10 October 2011
Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and the Berlin-based Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RLS), one of Germany’s largest political education institution, jointly organised a day-long roundtable conference on ’Breaking Silos: Creating an Inclusive Mumbai’ in Mumbai.
The event brought together several academicians, experts, activists and students, who participated in a stimulating and informative discussion on various social issues critical to Mumbai’s development.
The first session ’Demographic Vulnerability’ focused on two critical issues that affect the daily lives of millions of Mumbaikars - the seemingly unstoppable proliferation of slums in the city and the plight of labourers engaged in the unorganised sector, who make up for a vast majority of slum inhabitants. The second session ’Inclusive Infrastructure’ dwelled on the increasingly unmanageable problem of Mumbai’s public transport system and the lack of public involvement in city governance. The first session was chaired by Dr. Ajit Ranade, Chief Economist, Aditya Birla Group, while Mr. D. M. Sukthankar, former Chief Secretary of Maharashtra and currently, the Chairman of AGNI, a NGO engaged in promotion of transparent governance, chaired the second session.
Slum City - Coping with the Reality
Mr. P. K. Das, an architect and urban planner, shared some stories of his struggles in transforming the lives of about 12,000 slum residents, who prior to rehabilitation, lived in constant fear of eviction from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park premises, a forest reserve situated in the city’s northern suburb of Borivali. He also shared his findings from an in depth slum geo-mapping exercise, one of the first ever to be undertaken in Mumbai, which has brought to light that Dharavi is no longer the largest slum in the city, but there are at least four other larger slums in the suburban reaches of the city. He proposed a suitable model for creating affordable housing stock in the city on existing encroachments to deal with the current and future shortages of housing in the city. "The slums occupy just 8 % of the total land area of Mumbai. By reserving this 8 % land, the slum residents can not just be accommodated in proper housing with all basic civic amenities, but also be offered associated social security benefits and services like water and sanitation, open and green public spaces, roads, schools, healthcare, etc.", he said.
The Invisible Worker
Dr. Sharit Bhowmik, Dean of Labour Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences spoke on the booming informal sector in Mumbai. He shared the plight of the millions engaged in the unorganised sector and the difficult conditions under which they eke out, often with little or inappropriate help from the government. He talked about street vendors and their struggle with a watered down street vendor policy, safai karmacharis - a much neglected workforce, and the neglect of thousands of home-based workers and entrepreneurs who are offered no recognition, protection or safety nets by the government. "Demographic vulnerability can be clearly understood if one sees the plight of these labourers. They have no security of a livelihood, no security of tenure of the slums they inhabit, no guaranteed access to even basic education and healthcare, and often no guaranteed access to proper water and sanitation," he said. He raised concern that if this problem of "economic exclusion" wasn’t dealt with adequately, it could potentially lead to daunting social unrests and strife as it has in cities like Durban and Johannesberg.
The session was followed by an interaction during which participants discussed various issues surrounding slum redevelopment, the informal labour force, migrants from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, possible solutions for creating a public land bank, and the options available for encouraging developers’ entry in the affordable housing sector.
Moving People, not Cars
The first presentation in this session was delivered by Mr. Rishi Aggarwal, Director of Institutional Relations at Center for Sustainable Transport, EMBARQ, who raised a fundamental question - how do we make city infrastructure more suited to pedestrian needs and not motorists? He described the woefully inadequate political support, alternate solutions like the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS), railway and pedestrian infrastructure, receive. Instead, only ’big ticket’ projects like sea-links and coastal roads receive political backing, which are not only extremely expensive but serve only to the needs of the car owners. "The Bandra-Worli Sea Link cost the public exchequer Rs. 1,600 crore and, under the Western Freeway project, the government has reserved a colossal amount of money for the extension of this Sea Link from Worli to Haji Ali and from Haji Ali to Nariman Point. Against this, establishing 25 km. long BRTS corridor each on the Western and Eastern Express Highways will cost much less", he said. He added that there was an urgent need for a unified and multi-modal transport authority for the entire MMR which should be enabled and empowered to govern all existing and future transport systems within city limits. He concluded his talk by saying that the future mantra of transport engineering will have to avoid trips where possible, shift as many trips to public transport and improve comfort and convenience of public transport users.
Citizen Governance - Paving Way for People’s Participation
This theme was covered by Mr. Ruben Mascarenhas, a software engineer by profession and a civic activist by passion. Incidentally, he is one of the most active youth co-ordinators of the Anna Hazare movement against corruption in Mumbai. He began with the thought that governance should ideally be bottom up with the citizen being at the focus of the entire governance process. But India continues to practice a largely hierarchical system of governance with the union government still being all powerful in various matters of direct relevance to a city, in spite of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments, which provide legislative frameworks for the decentralisation of governance. While this has been implemented with some success in rural areas, urban decentralisation is waiting to be implemented in full form and spirit. He went on to make a case for comprehensive urban governance reforms to bring "democracy closer to citizens". He described the basic tenets of the proposed Nagar Raj Bill and the role it can play in citizen-centric participatory governance in cities. He also emphasised the importance of creating another layer of elected bodies called the "Area Sabhas" in addition to Ward Committees, with the footprint of polling booths to increase the number of elected representatives and bring democracy much closer to citizens. "This is necessary for Mumbai, where each ward covers a vast area and also has a dense population," he said.
The two presentations were followed by a stimulating discussion on various issues surrounding citizen governance, walk-able cities, the pessimism surrounding participatory governance and the importance of political will to make reform a reality.
Earlier, during the inaugural session, welcome remarks were given by Ms. Radha Viswanathan, Research Fellow at ORF Mumbai. This was followed by an opening talk by Dr. Rumi Aijaz, Senior Fellow at ORF New Delhi, who spoke on the conference theme of urban exclusion. He explained the ways in which exclusion manifests itself in urban societies, be it economic, social, gender-based or ethnicity-based, and described policy measures initiated in some developing countries including India to promote urban inclusiveness and good governance.
In view of the fact that the discussions were centered around social and governance issues in Mumbai, a presentation on ’Urbanisation in Mumbai’ was done by Mr. Dhaval Desai and Ms. Shilpa Rao, Research Fellows at ORF Mumbai, who highlighted specific challenges facing the city and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). Some important aspects covered were regional population patterns, urban poverty and slums, local government budget, multiplicity of government authorities, and predictions of urban infrastructure requirements for the year 2030. The inaugural session ended with a fervent call for all stakeholders to break silos, collaborate and exchange information, successfully tackle pressing issues and create a truly "Inclusive Mumbai".
Participants to the roundtable included various experts in the field of urban renewal, namely Mr. Luis Miranda (Chairman, Private Equity, Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation), Mr. Madhusudan Menon (Chairman, Micro Housing Finance Corporation, Mumbai), Mr. Rajiv Kumar (Project Manager, ORF-RLS Centre for International Cooperation, New Delhi), Ms. Seema Redkar (Officer on Special Duty, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai), Mr. Sudhir Badami (Urban Planner and Public Transport Analyst), Mr. Ashok Datar (Transport Activist and Coordinator, Mumbai Environmental Support Network), Dr. Medha Somaiya (Head of Urban Studies, Ruia College and General Secretary of Yuva Pratishthan), Ms. Clara Lewis (Senior Correspondent, The Times of India) and Ms. Kavitha Iyer (Bureau Chief, The Indian Express).
(This report is prepared by. Dhaval Desai and Shilpa Rao, Research Fellows, ORF Mumbai)