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Building Sustainable And Inclusive Cities In A Post-Pandemic World

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The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the world, with urban habitats being the source of an exponentially increasing number of positive cases. To understand the correlation between the two, the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies, IMPRI, New Delhi organized a special talk under the series #LocalGovernance on the topic Post Pandemic Habitat and Sustainable Built Environment with Shri Tikender Singh Panwar, Deputy Mayor, Shimla; Visiting Fellow, IMPRI as our moderator on 17th June 2021.

habitat

The speaker for the session was Mr. K T Ravindran, Urban Designer, Former Chairman Delhi Urban Art Commission. Currently, he is Chairman of the Architectural Heritage Advisory Committee of INTACH, Trustee of the Indian Heritage Cities Network Foundation, and was Member of the Advisory Board for the United Nations Capital Master Plan, New York. He was a Member of the expert committee under the Government of India for the new capital of Andhra Pradesh and subsequently a Member of the International Jury for the A.P. Capital Complex.

He was formerly Vice Chairman of the Central Environmental Impact Assessment Committee. He taught urban design for three decades in the SPA Delhi and is Founder President of the Institute of Urban Designers India, Member Governing Council of NID, Vijayawada, Member National Advisory Committee on HRIDAY cities. He was former Chairman Delhi Urban Art Commission. His practice includes designing green-field cities, cultural buildings, memorials, adaptive reuse, and urban conservation. His works and research are published in journals and books internationally.

Faults in Urban Planning

He began the webinar by elucidating how the COVID-19 has exposed the hollowness of ways in which we are building cities, with statistics like 95% cases from urban habitats, how living standards have gone down by 25%, and that urban planners must rethink the local level of planning while bearing in mind how people move. The holy trinity of “health-housing-security” has to be prioritized for those who are vulnerable, and legal aspects of land rights have to be explored.

Recently, the Supreme Court ordered the demolition of the residential properties in Khori Gaon, as it is referred to by the Court as an encroachment. The settlement contains over 10,000 homes, with over 1 lakh residents. The UN has tried intervening but to no avail, with SC terming their concern as “abuse of power”. The question then arises, what do we need to anticipate? What, in actuality, is it that ensues for cities from the pandemic?

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The catastrophic onslaught of the virus is, without doubt, a disruption in the development model, one which throws a plethora of new and upcoming issues into the focal distance, like the contrasting public-private spaces, good-bad buildings, et cetera. Since cities are complex networks of habitat and nature, pandemic plays itself out differently in different ones. For example, Delhi can not be seen as an autonomous, independent metropolis but a city with the juxtaposition of networks in the National Capital Region.

A study was done to identify the spatial determinants of urban growth in Kolkata. It was because, ever since the 19th century, the city of joy, Kolkata’s development status has been picking pace in recent decades, owing to huge strides in infrastructural development. It was found that peripheral habitats are more unplanned than the city core areas, which are the main obstacles to transform them into a smart city.

An Urban Growth Deterministic Model was deployed for analysis, with both satellite images and statistical analysis. Findings reveal that among the factors population density, male workforce, female workforce, secondary workers, wasteland, built-up area, availability of bus service and railway service are the major determinants of urban growth in Kolkata habitat.

Uncontrolled Urbanization

The cities have become islands of wealth, resulting in rampant migration to urban centers, accumulators of resources. The socio-economic gap between the rich and the poor has expanded over time in an unprecedented manner, given how the poor have limited to zero access to public and private goods and services.

It produces an extremely unequal and segregated distribution of opportunities. There is a direct correlation between the concentration of urbanization and the pandemic, with evidence of higher viral load being found in areas with more population density than the others.

There is a cross-national-regional imbalance, not just on land but the shores, with artisan fishers fighting for their livelihoods. They are disrupted, culturally, financially, and because they can not anchor their families to a place, they are also unable to enjoy their citizenship. The government has weakened environmental standards such as Coastal Regulation Zone Norms, and the Environmental Impact Assessment rule has also gained the ire of academicians and activists.

Our National Urbanization Policy is non-existent. With rising regional imbalances, ever-growing corporatization, the marginality of the underprivileged has become visible through their living conditions in habitats, characterized by a dismal sense of inequity.

Inaccessible housing, no tenure security, and lack of social amenities leave the destitute at the mercy of markets, which themselves are regulated by capitalists with money. These reasons combined together force people to migrate, as it is seemingly the only recourse to poverty-stricken lives.

According to official estimates, over 11.4 million migrant workers returned to their home states, a figure that underrepresents the true scale of the exodus since it only accounts for workers who returned via public transport. The Ministry of Labour and Employment revealed that “No (migrant worker) register (is) maintained” before the lockdown.

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The Plight of Old Cities and Slums

Old cities are the lesser developed portions of urban spaces, ones which are made to act as storage systems, absorbing all the components the new corporate city doesn’t want to accommodate but wants to benefit from.

There is a host-parasite dynamic that is observed, which shows that the historical context in which planning in India adopted the approach of “providing what the city needs” and why that doesn’t work. The overcrowded areas with ventilation situation or lack thereof are not liveable.

The complex structure of mobility on Indian streets favors personal vehicles over public transport, and this is exacerbated by the pandemic when social distancing is the need of the hour. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has been facing financial stress with losses to the tune of Rs 1,500 crore during the heydays of the pandemic-induced lockdown.

Healthcare Amidst a Raging Pandemic

Mohalla Clinics are one of the foremost healthcare initiatives of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that assumed office in February 2015. From then until February 6, 2019, it has set up 450 such neighborhood clinics to provide free health check-ups and medicines, thereby making public healthcare more affordable and accessible.

This has been proven to work efficiently, but in its place, super-specialty hospitals are being constructed. It is how free-market flows of capital works, it moves where there is an investment. The capital-intensive system builds cricket stadiums where people seek lawns and playgrounds for children’s recreation, at the cost of depriving the poorest of the poor.

The immense growth of digital dependence has redefined the idea of the public in virtual spaces. The urban open areas planned for the pre-pandemic world don’t pan out well now. We do not need pigeonholed settlements but spacious and well-architectured places. Tall skyscrapers, serving aesthetic to the cityscape, coveted symbols of progress are captive to the spread of viruses. The skylines are a naked reflection of the kind of capital investments that take place on the ground.

The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) is an initiative of the Government of India which aims at providing affordable housing to the urban poor by the year 2022. Replicating the same idea of urban housing, the guidelines for Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana (Gramin) were launched to provide an environmentally safe and secure pucca house to every rural household by 2022. For that, the government has a target of construing 30 million housing units in seven years.

Even if the policy implementations were effective up until now, we need to ask ourselves why the people were and are running away? All the aforementioned goals are far off target. What is needed now is a re-thinking about the texture of money, the function of development bodies, and the stakeholders.

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Question and Answer

After a question from the audience on Central Vista, the speaker explained how it’s more a political issue than planning one, with the need to reform ideological frameworks and symbology. There was a discussion over Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021 (LDAR), which would impact people’s rights, livelihoods, and fragile ecosystems, and the island’s ecology is insular and archaic. KT Ravindran sir concluded by his statement that he stands with high-density, low-rise ecosystems for a country like India, and called for radical reforms on totally controlled environments.

YouTube Video for Post-Pandemic Habitat and Sustainable Built Environment:

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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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