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A Short History of Housing Polices in Independent India

Post by Gaurav Mittal

Housing policies of the Government of India have come a long way since the 1950s. While at the start of “planned development” the policies were more welfare centric, later on these came to be driven by a well-defined constellation of economic interests. At the same time, the role of the government has also changed gradually from being a provider of housing to being merely a facilitator of housing activity. This article gives a short history of these gradual changes based on a reading of Five Year Plans, housing-related legislations and documents relating to various housing schemes . For an easier understanding it divides the period since 1950s into four phases. The first phase roughly comprises of the first two decades, when the initial policies were taking shape and the government was trying to address the problems of all sections of society . The second phase is roughly the period from the early 1970s to mid 1980s; in this period, the government accepted that it cannot serve all the sections of society and hence started focusing only on weaker sections (WS) . The third phase is roughly the period from the mid 1980s to early 2000s. In this period, neoliberal policies made their way into the discourse and its focus changed from physical provision of housing to its financing. The last phase refers to the last 10-12 years. In this period, the government has definitively adopted the role of facilitator. It is now promoting the participation of private sector in housing activities for all the sections of society , while itself taking a backseat in all these activities.

Phase I (1950-60s)

After its Independence, The Government of India was facing a huge housing challenge, especially in urban areas, due to large scale migration after the partition of country. So in these early years, the government took the responsibility for provision of housing, declaring that private sector had not been able to provide it sufficiently. This resulted in the central government bringing out various schemes for different sections of society in its early years. While constitutionally it was not clear which (centre or state) government should take this responsibility1, the Central government resolved to take a lead in Urban sector housing, and brought out schemes like Subsidised Housing Scheme for Industrial Workers (1952), Low Income Group Housing Scheme (1954), Middle Income Group Housing Scheme (1959) and Slum Clearance and Improvement Scheme (1956) etc. State Governments were asked to take up the responsibility of housing in rural areas.

These were the early days for Indian Government at the helm of power and hence, a lot of churning was going on within the government on various policy related. Sometimes, this churning resulted in sharp turns in government’s policies in these early years. In the housing sector, a sharp turn was visible in the central government’s policies on slums; while the First Plan called slums a ‘national problem’ and advocated its complete clearance from all the cities, the government soon realised that it neither had the monetary capacity, nor the institutional capacity to achieve these goals. Hence, the Second Plan immediately mellowed down on slum related issue and asked for the measures to be taken for improvement of the slums wherever it was feasible in addition to required clearances.

The early Plans also emphasised on building an institutional capacity to control the country’s urban growth and deliver decent housing to public. Hence, the government advocated the creation of various institutions, both at centre and state levels. While National Building Organisation was created in 1954 to facilitate research in building construction activity, Town and Country Planning Organisation came into existence in 1962 to facilitate spatial planning activities across the country. At the state level, various Housing Boards were created during the same period. The main objective of these housing boards was to take up housing activities for all the sections of society with a special focus on Lower Income Groups (LIG) .

During this period, the government was of the view that the prevalent proliferation of slums with haphazard urban growth in Indian cities can be controlled through the proper implementation of a Master Plan with a set of Development Control Rules. Hence, it vigorously pushed for creation of Master Plans for all the cities. It asked state governments to create special agencies to take up these activities, which would also be involved in controlling and developing the land in its boundaries. For this purpose, Delhi Development Authority (DDA) was created in national capital in 1957, which later on became a model for creation of other development authorities across many cities.

Phase II (Early 1970s – Mid 1980s)

After various experiments in the first phase, the government finally realised in the second phase that it cannot provide housing to all, as it envisaged earlier. This realisation was quite visible in the drop of number of housing related schemes floated by the government for the sections other than poor or socially backward. During this period, government housing schemes were especially focused on lower sections of the society. Other sections were encouraged to take up housing activities as self-provisioning activity with limited support from the government.

By this time, the government had also realised that slum clearance was not going to solve the problem of housing in the city; the Fourth Plan went to the extent of saying that “slum clearance often lead to creation of new slums”. Hence the government started focussing on low cost schemes like Environmental Improvement Scheme of Urban Slums (1972) and Sites and Services Scheme (1980) to tackle the problem of slum proliferation.

This period was also the first time when the government noted the economic significance of housing activities and its contribution to the country’s economy. Hence, with a vision of “controlled and well-directed growth” of the housing sector , the government created a national level Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO) in 1970. At its inception, HUDCO was envisaged as an institution which will work as the government’s nodal agency in promoting “sustainable habitat development to enhance the quality of life”.

Phase III (Mid 1980s – Early 2000s)

It was during this phase that neoliberal policies had started making their ways into India. The government was in the process of liberalizing the economy, which was also visible in its housing policies. Its housing policies had started talking about restricting government’s role as a provider of housing in the country and pushed it to take up the role of a facilitator in this sector. The Seventh Plan advised the government that “ Government’s role in the field of urban housing has per force to be promotional. The major effort will have to come from the private sector, Government’s role will have to be restricted to the improvement of slums, direct provision of housing to the weaker sections of the society and encouragement and support of housing finance institutions…” Even the responsibilities of slum improvement and weaker section housing were being tried to be pushed towards lower tiers of governments.

