Ratan Tata recently lambasted developers and architects for creating vertical slums across various cities. He went on to state that these low-value structures, which lack in adequate fresh air, hygiene and open space are the very cause of the spread of the virus.
As per data sourced from National Disaster Management Authority, of Mumbai’s many slums, Dharavi, with nearly 850,000 people living within less than 10 sq. km,has had around 140 coronavirus cases detected in the slum. Experts fear the numbers to rise significantly in the days to come.
A towering concern
Apartment boom is in full swing in the slums. These walk-up, high-rise structures averaging seven to eight floors, with no windows, low ceilings and inadequate storage are densely packed, making them vulnerable to all kinds of hazards and diseases, especially something as contagious as the COVID-19.
According to 2011 Census data by Government of India Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, 65.49 million people live in 13.92 million slum households in 2,613 slum-reported towns that are spread across 31 states/Union Territories in the country. While Mumbai and Delhi are extreme cases, these trends are national, fundamentally reshaping the future of urban India. As per Census 2011, the slum population in Mumbai was 41.8% of the total population, followed by 32.7% in Hyderabad.
And it appears that when it comes to constructing most of the affordable buildings, building norms and rules don’t mean anything. Most of such apartments have inward-facing balconies or live-on floors with only artificial lighting. Neither sunlight nor fresh air find their way through here.
N. Jaideep Reddy of Ashoka Builders, agrees that our policies are very old and need to change. “Yes, slums going vertical is good, but what about cost of living and maintenance and lift usage and density?” he asks. “I hope post the COVID-19 situation, the PM and the state governments will wake up and come out with an attractive price for low-cost and affordable homes as land has become very expensive too.”
Fresh outlook sought
The real-estate industry morphing longstanding norms and realities have made vertical slums just the space for living without proper guidelines.
“No doubt, a lot of morphing is being done by small developers, which is creating lot of inconveniences, with cramped homes,” states G. Ram Reddy, Chairman, CREDAI. “Worse, they are not only flouting the norms, but also build without taking proper permissions.”
Ram, however, assures that the volume of such developers is less in Telangana. “Unlike in other metros such as Mumbai, where land is expensive, Hyderabad or Telangana has no restrictions on the floor space index (FSI). As per our stipulations, we can build how many ever floors we want to build taking into account the road width,” he adds. “One of our rules states that we cannot deviate from the building, and if we do, we’d have to mortgage the total build-up area to the approving authority.”
Ram, nevertheless, agrees that some such practises do happen especially in some areas such as Old City, where people are even constructing five-storied building.
“That is something the government of Telangana has to address,” he points out.
D. Srinivas Reddy, Managing Director, HSR Ventures Pvt Ltd., also avers that most of the developers in Telangana State are fairly different from their counterparts in Maharashtra. “Our cheaper housing has (relatively) better planning, client demands and vastu compliance. It determined much of how we have shaped our industry here in Hyderabad and surrounding regions,” he says.
Most of the developers we spoke to seem to have taken Ratan Tata’s statement positively. However, they do point out that it is important to look at those who are still designing and building without following the basic etiquette of making the right kind of houses.
According to them, in the earlier decades, the system wasn’t rugged enough to handle the illegal constructions. Moreover, even the infrastructure then wasn’t adequate for the Government to enforce it upon developers. So too, they believe for something that was built over about a century, rebuilding in the right manner will surely take time.
“Unlike in Mumbai, the slums density in Hyderabad is very low,” states Vijaya Sai Meka, Executive Vice President, Telangana Real Estate Developers Association (TREDA). “In Rasoolpura, the density and congestion are the results of height restrictions surrounding the Begumpet airport. As the landowners are unable to develop their land vertically, they are forced to stay in the available land despite increased family numbers since long time as they cannot distribute the land to the members of family.
All said and done, though, industrialist Sanjay Gulabani begs to differ with Ratan Tata. “Accusing builders of prioritising financial gains and putting the residue garbage together — giving further rise to slums — is a unilateral thought. I strongly believe that many real-estate builders/architects have made attempts to create beautiful works that add value to the myriad stakeholders,” states Sanjay, who, in partnership with N. Narsaiah of Shanta Sriram Constructions Pvt Ltd., is expected to construct Karein Acha, a highly budget-friendly set of homes, which start at Rs 19 Lakh.
N. Narsaiah, MD, Shanta Sriram Constructions Pvt Ltd. also agrees with his Karein Acha partner, Sanjay.
“This generalisation really doesn’t apply to the entire real-estate community. But to paint the whole industry as bad will be unfair to the industry, for there are numerous builders and architects who think differently,” he adds.
So who is to be blamed? “Those builders are mostly illegal and merely vote-bank of politicians,” sums up Jaideep Reddy.