Indore's Habitat Improvement Project: success or failure?

  • Verma G
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Abstract

The largest slum upgrading effort so far in Indore — a million plus city in central India — and one of the largest in India was implemented during 1990–97. This was the Indore Habitat Improvement Project, which was funded by the British Government's Department for International Development (DfID, formerly the Overseas Development Administration, or ODA). The project used the highly acclaimed concept of Slum Networking as the approach to infrastructure provision alongside health and community development inputs. In 1993, Indore's slum project was visited by the British Prime Minister. In 1994 it was honoured with the 1993 World Habitat Award. In 1995 it was visited by an international study group. In 1996 it was included as an example of Global Best Practices at the Habitat II Conference. In 1997 the project ended. In 1998 it was honoured with the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Obviously this was a spectacularly successful improvement project, or was it? In 1997, the DfID funded an impact assessment study of its city-wide slum upgrading projects for which its projects in three cities, including Indore, were taken up. The author of this paper was responsible for a substantive part of the in-slum assessment as a senior consultant. The findings of this assessment in Indore (based on a survey of nearly 600 families in 10 slums and focussed surveys on particular project components in 7 additional slums) were at considerable variance from what is projected in professional circles about the project. In 1998, OXFAM conducted a study on urban poverty in a number of cities in India, including Indore. The findings of this study also did not suggest the existence of a substantive and highly successful slum upgrading intervention in the city. This paper begins by describing two different views of this project. The first is the `on paper’ view. This is the one that most professionals working in the field of urban slum interventions and following award-winning projects already know and this view is described only briefly. The second is the `on the ground’ view. This is the one that all those who live in, work in or walk through slums in Indore know. It is introduced in the form of the findings that emerged from the impact study conducted in 1997. The difference between these two snapshot views of Indore's slum project are then explained in terms of some inferences on flawed and failed assumptions. The paper then tries to piece together the processes involved in Indore's slum project. Since the assumption is that the projected picture is not the real picture, the stated processes (in project intentions or in monitoring reports) could not have been the source for this part of the paper and are not referred to. Instead, here the paper draws on less professional sources of information — archives of the local print media. The project history so pieced together makes rather interesting reading. It also affords a clearer insight into why the two snapshots described earlier continue to co-exist. Unfortunately, it shows the urban slum related professions in extremely poor light. Finally in this paper some comments are made on inadvertent, but nevertheless worrying, wider impacts that have been triggered off by the process of Indore's slum project. These affect not only the people in the project slums but also institutions within as well as outside Indore. Since the processes that have occurred in the Indore slum project are unlikely to be unique, it is suspected that these impacts are quite common in a project of this type. Thus the paper will explore what seems to be a barely acknowledged dimension slum interventions.

Author-supplied keywords

  • India
  • International awards
  • Slum networking
  • Slum upgrading

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Authors

  • Gitan Dewa Verma

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