Quite dramatically, the Ninth Plan had declared that “Housing is State [Government’s] subject” (point 3.7.106, Ninth Five Year Plan). It was a controversial statement because as explained above, the Constitution of India does not mention housing under any of the three lists, listed in its seventh schedule. Yet, it has been internalised and repeated (most of the times clubbed with land, urban development and infrastructure) in many government documents over the years without any proper explanation. Simultaneously, a push for decentralisation, through the 74 th Constitutional amendment, made Urban Local Bodies responsible for providing services in their jurisdictions, which also included housing.

This downward push of responsibilities resulted in the emergence of a particular kind of housing schemes for poorer section, which were designed by the centre but required matching funds from state and local level governments and were supposed to be implemented by ULBs (these are better known as Centrally Sponsored Schemes). Some examples of such schemes are Urban Basic Services Scheme (1986, later renamed as Urban Basic Services for Poor in 1991), Nehru Rozgar Yojna’s Scheme of Housing and Shelter Upgradation (1990) and National Slum Development Programme (1996). It is important here to note that previous housing schemes were also designed by the centre, but those never came with the clause of matching fund requirements from State or Local governments, which made a lot of difference in the implementation of schemes.

In this period, the Central Government’s focus shifted to facilitating the financing activities for housing rather than providing it physically on ground, as was the norm before. The Seventh Plan admitted that “The most crucial need for housing development… [is to establish] a proper and diversified institutional structure for housing finance…” To serve this purpose, the National Housing Bank (NHB) was created in 1987. Parallel to the creation of NHB, commercial banks and other Housing Finance Institutions were directed by the government to participate on a larger scale in housing finance activities. It resulted in easy availability of housing finances for private sector with cheap interest rates. Private builders took advantage of this opportunity and started taking up housing activities in an unprecedented manner. At the same time, government-sponsored housing agencies like HUDCO and various other state-level housing boards were pushed to compete with private players for funds from the open market, without any shield of government’s support. These agencies were mostly serving the poorer sections of society, which had a limited repayment capacity and hence were not able to compete with private developers. As a result, these agencies started losing their ground in housing market, very rapidly.

HUDCO was one agency, which bore most of the brunt of these policies. The government withdrew its income tax exemption in 1991-92 and then slowly cut off its equity support too. It was also suggested that HUDCO should strengthen its infrastructure wing to focus on land and infrastructure development to maintain its credit rating. All these pressures from different quarters ultimately resulted in a shift in HUDCO’s focus from providing housing to weaker sections of society to funding large scale infrastructure projects, which promised good returns and hence good ratings.

In the same period, to facilitate private sector investment in housing, the government also tried to either amend or repeal few laws which it called archaic. As a result Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act and Rent Control Acts were repealed in most of the cities. Even the Development Control Rules were changed and experimented with in many cities. It allowed builders to construct buildings with higher Floor Space Indexes (FSIs) with no physical infrastructure on ground to support the resulted densities.

Phase IV (Early 2000s onwards)

Phase IV is, by and large, a continuation of the neoliberal tendencies of Phase III, but on a larger scale. By now, the government had comfortably placed itself in the role of facilitator of housing activities. Finally, it also declared that it does not have the kind of monetary capacities to fund the urban development and housing activities in the country as much a s required. Hence it started looking for ways to attract private sector investment in this sector.

The central government’s schemes in this phase, which were focused only on weaker sections of society (Valmiki Ambedkar Awas Yojna in 2001, which was later merged with BSUP under JnNURM in 2005 and then in Rajiv Awas Yojna in 2013) are advocated to be implemented on Public Private Partnership (PPP) basis. With a focus on facilitating private investment in this sector, Government has allowed 100% FDI in housing sector and the latest budget (2014-15) has gone one step further in this direction by listing slum redevelopment as a CSR activity to attract more private funds.

During this period, government has also retracted from its master-plan-led development route, which was promoted vigorously in the first few plans, and has started openly criticising it. According to the Eleventh Plan, “The Master Plan concept has also not been useful in addressing India’s large and widely spread slums. By locking-in the supply of buildable land and space, the Master Plan, inter alia, inhibits the development of housing markets and contributes to the proliferation of slums.” This led the government to try a different route of development planning led by City Development Plans (CDPs) in its latest scheme called Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM). However, this route also seems to have failed in producing desired results and hence was severely criticised in the Twelfth Plan.

1# The subject of housing is not specifically mentioned in the seventh schedule of the Constitution of India which deals with matters coming within the purview of the Union and State Legislatures.

Histories from Bholakpur: Of Settlements, Survival and Slums – Part 2

Post by Indivar Jonnalagadda. Continued from Part 1.

3: India’s Partition and Police Action in Hyderabad

Already, these histories of Bholakpur have moved away from an absolute sense of place towards a more relative idea of space. The various connections of the leather industry and the web of migration feeding its labour requirements extend out of Bholakpur and involve other places in its history. The group of leather traders in Bholakpur had formed an association or anjuman that undertook “social services”. The anjuman is an extremely interesting association. It seems like a simple traders’ association which is commonly found around the world, but the anjuman is also firmly embedded in religious social structures. It runs as a kind of trust that helps with the upkeep of the masjid and also runs charitable schools inside Bholakpur.

