State halves lock-in period for SRA housing: Pro-poor move or push for commercialisation?

Reduced lock-in period for sale and leasing SRA flats may help residents, but planners worry about commercialisation and marginalisation of poor.

In a major development with long-term implications, the Maharashtra government on December 20, 2023 permitted sale or renting out of Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) housing on completion of five years after allotment. Earlier, it could be sold only after ten years.

This amendment was unanimously supported by policymakers across all political parties.

Incidentally, earlier when the state government had considered cutting the lock-in period to just three years, it met up with strong opposition from its law and judiciary department, which felt that it would lead to ‘profiteering’ by free tenement allottees

Housing minister Atul Save also admitted in the state legislature on December 15, 2023 that the High Court was opposed to reducing the lock-in period as it feared it would lead to rampant sale transactions of SRA houses. However, later he said that the amendment will rein in the rampant illegal sale transactions of SRA houses and would provide relief to the 2.5 lakh families staying in slum rehabilitated housing.

Dahisar’s legislator Manisha Chaudhari told this reporter that relaxation of the lock-in period will bring huge relief to many SRA residents, who are trapped in deals and transactions pushed by exploitative real estate agents. 

“The SRA residents need to be liberated from the exploitative tactics perpetuated especially by greedy real estate agents. They extract money from helpless people trapped in such legal complexities under various pretexts. Agents at times even coach and coerce original allottees to demand additional money from the buyers for a second time to complete transfer procedures once the lock-in period is completed,” says Manisha.

Though legally the SRA houses could not be sold, many original slum dwellers had sold these tenements either by power of attorney or sale deeds and moved away. In fact, some houses were found to have changed multiple hands. Due to the restriction of the lock-in period of ten years, such transactions stayed illegal and the government termed such residents as “unauthorised”.

The government statement to introduce the amendment says, ”The government has received many representations that the said period of restriction on transfer of such tenements by allottees is too long. Also, the problem of illegal transfer of such tenement has also increased. Therefore, the government considers it expedient to reduce the said period of ten years to five years.”

under construction sra buildings
Under construction SRA buildings on the backdrop of informal settlements in Kandivali Mumbai. Activists and planners have raised concerns of rapid commercialisation after the new lock-in policy. Pic: Hepzi Anthony

Advocate Jagdish Aradwad (Reddy), who represents SRA in the Bombay High Court explained the rationale behind the lock-in period, “The idea of introducing a lock-in period was to prevent commercialisation of the free housing given to slum dwellers. In an affidavit, the Maharashtra government has stated that if slum dwellers do not wish to stay in the free houses provided to them, then it should be returned to the government, so that it could be utilised for project-affected-persons (PAP).” 

Following a High Court order, a survey was undertaken by SRA department, which found that 13,564 tenements of the total 86, 429 surveyed to be illegally sold between 2011- 2017. The HC got SRA to act against the unauthorised residents and issue eviction notices against 13,564 tenement residents in Mumbai under section 3 (E) of the Maharashtra Slum Areas (Improvement, Clearance and Redevelopment) Act, 1971.

Read more: No more free rehousing, but government offers discounted homes to slum dwellers

Impact of lock-in period on illegal residents

Sunita (not her real name) says she paid Rs 14 lakh to buy a 225 sq. ft house in 2014 from a person allotted to a rehabilitated slum dweller. This included Rs 2 lakh paid to their building society for transferring her home. 

“Though I was aware of  the illegality, I bought this house because my limited budget left me with no other option but to go in either for a slum or a SRA house; renting a house seemed untenable too with two school going children,” she says.

“Many of my neighbours hail from uneducated or semi-educated working class backgrounds, who didn’t even know that it was illegal to deal in SRA houses. Many got lured by our smooth-talking society office-bearers, who made it seem like a natural transaction possible by giving money under the table to government officials,” she recalls.

Sunita found many houses in her building being routinely rented out, sold and even resold. She does recall notice boards suddenly springing up near her building society office stating that selling or renting out houses in her building was illegal and barred. However, the society office-bearers continued to charge in lakhs promising transfers to other SRA houses.

The residents got very worried, when they received eviction notices from the government. Officials and even police visited her house to scrutinise her documents and deemed her stay as unauthorised and illegal. Residents came together and moved court to fight against the eviction notices. The case is going on at present.

Such eviction notices created fear among the residents. Dindoshi’s legislator Sunil Prabhu, who had moved a motion on this issue, said that thousands of SRA residents lived in constant fear and helplessness due to the sword of uncertainty about the fate of their houses hanging over their heads. 

Many legislators like Dharavi’s Varsha Gaikwad felt that the state needed to take a humane view of allottees selling their SRA houses owing to family situations like a marriage or health issues. 

She also felt that the government needs to acknowledge that many allottees are forced to sell their housing rights, when builders default on rentals for years together after their slums are demolished. People have no option but to sell their housing rights. 

Read more: Why so many SRA buildings in Mumbai are in such poor shape

Lock-in period and commercialisation of SRA houses

However, urban planners like Nitin Killawala of the Mumbai Architects Collective have questioned the move to reduce the lock-in period to facilitate dealings of SRA houses. “Reducing the lock-in period will discourage slum dwellers from maintaining their SRA houses, a major concern today. Also, the SRA houses will start being perceived as an opportunity to make money, rather than as an opportunity to move to better living standards,” says Nitin. 

He also fears that a shorter lock-in period will make slum dwellers susceptible to fraudulent and manipulative deals at the hands of real estate agents or even developers. They might try to push original slum dwellers out of SRA buildings in five years time by exploiting some loopholes. 

He says private developers should be kept out of such social housing projects since SRA housing has become a guise to hand over government land to private entities. “Instead, the government should build public housing projects like SRA on their own and retain ownership of the land and all the benefits accruing out of it like transfer of developmental rights (TDR),” says Nitin.   

Bilal Khan of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao movement says that slum rehabilitation scheme is meant to provide a housing solution for the marginalised and not as an “asset for individuals to sell. 

“The idea of SRA housing is to provide free housing equipped with basic facilities like water, sanitation. If people do not want to live in it, then the benefit should be handed over to other genuinely needy families. SRA house is not a commodity; it is a project to rehabilitate people and achieve the specific purpose of providing housing to slum dwellers. Facilitating sale will lead to rapid commercialisation and commodification of SRA houses, thereby defeating the very purpose for which it was set up.”

Action against illegal SRA transactions 

In an affidavit, the secretary of the SRA Sandeep Deshmukh stated that SRA had moved eviction procedures against 13, 564 houses and even managed to recover 212 tenements back. 

It said that SRA has written to the office of the inspector general of registrations and controller of stamps asking them not to register sale/purchase/leave and licence/transfer deeds involving housing of SRA rehabilitation/project affected persons/permanent transit camps without  a no-objection certification from the SRA department. 

The SRA department is also Aaadhaar linking SRA allotments to avoid duplication of beneficiaries in multiple SRA projects. Legally, a SRA home allotment is granted only to those whose family has no other home in Mumbai and belongs to an economically weaker section or a middle income group.

Does the new law give illegal residents hope?

Sunita continues  to be sceptical about change. 

“The SRA housing is such a hub of corrupt practices with so much of black money floating around by a network of government officials, political workers, local social workers, real estate agents, housing society committee members. I doubt if this profitable chain will be allowed to stop,” she says. 

Have you witnessed any such deals and transactions? What do you think would be the way forward for providing affordable housing and not ending up in rampant commercialisation and exploitation? Do share your views on

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