New Delhi, India’s capital city, is one of the most rapidly growing metropolitan areas in the world and a thriving center for culture and commerce. In 2010, the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Institute for Competitiveness ranked New Delhi the number one city in India in terms of quality of life.
However, the nearly 700 slums (locally known as jhuggi-jhopri clusters) spread throughout the city tell a much different story. After the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, displaced people poured into Delhi in search of jobs. They were quickly followed by unemployed and economically disadvantaged people from across the country. The city was overwhelmed and unable to provide them with even basic services.
About 1.5 million people now live in jhuggi-jhopri clusters on Delhi’s public land, often without access to safe shelter or clean drinking water. These slums are frequently plagued by fires and water-borne illnesses.
Recognizing that the situation had reached a crisis point, the Legislative Assembly of Delhi created the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) in July 2010 to provide basic services and housing options for slum dwellers in Delhi. Amar Nath, a 2009 graduate of the Master of International Development Policy (MIDP) program, was selected as the board’s first CEO in July 2011. At that time, he was serving as Special Secretary to the city’s Department of Finance.
“I had written my master’s project on providing low-cost housing to Delhi’s slum dwellers,” Nath said. “Now, I am actually implementing the project and finding housing solutions.”
As CEO, Nath’s responsibilities are two-fold. First, he is charged with creating a plan for relocating slum dwellers from slums that are not tenable for redevelopment or where lands are required for developing specific projects. The government has approved the construction of nearly 63,000 flats in Delhi for these slum dwellers, of which about 15,000 have been completed. The rest, Nath said, are likely to be completed by March 2014.
“Seeing the slum residents living in good houses is the most rewarding part of my work,” Nath said. “This change transforms their lives, not only the present but of the generations to come also.”
At this point, about 500 families have been relocated. The relocations have also freed up land that can be used for government projects, such as roads and hospitals.
However, thousands of families are still waiting. Nath’s second responsibility is to provide them with access to basic services until they can escape the slums. The board coordinates with various government agencies and NGOs to ensure availability of water, sanitation services and electricity.
In addition to its work with slum residents, DUSIB provides safe night shelters for Delhi’s homeless population. The shelters are used by about 5,000-7,000 people daily.
“This figure crosses 12,000 in winters when the temperature in Delhi drops to 2 degrees Celsius,” Nath said.
As Nath works to improve the living conditions for Delhi’s urban poor, he regularly draws on the training he received in the MIDP program.
“All the courses I took at Duke are directly relevant to my work, be it policy analysis, empirical analysis of development or economic growth and development policy,” he said.
Prior to his study at Duke, Nath, an Officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), served as CEO of Chandigarh Housing Board, Secretary of Delhi Subordinate Services Selection Board, and Secretary for the Department of Planning and Tourism for the Government of Arunachal Pradesh. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the National Institute of Technology, Kurukshetra in Haryana, India.
While at Duke, Nath also enrolled in the Project Appraisal and Risk Management (PARM) short-term course offered by Duke faculty. Nath said that the course gave him valuable skills in project evaluation and management. He recommended that all civil servants and development professionals go through similar training.
“As developing countries like India embark on a high growth path, immense challenges are being faced by the policy makers,” Nath said. “Learning the tools of policy making in the international context can help them considerably in the long run.”