You see, this Anjuman is not only of Bholakpur. It started off as a friend circle of leather traders. They have moved to all parts of the country – Solapur, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, etc. There was a kind of network. So there were quite a few connections between Solapur and Bholakpur.” [Interview, 3rd September 2014]

Bholakpur by the 1940s was an established and vital centre in the leather industry. The late 1940s was a time of chaos, with the violent events of the partition of British India and the integration of the Nizam’s state into independent India following the Police Action. However, Bholakpur was extremely resilient through these times. Not only did it persist through the chaos, it actually absorbed and subdued alot of the damage and emerged stronger than before.

Prior to partition, more of the leather work happened in today’s Pakistan area. Bholakpur was second to them. Post-partition, some people from Pakistan came to the Nizam state and to Bholakpur leading to further expansion of the industry.” [Interview, 3rd September 2014]

During Police Action alot of people had fled to Bholakpur. My father had gone to Solapur, while one of his cousins had come to Bholakpur. I would say 60% of the people in Bholakpur today have descended from those who came during Police action. The Anjuman set up by the leather traders offered some support and protection so people from all over the erstwhile state had come here.” [Interview, 3rd September 2014]

The second time population was diverted to Bholakpur was in 1949 [sic] – the year the Nizam’s rule came to an end. Vallabhai Patel ordered police action and people from parts of the Nizam state like Solapur, Osmanabad and Zaheerabad, came here. (they were attacked by non-muslims there – wells were filled with muslim bodies) Hyderabad was already a very populated city so the people ended up settling down again surrounding the mosque – also, from the mosque to tank bund is Waqf property.” [Interview, 8th August 2013]

Bholakpur’s resilience had several factors. The solidarity of the community in the area made it a safe haven for distressed migrants. The outreach of Bholakpur through existing migration networks made it known as a safe place. The Badi Masjid was able to provide shelter to incoming migrants. The existence of the leather industry and the community-led anjuman were able to also provide livelihood to these incoming people. Bholakpur acted as a very effective safety net in a time of great distress.

You see the Badi Masjid has arches around it, providing shade. People would come and just live there for a while. After accumulating some money they would eventually rent a place. But there are several people who have done this.” [Interview, 3rd September 2014]

As the flag of independent India came to loom over Bholakpur the place – spatially, it had witnessed a process of multiplexing whereby it had already internalized innumerable relations. These were material relations of trade with other centres and relations of migration and remittances with the distressed rural hinterland. There were also intangible relations; the idea of India, becoming a minority community speaking a minority language and seeing a new developmental state.

4: What Became of the Nizam’s Land Reform

In the last decade of the Nizam’s regime in Hyderabad a land ceiling act was passed under which some land in Bholakpur was also acquired.

Tajir Nagar came up sometime in the mid 1950s. The land here was acquired by the Nizam’s government under a land ceiling act it had passed. All this land was in the vicinity of the Badi Masjid. The person in-charge of the acquisition sold off some the land that was acquired. A few relatively wealthy families bought land here. My family was among those who bought this land. When the Indian government took over Hyderabad, they sold off all the remaining land. They didn’t have the money to develop it. Alot of the people, like my family, who had bought land in the Nizam period built leather and wood godowns. Wood was a major trade in Bholakpur for a long time. Alot of the people who came into these trades later bought some of the other properties here. It came to be called Tajir Nagar, Tajir is businessman.” [Interview, 30th August 2014]

While the land reform did not achieve any “progressive” ends, it was a tipping point for a process of turning over agricultural land to residential and commercial purposes. Jagirs of powerful landlords which must have had some protection from the Nizam state were being converted into public lands and real estate. This accelerated process would change the face of Bholakpur over the next 3 decades.

5: Jhungoor Galli

The huge influx of people into Bholakpur during police action had swelled the population settled around the Badi Masjid to a critical mass. Beginning in the early 1950s, the hutments around the masjid were gradually improved from a kutcha to a semi-pucca construction by the hut-dwellers.

[Mohammed Nagar as we know it today emerged] around 1950. It was land adjacent to Badi Masjid, there were some houses there, about 45. It was called Jhungoor (cockroach) galli until 3 decades ago because of all the oveflowing nallas. The people in Mohammed nagar have no pattas, nor titles. It was the land of Omar Saheb. About 25-30 years ago he filed a case against our occupation of the land. We won the case.” [Interview, 28th August 2014]

The structures were initially katcha, i.e. made of mud. The residents were extremely sceptical of the new material that was being pushed in the market; cement. There were strong stigmas associated with cement. Some believed it looked ominously like ash and others were doubtful due to a pervasive rumour that the production of cement involves the use of powder ground out of human bones. However, the discursive privileging of pucca houses over mud houses had the better of these rumours and eventually cement and other modern materials had made their way into Bholakpur by the 1950s and 60s.

