial groundwork. Only later they were informed that the contractor was asked for money by local rowdies, which eventually drove him away. Interviews with residents and some municipal officials revealed that the process of selection of contractors was questionable as it was a common belief that those contractors who were influential were able to secure the contracts without meeting minimum eligible criteria. After asking beneficiaries to demolish their own houses, most contractors built only part of the housing and left the project in 2010.

After the contractors had abandoned the work, Puri municipality advertised few times for the tender of same work. However no contractor turned up since the quoted amount (Rs1,70,000) was far too little to construct a house in 2010. The prices of materials had escalated by nearly 30 to 40% since the project was put together in 2008. In one of the advertisement SPARC applied as the only applicant and was granted the project. SPARC was handed over the construction 164 dwelling units in three different slums. In 2015, by the time this research was wrapped up, only six dwelling units were constructed Mangalasahi.

After the construction all the beneficiaries had to put another Rs. 60,000 to 80,000 in order to complete the house. Apart from construction costs, the beneficiaries had to arrange for their own electricity connection, floor finishing work and in some cases also spend for the painting of the walls. With consistent escalation of cost of materials, SPARC also eventually stopped the construction work. Since the non profit organisations could not complete the work, they asked the residents themselves to take over the pending construction. Those who took it up ended up investing more than Rs 4 lakhs in each unit.

At the end of this haphazard process there were several dwelling units which were left in a partially constructed state. For over two years, many of the beneficiaries who demolished their houses and could not afford to invest in completing their units, have been living in single makeshift rooms with plastic bags for roofs.

The dwelling units that have been completed have several problems. Residents find the design of the houses uncomfortable. Most kitchens are placed next to the toilets. Furthermore, though the toilets have been constructed, no water pipelines or drainage systems have been provided. As a result, residents have started using the toilets as storage rooms. Without regular water supply several residents also use the kitchens as makeshift rooms. Furthermore, many of the foundations of the units are below the road level. Hence, they regularly flood during the monsoons.

The people of Mangalasahi say that, despite all the problems, they have only one demand – their houses be completed as promised. Several say that their condition today is much worse than those who are still staying in their kuccha houses. “Those people who are constructing these houses, will they build their own homes like this? Are we less than human? Why are they are treating us like this?” asked a beneficiary, “We have stayed here for years; we want to be able to decide how to live. How can the municipality snatch our shelter and give us nothing in return?”

The blog post is an excerpt from a research titled ‘Implementation of JNNURM-BSUP A Case Study of the Housing Sector in Puri’ By Rajkumar Sahoo, Simpreet Singh and Ratoola Kundu. It was a part of a larger ICSSR-funded project called ‘Impact of Infrastructure and Governance Transformations of JNNURM in Small, Medium & Large Cities’. All studies related to the project can be found freely on our website: http://urk.tiss.edu/research/india/19-impact-of-infrastructure-and-governance-transformations-of-jnnurm-in-small-medium-large-cities.html

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