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How Can Urbanisation Become Inclusive Amid The Pandemic? A Panel Discussion

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

Written by: Dr Soumyadip Chattopadhyay, Dr Arjun Kumar and Nishi Verma Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI)

Indian cities with continued colonial and elitist practices of planning and governance have excluded a large population section while accessing services and infrastructure for a decent life. The coronavirus-induced lockdown has exposed the vulnerability and distress of migrant labour.

Inclusive growth is necessary for sustainable development and equitable distribution of wealth and prosperity, which is to be complemented with participatory research methodology to make a difference. This was highlighted by Dr Rajesh Tandon, Founder President, Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), New Delhi, in a talk jointly organised by the Centre for Habitat Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS), Impact Policy and Research Institute (IMPRI), and Indrastra Global, New York.

Dr Ramachandran, Former Secretary, Ministry of Urban Affairs, Chair of the panel discussion, highlighted the major following issues of Indian urbanisation:

  • Lack of voice of migrants in the city government schemes where their requirements have not been taken into consideration.
  • Issues related to slum dwellers were apparent during the handling of the pandemic crisis in the city of Mumbai.
  • Accessibility to healthcare services
  • Issue of a database system to be linked with Municipal Corporations to resolve development-related and service delivery issues in situations
  • Issue of total preparedness for such unforeseen outbreaks

While highlighting illegal colonies in Delhi, Dr Ramachandran noted that only 40% of the construction is authorised. He raised the need to gather data at the local level to identify problems and requirements of the poor in times of emergencies. The other challenge for urban governance is to determine if there is a need to convert villages to urban areas for more taxes and increase the struggle for service deliveries. The inability to account for informal settlement’s contribution to the GDP is a substantial failure of governance.

Dr Tandon questioned the understanding of urban habitation. He highlighted the conundrum of whether habitation is a city, town or suburban, and who the governing authorities are — corporations, municipalities or Nagar panchayats? He opined that gram panchayats are much larger than Nagar panchayats, but they are excluded from “urban”. A large number of villages surround major cities and provide services to them, but are not counted as part of the city. They are called the rural-urban corridor. Thus, this exclusivity is deterring inclusive urbanisation.

Further, Dr Tandon noted informal settlements like notified slums, unnotified slums, residing on private, public, defence and railway lands, along with kacchi and Malin basis. He underlines that inclusive urbanisation is restricted to only notified slums, irrespective of the existence of other forms of informal settlements.

People living in these unaccounted informal settlements also make economic contribution to the cities. Data suggests that 7-15% of the country’s GDP is being contributed by people living in informal settlements. He highlighted that people without identity cards were most apprehensive and uncertain during the pandemic-induced lockdown. “We have legal colonies but a large portion in our country lives in so-called illegal settlements,” said Dr Tandon.

Thus, inclusivity requires mapping habitations, wards, facilities and services through a community’s participation. This will serve the purpose of underlining accessibility to basic services. He further suggests participatory settlement enumerations, household enumerations, sub-group conversations and transact movement tracing. He said that such participatory settlement improvement committees played a vital role in providing necessities to people living in informal settlements.

Identifying the problem of data, he opined that the census is outdated and a third of the population had been ostracised. Thus, there is a need to capture the dynamics of urbanisation with granular data involving intensive micro-local engagement and fulfilling the aim of effective participation.

Prof Chetan Vaidya, Senior Advisor, Kochi Smart City project, emphasised having a stronger local government. Elucidating his point, he cited an example of Kerala, which has a powerful local government. Schools and health centres are managed by local bodies and 30% of the state’s budget is spent on peoples’ programmes. There is a parallel existence of women self-help groups called Kudumshri that plays an important role in empowering women through skill development, construction and managing shops with effective service deliveries.

Image has been provided by the author.

The setup of ward-level vigilant committees for the Covid-19 pandemic in Kerala has ensured participation from local members, people and NGOs. These committees effectively delivered food packets and medicines and traced potential patients. Migrants in Kerala are called ‘guest’ workers and are provided with wheat, recharged sim cards, etc. He exemplified the Kalyan Dombivali city having a decentralised ward-level vigilance committee that conducts a 24-hour social web programme for people’s micro engagement.

Mr Sameer Unhale, Joint Commissioner, Department of Municipal Administration, Government of Maharashtra, talks about underreporting developments in small cities. He stated that technology is not limited to smart cities, but efforts are being made in small cities as well. He exemplified ‘Digi Thane App’ for the city of Thane, which played an important role during the pandemic with almost four crore registered users. Thus, it is important to acknowledge the ease with which people are using technology.

He believes in political leadership and its ability to connect with people. Thus, such leadership is required to be strengthened and harnessed for any disaster management practices.

Prof Jyoti Chandramani, Director, Symbiosis School of Economics, Pune, recalls the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Millennium Development goals (MDGs), which talks of inclusive urbanisation. The ignorance of towns and large villages in census leads to the emergence of unregulated planning, which is an issue. She remarked that data ignores the ground reality. Therefore, planning requires foot soldiers to analyse researches at the ground level.

Dr Tandon says, “Without an effective decentralised government, we cannot talk about citizen participation, but the corollary is also true that citizen participation needs local governance.” He further says that when people are connected through their own agencies in these settlements, they become actors in producing new knowledge and key players in making and claiming rights in the service provided.

While underlining the differences in rural and urban components and participation process, he says that participation started from community development days in a rural context. In contrast, in an urban context, participation started recently, followed by the Smart Cities Mission. He says that urban development is driven by consultants and suggests that money should be allocated to urban governments and municipalities to build their own capacities to become sustainable instead of consultants. Thus, making a well-built administrative sector is a way forward to make inclusive urbanisation.

“Every block headquarter and every large village should be actually urban node, but the tragedy of urbanisation in India is that top 20 cities have 60% of the urban population, which is highly decentralised,” says Dr Tandon. Dr Ramachandran suggests non-political representation at local levels for inclusive urbanisation.

If we have to ensure inclusive and equitable growth, we need to knit and integrate our rural areas into modern economic processes that are rapidly transforming our country. India cannot be divided into two distinct zones: a modern, competitive, prosperous one and the other a stagnant and backward one. Efforts to achieve inclusive growth should involve combining mutually reinforcing measures, including the promotion of efficient and sustainable economic growth, strengthening capacities, and providing for social safety nets.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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