Bholakpur Map 1950s

6: Gateways and Half-way Homes

Jhungoor galli, some of the other gallis around the masjid and the masjid itself, continued to be important gateways into Bholakpur. These were the areas where workers lived and the information provided by them brought other families from rural areas into Bholakpur. Thus, these were the areas where people found shelter. In the 1950s and 60s, residential areas were few in Bholakpur. They were mostly clustered around the masjid, where the Muslims lived. There were huts around the tanneries, where SC workers were given land to live on. The huts on agricultural land were mostly built by Hindu agricultural labourers. The two religious groups were already somewhat spatially segregated in terms of their dwellings and as a result of their occupational differentiation. Only in the old Centre basthi one found a mixed population.

Pathan basti, Tajir nagar and Mandi galli were the places where some of the better endowed Muslim families lived. These were business families who had a house and godowns for raw leather. These areas, however, also played an extremely crucial role in the history of housing in Bholakpur.

Tajir Nagar was considered a part of Mandi Galli at the time[1960s]. There were kutcha roads. There were only a handful of houses. Aqsa hotel was around back then too. Down the road from Aqsa towards the [present day] anjuman building, there was an open ground, where about 40 huts had been put up, it was called Warangal basthi. These were SC workers from the tanneries who had come from Warangal. The rest of this area was fields.

(Where did the Muslims live?)

Take the example of my own house. It had a large godown attached to it. The godown had a large open room before the actual storage area. Alot of my relatives would come and live there. At the time the residing relative would undergo training in the trade. After a point, if possible, they would start their own offshoot and when they could afford it, buy a house somewhere in Bholakpur, or else they would rent a place and continue as workers. This was happening across Bholakpur where people had godowns. At any point in time that I can think back to, there were atleast 15 people in my house.” [Interview, 26th August 2014]

This intersection of industry and community was able to provide two things that the government was incapable of providing; shelter and job security. Because these opportunities to live and work from the mandis were secured through familial and communal ties, workers were protected from the inclemencies of privately contracted works and daily struggles for wage labour. The mandi afforded them a sufficiently decent life. It had water supply and sufficient space. Often workers need not even have worked in the mandi, they could be pulling carts, or cycle carts, etc. and returning to the mandi to sleep. As a halfway home it allowed for some flexibility to strategize life in Bholakpur. Because, the migrants were certain they had a secure place to sleep and keep their things, they could expend their energy on earning their daily bread and gradually picking up the skills to move up in the trade hierarchy.

7: Roti, Kapda aur Makaan

By the early 1970s, politics in India was structured firmly around the Congress party and its internal hierarchies and ideological sub-divisions. This Congress system was challenged then by a few powerful opposition parties. Strongest among them was the Communist Party of India which had already undergone a major schism at that point. However, the Naxalbari movement of the late 1960s had fostered a belief among peasants, workers, students and intellectuals alike that a communist revolution was possible, or even imminent.

In this light, the Congress party was compelled to react to the spreading Communist sentiment with aggressive pro-poor or progressive propaganda and agendas.

The year of Mahatma Gandhi’s centenary [1969]. Parliament decided to celebrate it throughout India. It was under the rule of Indira gandhi and [took the form of] her campaign of Roti, Kapda aur Makaan. Under that slogan, EWS pattas were given across India. In 1972, under P.V.Naraismha Rao’s Chief-ministership, Kasubrahmananda Reddy, Koneru Ranga Rao, and Nandi Alaiyah moved an application to the GoI for WS pattas in Andhra Pradesh. The government of AP purchased land through the Social Welfare Department at 1.75 rupees/sq. Yard” [Interview, 5th August 2014]

This land [Indira nagar, Bholakpur] was privately owned, but workers from the leather work had built huts here. Later, the hut-dwellers made a demand to the government to give houses. With T.Anjaiah’s support, Lingamayya, Samayya, M. Lakshminarayana, A.P.Moulayya and B. Mutyalu made the demand. We received 330 pattas for people from SC groups. For the first time in India, the central government gave 80 square yards of land to SCs. In 1977 pattas were issued. The land was agricultural land, the government had bought it from one Roshin Pasha and gave it to us. Following this, Indra Nagar was a major stronghold for the Congress party. It was called kanchi kota. There was no entry for other parties than congress.” [Interview, 31st August 2014]

An imprint of the old Congress system is still evident in Bholakpur. Busts of Indira Gandhi, T. Anjaiah, Jagjivan Ram can be found. There are a handful of veteran Congress leaders who still command great respect. Throughout the 1970s, the government had completely turned over the agricultural jagir land into residential land for the poor. Ranga Nagar in the north-west of Bholakpur emerged at the same time and under the same conditions as Indra Nagar. Another major tract of land, was handed over to the government, which were sold to poor residents who were also granted loans.

This land [Siddiq nagar] was fields and forests belonging to Siddiq miya and Farooq miya. The land was handed over to the GHMC and plotting was done and the plots were sold. 50-51 families got loans from the government through Punjab National Bank for 4000-4500 rupees. In 78-80 we took further loans and added slab roofs. In 1971 itself we got the land registered in our names, this was never patta land. People hung around this MLA called N. Narasimha Reddy and got everything done. They got water, power, etc. We used to use a public tap. Then we made an application and a map of pipelines was drawn up.” [Interview, 25th August 2014]

This massive overhaul of the landscape in Bholakpur also had an impact on the settlements that were already there.

