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:
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.
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.