In 2009, as part of an effort to promote “slum-free cities,” the Indian Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (HUPA) announced a new initiative, the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY). The RAY aims to upgrade and bring all slums within the formal housing system. It also intends to prevent the development of new slums by providing more affordable housing options and developing more land to meet growing needs. As a prerequisite to RAY funding, states must first assign legal title to slum-dwellers over their living space.
In theory and on paper, the RAY includes a number of positive measures for slum-dwellers, especially the emphasis on property rights and the lack of distinction between government-recognized and unrecognized slums. If implemented properly, it could result in improved housing and access to services for many more of the urban poor.
However, in India there is a large disconnect between policy and implementation. The RAY Guidelines for Slum-free City Planning lack appropriate measures to ensure that slum-dwellers’ interests will be protected against arbitrary eviction and relocation, especially when private builders are involved in slum re-development. Without strict provisions for community participation, transparency, monitoring, and accountability, there is a danger that the RAY could be used to grab valuable slum lands in the center of the city while relocating poorer residents to faraway locations.
Potential problems with the RAY can be broken down into several categories:
1) Lack of Monitoring Mechanisms and Transparency
- States must develop a Plan of Action (POA) that follows central government RAY guidelines in order to receive funding. The reality? Inadequate plans are approved and since the POAs are not statutory documents, they are legally non-binding on states.
- Transparency is not emphasized in the functioning of the RAY. For example, maps and survey information about slums are not mandated to be publicly available, nor is information such as detailed project reports, lists of beneficiaries, consultants involved, and names of members of RAY governing and planning committees. A similar lack of transparency has led to corruption in the Slum Rehabilitation Authority in Mumbai.
- Frequency: the RAY does not stipulate with what frequency data should be updated, and in what timeframe measurable slum improvements should be made. Because slums are dynamic, living communities, regular surveys are required to maintain data that is useful for policy and planning.
- Limits of Geographic Information Systems (GIS): Using satellite imagery alone to identify slums may result in smaller slums going unnoticed, particularly in cities like Chennai, which have a large number of smaller slum clusters rather than a few large slum clusters.
- Lack of participation in data collection: Although community participation is recommended for data collection in the POA guidelines, it is not mandatory. Already, in Chennai, surveys have begun, but it does not seem that non-governmental organizations /community-based organizations or individual slum-dwellers have been involved in collecting survey information.
- The RAY guidelines stipulate that the POA should emphasize Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) in slum redevelopment. Private players implementing RAY will be allowed to make commercial use of some areas or sell a few flats at market rates. Learning from the case of Mumbai’s Slum Rehabilitation Authority, there is a particular need for institutional safeguards to prevent the mismanagement of land use and to protect the rights of vulnerable slum-dwellers.
- Thus far, it is unclear how the RAY will be unified. In the state of Tamil Nadu, the state Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) has taken the planning lead but how the TNSCB will work with other agencies with the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, the Town and Country Planning Department, the Tamil Nadu Housing Board, community groups, and the new “slum-free city technical cells” is unclear. Furthermore, once a Property Rights to Slum-Dwellers Act is passed, there will be additional agencies to coordinate around the question of land tenure.
- GIS-based slum planning, planning to prevent slums, and providing security of tenure to the poor are all complex tasks for which cities and housing agencies have little experience. Even with some money for technical consultants, it is unclear whether municipalities will have enough technical capacity to implement the RAY.
 While there is no exact translation of "Rajiv Awas Yojana," in Hindi "yojana" means "scheme," which in India is the word used for government programs or policies. "Awas" is commonly used for yojanas dealing with housing related issues. While Rajiv literally translates as "lotus flower," we think the term refers to something else. In India there is also a program called Indira Awas Yojana, started in 1985, to provide housing for the rural poor. Indira was the name of a female prime minister of India named Indira Gandhi, who served from 1966-1977 and from 1980 until her assassination in 1984. Her son, Rajiv Ghandi, was also a prime minister and he served following his mother's death until 1989. (He was later assassinated in 1991.) Since the Indira Awas Yojana was launched under Rajiv's administration and was named for his mother, this program was most likely named after him.