In 1971 – when the Pakistan partition took place – the plot division in Bholakpur took place. There was so much activity and the old jhopdis were being demolished so people called it Bangladesh. Soon Pathan Basti, on the border of this new settlement, also came to be considered as a part of Bangladesh.” [Interview, 7th August 2014]

Bholakpur and its bastis were no longer just settlements of the poor. The characterization of “slum” was pervading its entire expanse along with its peculiar governmentalities. The government had set about mobilizing its technologies through plotting, mapping, drawing up plans for water supply, etc. It was around this time that Bholakpur had its first local Corporator. This Corporator was able to lobby for alot of benefits to be provided in Bholakpur. Thus, while earlier people from all over Bholakpur would congregate at Centre basthi or Bhlakpur Water House, they were now going to receive direct water supply.

The Congress party also played an important part in securing land for the poor agricultural labourers in Bholakpur. This was achieved through the support of T. Anjaiah, a senior leader of the Congress party who belonged to nearby Musheerabad. There were atleast two clear instances of this: Sanjeevaiah Nagar and Mahatma Nagar. Possibly others, but the people do not clearly admit it.

We’ve been here [today’s Sanjeevaiah nagar] since 1950. There were fields here then, the land belonged to Anred Narasimha. My grandfather and others were workers here. My father came from the village and settled here too. Our village was in Medak. My father had 4 brothers, out of which 2 came here. 2 remained in the village, we had some land there. In the 1970s the landlord sold the land to the state bank of Hyderabad to build their employee quarters. We implored the landlord to give some land to us, atleast the 1 acre of the cowshed where we lived, but he didn’t listen. Then during emergency, in 1977 we occupied the land. We could do it because T. Anjaiah was backing us. In 78 we enrolled in the municipality.” [Interview, 28th August 2014]

Notification [of Mahatma nagar] took place in 1980-81. It took place due to influence of political leaders.” [Interview, 23rd August 2014]

This golden period, however, underwent a steady decline. There were a handful of causes for this. Firstly, a regime-change in Andhra Pradesh. The Telugu Desam Party had, for the first time, deposed the Congress party from power in the state. As a result, many of the benefits and on-going schemes in the Congress strong-hold of Bholakpur were withdrawn. The other reasons, were closer to home and further out of the control of the government. In fact, they pre-figure a future of general helplessness of the government towards the slum it produced.

Bholakpur Map 1970s

8: Autonomy of the Slum

The allocation of pattas to EWS households in Bholakpur was envisioned as a comprehensive strategy. The MCH provided loans through its Urban Community Development wing to these households in order to ensure their dwellings were tenable or pucca and the government would also provide services like water. Employment was available in Bholakpur in the leather tanneries and other businesses. However, the sources of insecurity crept in unsuspectingly through the system of loan disbursement. What the government did not foresee or account for, was the inadequacy of the loan to construct a house in one go and at the same time the fact that the loan was still large enough to put enormous pressure on the debtor household. As a result, many households defaulted on the loan. Several of them did something else that has had a major impact on Bholakpur. They sold-out and left Bholakpur. A grey (or black) market had emerged, out of necessity, in Bholakpur and the households occupying the EWS settlements were rapidly changing. This exodus of SC EWS households and the market it created were capitalized by the steadily in-flowing Muslim community. Thus, the internal differentiation in Bholakpur had acquired a dynamic of its own.

This is one facet of the autonomy of slums that concerns its morphology and internal processes. But there is another facet, which is perhaps more proscribed and problematic. It has to do with the then-newly-emerging discourse of participation. The UCD program in Hyderabad was receiving heavy funding from first, the UNICEF and later, ODA. This funding implied some restructuring in urban governance. As a result, welfare associations and development committees were set up in every locality of Bholakpur. These committees and associations would play a major role as an interface between Bholakpur and the extending governmental web. City government, state government, local NGO or international NGO, even political parties and the press would encounter Bholakpur through the mediation of these associations and committees. But alongside these developmental or governmental organizations. Another kind of association came to be very infulential, the caste association. Every kula has its own sangam. Which deals exclusively with matters internal to the community, ranging from debt to domestic disputes. Governance in the slum is decentralized de facto, and is influenced by a variety of inter-locked institutions among which the state is but one.

9: Vertical Slums

Beginning in the 1980s, the built environment in Bholakpur underwent a vectoral change. It grew vertically.

Its population continued to be swelled by incoming migrants. The leather industry suffered a severe blow in the late 1980s due to the American Gulf war and devaluation of Iraqi currency. Bholakpur had strong trade links with this region and the crisis there froze several businesses in Bholakpur, some traders committed suicide, while others had huge foreign exchange reserves which were rendered worthless. Around this time, Bholakpur also witnessed a diversification in business. Several businessmen began to move towards scrap trade in plastics, paper and metal. These activities were steadier than leather and continued to attract labour and business. They could also be carried out on a much smaller scale. Thus, accumulation became possible at a smaller scale. This accumulation enabled steady incremental building of houses, it also allowed for households to send a member or two to the Gulf or America or Australia to work. Remittances from these family members abroad also contributed to the gradual accumulation that could be invested in construction. Thus, areas like Pathan Basti, Centre basti and mandi galli began to expand vertically.

Another cause for the vertical growth was governmental. The Indra nagar and Ranga nagar model of sites & services housing provision, which eventually slipped out of control and legibility for the government, had been abandoned in favour of tenement housing, i.e. apartment-blocks.

