Whether with a meagre dwelling or a sumptuous abode, making a home of one’s house is a universal human desire. That’s easier said than done for some. One in six people in urban India lives in informal settlements clustered in slums that are unfit for habitation.

The Odisha Liveable Habitat Mission, or ‘Jaga Mission’ — a three-year-old partnership between the Odisha government and the Tata Trusts — is an example of how the urban poor can be supported with decent housing in an environment that’s conducive to living and their well-being.

Thanks to the Mission, more than 65,000 families now have land rights; some 25,000 households have been aided in building permanent houses; and 550 slums in 28 urban local bodies have been recast with basic services and infrastructure, and integrated with main city areas.

The Jaga Mission is part of the Tata Trusts’ urban habitat initiatives, which have benefitted close to 300,000 people spread over 116 urban local bodies in five states of India.

This transformed open space in the Satasingha area in Keonjhargarh is an example of the Mission’s emphasis on the living environment as a whole.

Household surveys were conducted and community meetings held before any plans were implemented. The great enabler for the Mission is a landmark legislation enacted by the state government in 2017: the Odisha Land Rights to Slum Dwellers Act. Rather than see slum-dwellers as encroachers, this law — the first of its kind in India — seeks to settle them on land they already occupy.

Lively play areas for children are an important part of the project, which has been a revelation in more ways than one for Odisha, a rapidly urbanising state that has nearly 3,000 slums in and around the periphery of its cities and towns.

Refurbishing has changed the face of this lane (top and above) in Rasulgarh Sabar Sahi slum in Bhubaneswar, as also a community space (right). The Mission’s task is to transform slums into proper habitats with essential civic infrastructure in place, including roads, piped water supply, sewage systems, community toilets, gardens and other open spaces. The programme is being implemented across all 114 urban areas in the state’s 30 districts, making it the world’s largest such initiative.

Multi-activity centres — which serve as classrooms or as venues for social gatherings and livelihood activities — are a feature of the programme, which has won the India Geospatial Excellence Award and a bronze at the World Habitat Awards.

Compiled by Kainaz Mistry