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Sanjaynagar | Building Homes through the Second Wave

Ashutosh Singh is a Construction Manager at Community Design Agency, who is currently working at our Sanjaynagar slum rehabilitation project in Ahmednagar. This narrative is his account of the challenges he and others in Ahmednagar encountered during the second wave of Covid in India. Photographs of the project construction site have also been taken by him.

A Hopeful 2021

The construction work at the Sanjaynagar slum rehabilitation project in Ahmednagar picked up pace as the first countrywide lockdown tapered towards the end of 2020. With all safety measures and precautions in place, we were making great progress on site. The ground floor was shaping up and a sample flat was being readied for the residents, based on which we were looking at June 2021 to complete this first phase of the project. 

Crisis Strikes

By mid-March 2021, murmurs of a spike in COVID cases began to do the rounds in Maharashtra and gradual restrictions and curfews were being announced. This coincided with the spring festival of Holi, which also marks the harvest season and preparation of land for the next crop. Majority of the labourers on our site were migrants from Eastern and Northern India, and were already planning to go back to their villages to tend to their fields. A labour shortage was imminent, but we made preparations well in advance by dealing with labour contractors from other cities in Maharashtra. However, in rapid succession, cities and districts across the state began to announce their respective lockdowns once again. The second wave of the pandemic was upon us. Workers heading back to their villages, or contemplating coming to work to Ahmednagar, were nervous about traveling and possibly getting stuck. There were rumours that the new variant was deadlier than the previous one, and the situation was becoming dangerous with every passing day.

Personal Challenges

By mid-April, Ahmednagar had become a hotbed of Covid cases. The surge in cases, especially among children, and shortage of resources was nothing short of tragic. For weeks on end the markets, including shops for essential goods and basic groceries, would remain shut. Our worst fears came to life when our parents and close relatives living in different cities started testing positive. My colleagues and I had to travel in these perilous times to take care of ailing relatives in our hometowns, and took the tough decision to leave our spouses and children behind in a resource-scarce Ahmednagar.

A Hopeful 2021: Part 2

Through all these upheavals, we also had to find ways to keep the construction going. We owed it to the residents of Sanjaynagar, who have been living in transit housing while their homes are being built. Construction activities were permitted by the State within certain restrictions during the curfew, but we were unable to find contractors or enough local manpower in Ahmednagar to continue our work. After reaching out to over 18 labour contractors in the city, we finally found one who was able to meet our requirements and budget, and resumed construction in May. We also hired some residents of Sanjaynagar, who had lost their livelihoods in the lockdown, to work on the construction site. As the labour force expanded, the safety protocols vis-a-vis Covid were also implemented with greater rigour.  It’s been two months now, and we are making steady progress on site. Our resolve to continue building homes and handing them over to the families as soon as possible is stronger than ever.

How can a designer build trust among residents under a constant threat of eviction?

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A photo of a boy on a bike in mumbai

“During Ramazan, the lifts are switched on early in the morning and late in the evening, which makes it very inconvenient for the rest of us living here during the day”
–Community Member

Spatial Reorganisation Workshop with Street Vendors

Ekta Hawkers Federation is a year old association of 120 street vendors of Natwar Parekh Compound, a resettlement colony in eastern suburbs of Mumbai. The association came about as a response to the growing uncertainty the street vendors faced after October 2018, when an altercation over parking led to the death of a street vendor. The authorities (in this case MMRDA) were alerted of the incident and responded by banning all kinds of street vending activity in the colony. The ban was revoked after a few days when the residents started complaining about travelling a long distance for their most basic supplies like fruits and vegetables. However, street vending was allowed on the condition that none of the street vendors use hand carts and would only be able to set up their pitches directly on the street.

We started working with this group of street vendors by organizing a series of workshops aimed at facilitating their understanding of the physical space they share with other stakeholders on the street, and also equip them with the necessary tools and information so that they know their rights and responsibilities.

Children playing in front of two large buildings on top of a cement tank

Mapping Quality of Life in Resettlement Colonies of Mumbai

AIM

This project aims at being the first step towards assessing policies and practices employed in rehabilitating the urban poor in Mumbai by determining their quality of life, using appropriate socioeconomic and environmental parameters in order to build a case for how the quality of housing impacts people’s well-being. As such, we intend to highlight the disparity between policy and its execution, while also questioning the sustainability of the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme in Mumbai. The information garnered from this study would further fuel a large-scale mapping project of Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) colonies that would be shared on an open source platform made accessible to all and also be used to publish research papers.

APPROACH

The study will use both qualitative and quantitative data to assess the policies and practices employed in rehabilitation for the urban poor communities in Mumbai. This will be measured against the quality of life parameters to build a case on the quality of housing and how it impacts people’s well-being. By selecting a limited sample of SRA projects in the M/E Ward, we plan on constructing a solid and replicable methodology that could eventually provide assessment parameters for measuring quality of life of all SRA Projects across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

Status: Ongoing

Health and Housing

AIM

The aim of this study is to understand if access to safe housing has an impact on the health of children. According to a study done by WHO, India has one of the highest populations (43%) of underweight children in the world.

Is there a correlation between underweight children and the quality of housing, given India is also home to a large population living in unsafe housing conditions? To probe this link, a health survey of children aged between 6 and 12 – who are residents of Sanjaynagar – was conducted in partnership with Snehalaya. This baseline survey will be followed by another survey of children from the same age group 5 years from when they move into their new homes.

APPROACH

Young community representatives who have been working with Snehalaya on the ongoing housing program were trained to conduct surveys on their phones via an app. They also participated in creating the questionnaire and added community specific insights. The data collected through the survey has been analysed and shared with the community representatives and team of Snehalaya working on health issues who are going to create specific initiatives on basis of the findings of the survey.

Status: Ongoing