Mahatma Nagar has been here for a long time. There used to be huts here. In 1978, the population was mostly labourers. We had some major problems. We’d fill water and take it to our huts. We had no pipes or gutters. All the used water, bath water, sewage and drainage had to be carried manually and thrown on the road. It was horrible. In 1984 we were given pattas. This land is about 1 acre and we were 142 families. We felt the land was not enough to provide proper housing to us all. One needs atleast 25 sq yards to live decently. So we approached the Housing Board. They created a layout of G+2 constructions with flats. They made an estimation and said each family would get 50 sq yards. We held a public meeting and agreed to the layout. The construction finally began in 1997. But the question was how do we build? They gave a 30000 rupee loan to each family. We got a private contractor and had the construction done. There was some shortage of funds for which people took personal loans or borrowed money by pawning their valuables.” [Interview, 23rd August 2014]

The other case of vertical construction by government is Sanjeevaiah nagar, but that only took place in the mid 2000s under the JNNURM.

Through the 80s and 90s, Indra nagar and Ranga nagar also began to grow vertically. This can be interpreted as both accumulative and coping strategies for the residing households. Some of them sold roof-building-rights, some built an upper floor and rented out the lower floor to a scrap trader as a godown, some rented out one of the floors. All these strategies were being employed by the households and slowly but incrementally, the built environment in Bholakpur proliferated. This process is still underway. One can now see upto 3 floor tall structures in Indra nagar, and 3 floors or more is the norm in older bastis. Is this an indication that the slum is “actually affluent”? That would be a hasty conclusion. There are some households that are quite wealthy and possess multiple plots of land in Bholakpur, but the built environment is packed to the rafters and continues to face pressure from migrants. There are a huge number of tenants that occupy tiny spaces across Bholakpur and most houses shelter large families including some extended family members who have migrated.

Bholakpur Map 1980s

10: Futures

Talk of Bholakpur’s future cannot be dissociated from the infamous Water contamination incident of 2009. 15 people died and hundreds were hospitalized due to an e-colitis conflagration that swept Bholakpur. The agent responsible, e coli, had entered the drinking water supply through contact with sewage, that was the reasonable explanation. But the media and governmental reaction had propagated an altogether different diagnosis. The scrap trade in Bholakpur and the leather tanneries. Bholakpur as a centre of waste recycling and processing in the centre of the city is an aberration. It was completely ignored that the leather tanneries had already been shut down in 2004. Quick steps were taken to move the remaining industries. The traders even agreed, but the transfer was not seen through. Thus, scrap trade persists and grows in Bholakpur to date.

The pressure on trade persists though. Bholakpur is surrounded on three sides by localities that are undergoing rapid gentrification. On the 4th side there is the neighbouring Kavadiguda which is somewhat similar to Bholakpur and the vacant DBR mills complex. If the DBR mills complex is handed over to private developers, the pressure will be mounted from a 4th front as well.

What has prevented Bholakpur from gentrifying in the first place? A few answers intuitively present themselves. Firstly, it is a Muslim island in an otherwise Hindu-dominated area. Secondly, the presence of the scrap trade in Bholakpur which is controlled by the Muslim community means that capital is circulated within the community, thus the dynamic of transformation is internal, so-to-speak. Thirdly, the existence of scrap workshops that spill out onto narrow streets in the midst of a dense residential area offer few avenues for the gentrification frontier to make in-roads.

So far we have been speculating. Let’s, however, look at the real pressures of gentrification. Firstly, a strong resentment towards the leather and scrap trade in Bholakpur. Any problem that arises in Bholakpur is purported to be caused by these trades according to its detractors, who are many. Secondly, the “Hindu bastis” in Bholakpur have made opposition to the trades a deeply political issue, even invoking factors of identity. Thirdly, there are 3 wide roads that enter Bholakpur and eventually narrow down, but these are the roads that are already somewhat gentrified, with middle-class apartment blocks and shops. Along one of these roads, Bakaram Street No. 1 there is a government order for road widening. A notice has been served to the workshops alongside these roads that some of their property will be acquired. Finally, there are residents in Bholakpur themselves. In areas like Bholakpur house, who are eager to shirk off the tag of Bholakpur. They declare themselves as self-reliant middle class tax-paying citizens and are fighting a case against the scrap trades filed with the Lokayukta of the state.

These snapshots have identified community and business as the loci of the histories of settlement and survival in Bholakpur. Today, the businesses are threatened with dislocation and the community is deeply fragmented.

In Indian cities today, gentrification seems to be the inevitable direction of change. But Bholakpur, which has resisted this pressure atleast thus far, could be an invaluable case-study for alternative imaginations of the futures and for an understanding of the actual mechanisms of gentrification in Indian cities. Both of which we lack and must strive towards. These preliminary snapshots of Bholakpur, then, are only a preface to future work towards these alternative imaginations and nuanced understanding of urban processes.

Bholakpur Map 2014 names

Histories from Bholakpur: Of Settlements, Survival and Slums – Part 1

Post by Indivar Jonnalagadda based on fieldwork conducted in August-September 2014.

Note: This essay is not presented as an authoritative historical account of Bholakpur. It consists of glimpses into the history of a place mostly based on the memories and experiences of people. This information has been cross-checked with the sparse documentation on Bholakpur where available. The maps presented here take the various localities of Bholapur as units to provide a schematic idea of the evolution of built environments.

Bholakpur in Munn Map
Bholakpur in the 100 year old map prepared by Leonard Munn. This map can be accessed at: http://203.124.106.1/~amphi/gunj/

In a richly detailed hundred year old map of Hyderabad by Leonard Munn, Bholakpur is depicted as consisting mostly of large tracts of agricultural land (in the hands of jagirdars). At its centre, is a mosque, the Badi Masjid, and some large leather tanneries. The map also shows two main streets going in towards the mosque and the tanneries, streets flanked by buildings. Mostly godowns or mandis for the leather industry.

Bholakpur Map 2014 names

Bholakpur, today, looks quite different.1 It’s southern frontier and north-west corner are “developed” middle-class residential complexes. The rest of Bholakpur is described as a basti. Although it literally just means settlement, it’s the colloquial term for slum. The Badi Masjid still sits at the heart in renovated splendour, surrounded by a basti of about 36000 voters and others. The handful of large tanneries have disappeared. In their place, there are now innumerable small enterprises dealing in scrap of all kinds. Majorly, animal skins and other animal parts, plastic, metal scrap, electronic waste and old furniture. Bholakpur is a “Muslim dominated” area, with some “Hindu” presence. The figure on the streets is 60:40.

From these thin snapshots of the two end-points of the chosen time interval, no useful inferences can be made. At most one can say, “urbanization” in a grave tone and leave the details to the dustbin of history. But exploring exactly how the urban process transformed Bholakpur over these 100 years is the aim of this essay. It tries to present a history of this “urban process”. But that is a misleading sentence. There is no “urban process” that set Bholakpur on a path to where it is today. There is no grand dialectic of urbanization and the onset of modernity into which Bholakpur’s trajectory can be fitted. The very metaphor of trajectory is misleading. All these conceptual devices mislead us into believing that time is the only dimension in which transformation is meaningful. Let’s not get into the tiring philosophical nitty-gritties. The claim being made here, instead, is that while transformations manifest across time, it is in space that the encounters which provoke transformations occur. This unsettles the idea of a temporal dialectic, because across time, space is constantly transforming and provoking new transformations that could have a long duration or a short one, or could be disrupted or disturbed or dislocated by other spatial circumstances. The “history of the urban process” in Bholakpur, then, is an abstract narrative of transformations in space-time that is actually made up of several inter-weaving particular histories; histories of survival and squatting, histories of land reform, histories of trade, labour histories, histories of religious groups and caste groups, histories of migration, histories of governmental intervention, etc. Each of these particulars is once again in the plural for the same reasons and none of these histories can be told without paying attention to the spatial configurations at different points in time.

These spatio-temporal configurations have 3 dimensions.

  • Firstly, the absolute dimension, the Cartesian space. Bholakpur is fixed as a place by the ward boundaries, any point in time can be t0. In this space, the built environment can emerge, whole built environments can be razed or replaced, plots can be defined and redefined, populations can be enumerated, government interventions can be calculated.

  • Secondly, the relative dimension, where an object is defined in relation to other objects. Bholakpur ward in its hierarchical relationship with higher levels of government; city, district, state, nation. Bholakpur as the hub of permanent and seasonal migration routes from the surrounding rural districts. Bholakpur’s scrap enterprises as so many links in so many circuits of waste.

  • Thirdly, the relational dimension, where relations are internalized in the object, immanent in it. The object is transformed by processes other than those in which it is physically integrated and in ways that may not be measurable. Post-colonial capitalist accumulation, changes in economic policies, international discursive shifts in development, religious ideological shifts – processes emerging from elsewhere and another time are inscribed on objects within their spheres of influence and not necessarily through direct channels.

This essay, therefore, will be a kind of archaeological excavation of Bholakpur as it is today. The idea is to unearth layers emerging from different times and identify certain major moments of erosion and sedimentation in different locations, even meteoroid interferences. These moments will be presented as snapshots. snapshots of changing built environments, of “internal” territorializing and deterritorializing practices, and of “external” political-economic, governmental and cultural relations being brought to bear on a place. The following snapshots are histories from Bholakpur.

1: Prologue – Pre-history(?)

We really can’t say [when it was established]. Bholakpur is a very old basti. There’s a 400 year old Qutubshahi mosque in Bholakpur and also a 350 year old Pathan mosque from which Pathan Basti takes its name. Bholakpur used to be a village, then it became known as a slum. Now, Pathan Basti atleast is no longer a slum” [Interview, 7th August 2014]

2: Another Look at the Munn Map

Bholakpur Map 1916

The opening lines of the essay re-present the various spatial elements depicted in the Munn map, all of which are of historical significance, but one must also acknowledge those spatial elements that are invisible in the map. Huts!

The map depicts large tanneries and so much farm land, but depicts nowhere the dwellings of workers. It reminds one of the geographer in The Little Prince who says “We do not record them,.. because they are ephemeral”. Because huts are impermanent structures that did not make it to the Munn map, it effectively erases the presence of workers from Bholakpur of 100 years ago.

My grandfather was from [Bholakpur]. This used to be called Golala(shepherd) basti, it was all Ranga Reddy’s property. The people here had come mostly from Nalgonda. Ranga Reddy had given pattas to some of his workers, others squatted on the land anyway.” [Interview, 7th August 2014]

[Mohammed nagar] exists since 150 years. It was private land earlier. When the city was not very developed, people from all over the Nizam state would come here because it was next to the Badi Masjid. People built small huts.” [Interview, 28th August 2014]

There were fields around Centre Basti. This was a residential, public place. It’s now become a centre for alot of shops. But this is really the main Bholakpur, or Bholakapuram as it used to be called. There used to be mud huts (kaveli ka ghar) earlier. It was only in the 1960s that we made houses out of dang.” [Interview, 25th August 2014]

There were huts for agricultural labourers, huts for leather workers, there were huts around the masjid. From these huts the present day population of Bholakpur has emerged, in them the forbears of the present day population first settled and made a home. The huts were as much crucibles of historical changes in Bholakpur as any of the other elements depicted. Let us return to the elements present on the map now.

The Badi masjid, constructed in the 17th century, serves as a sacred, hence protective, space where the solidarity of the Muslim community is affirmed. The institution of religion, and the religious group as a collective, play a fundamental role in the life of a community. Group solidarity ensures a certain minimal social security to vulnerable members of the group – atleast in the form of free meals at the masjid during Ramzan and other festive times and access to free education in madarsas. These practices are anchored in religious norms, particular to Islam, which provide a particular framework for redistribution of wealth within the community. The masjid is also an important site in terms of the history of housing in Bholakpur. Several migrants from all over the Nizam state had built huts around the masjid and some, with very few means at their disposal, even found shelter within it. But why were people drawn to this masjid? The simplest answer is the availability of work.

While Bholakpur’s location on a main road connecting Hyderabad and Secunderabad meant that several work opportunities were available even outside Bholakpur, the leather tanneries in Bholakpur, which were a flourishing business 100 years ago, were also a major source of employment. Because leather work involved handling animal hides, including bovine animals, the workers were mostly Muslims and ex-untouchable Madiga caste-members2. But why did the leather tanneries come to Bholakpur?

Nothing starts just like that. Even a garbage yard – that doesn’t happen automatically – one person starts putting garbage, then another person, then another person and then it becomes a garbage yard – koi bhi cheez aisa suddenly start nahi hoti – it can be positive or negative. So why did the market form here? Why didn’t it happen anywhere else but here? There is a long story which starts before independence.

When Hyderabad was under the Nizam’s rule – it wasn’t under the British – there was no trade point here (in Bholakpur), no mandi. But when the British had to enter into business with the Deccani state – it came to Hyderabad. There were already leather industries in Chennai because the British needed leather for their use.

That’s why they developed leather industries in Chennai and Kanpur which were under their control. But where does the leather come from? Leather was generated in the South – in a small way – it was collected door to door, then shop to shop, then to the big storage. Like this leather from all the districts used to come to Hyderabad to Bholakpur.

So buyers from Delhi, Chennai, Kanpur and Kolkata used to come to purchase raw hide from Bholakpur. We didn’t have the technology to do tanning here. At that period there was no proper transportation, people used to take it on bullock carts and it would take a long time to get from one place to another – and the rawhide would not have lasted the journey (in its unprocessed state) to Warangal where the trade would be made – at the border of the Nizam State. Then people of Madras started to enter (into the Nizam State) through Warangal – they had the skill, expertise and knowledge to tan the leather.

They came and settled outside the walled city – Hyderabad was constructed for a population for 4 lakh people only. Since this leather trade belongs mainly to Muslims, people started gathering here – because of the mosque built by Quli Qutub Shah. The owners of tanneries were Muslims – the workers were Hindus. The workers also belong to Warangal area and Tamil nadu. It was a totally new population that came from outside, rather than inside Hyderabad.” [Interview, 8th August 2013]

This is just a first glance at the history of the leather industry in Bholakpur which persists as a crucial force of change till today. There is another element in the Munn map, however, which has completely disappeared; agriculture. This turnover of land-use is another important process that facilitated the transformation of Bholakpur to what it is today. It will be illustrated in the following segments in part 2.

1 It’s a different matter altogether that the spatial identity of Bholakpur today may not coincide entirely with what it was a hundred years ago. The boundaries of Bholakpur, electoral ward 92 of the present day Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation was a later governmental construct. But it is these boundaries that are being considered throughout the essay. They have been reified in the everyday lives of people.

2 I use the term “ex-untouchable” because it is not meaningful to speak of “scheduled castes” in Early 20th century Nizam ruled Hyderabad.

Map of Slums in Hyderabad

There are 1001 slums mapped here. As per RAY data, 475 more slums have to be mapped in this one.

NOTE: Since most of the slum names were not to be found with MEPMA/Google Maps, we’ve added a category called location confirmed which could be 1 or 0. If we’re sure that a pin represents the slum, we put in 1 and if we’re not, we put 0. That way this is a database that is meant to improve over a period of time. And once we get the data from the government, we can correct it.