Event ReportsPublished on Nov 18, 2014
As part of a three-year research project undertaken by ORF and PRIO to study and analyse urban governance, urban security and environment related trends and concerns in selected regions of India, an international conference was organised on "Emerging Challenges in an Urbanising India: Governance, Security and Climate Change".
Emerging challenges in an urbanising India: Governance, security and climate change

An international conference on "Emerging Challenges in an Urbanising India: Governance, Security and Climate Change" was jointly organised by Observer Research Foundation (ORF) Delhi and the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) on 18-19 November 2014 in New Delhi. This event was part of a three-year research project undertaken by the two institutions beginning March 2013 to study and analyse urban governance, urban security and environment related trends and concerns in selected regions of India. The project members think that with passing time, and as India urbanises, it will become increasingly difficult to manage the state of affairs in Indian cities. Accordingly, through this collaborative project and the conference, an attempt is being made to offer a superior understanding of the issues at hand and to suggest practical reform measures for building a strong nation. Three broad themes were covered by the speakers in this conference, namely:

•      Managing Urbanisation and Unplanned Urban Sprawl

•      Ensuring Sustained Socio-Economic Inclusion and Security in Urban Centres

•      Preparing for Environmental Changes and Associated Food Security Threats

The two-day conference comprised an inaugural session, six thematic sessions and a valedictory session. Each thematic session was chaired by a distinguished subject expert and comprised three presentations by scholars based in India and abroad. The presentations in each session were followed by comments by subject specialists who were invited to the conference as discussants. General invitees shared their opinions and gave comments on the presentations during the discussion round.

The conference was inaugurated by Mr. Jayant M. Mauskar, former Special Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, and an Advisor to Observer Research Foundation. In his inaugural address, Mr. Mauskar shared his observations about urbanisation in India. He agreed with the view that in today’s urban agglomerations, there is efficient production and income generation, lessening of caste divisions, but the costs are high in terms of traffic congestion, vehicular pollution, and crime. He described numerous contrasting scenarios such as the emergence of gated communities and slums, malls and crowded markets, power cuts and use of polluting and noisy generator sets, deteriorating water quantity and quality.

On environment, Mr. Mauskar said that mankind’s view of ’nature’ has changed over the years. In ancient times, nature was seen as a deity to be feared. Later, it was something to be conquered, and now we fear the revenge of nature, as observed from the recent climate change negotiations. According to him, steps such as construction of multi-purpose dams and disruption of river flows, encroachment of river beds, discharge of untreated sewage in rivers, concretisation and the consequent urban heat island impact, have disturbed the environment and human life.

The current measures to addresses emerging climate change related problems in India were explained, including launch of missions, preparation of IPCC 5th report (2014) on climate change, the 2nd report (2013) of national communication (NATCOM), and the 4 by 4 (4 regions, 4 sectors) assessment report (2012) which explains what will happen by 2030, i.e., rising day and night temperatures, severe summers, milder winters, increasing rainfall intensity and its variability, changing cycles of floods and droughts, increasing floods and rising sea levels, increasing intensity and number of tropical cyclones and storm surges, temporal and spatial increase in vector borne diseases, increasing water stress, energy needs and costs, transportation costs, environmental threats to coastal cities, etc. In conclusion, Mr. Mauskar stated that flexibility, dynamism and modularity are key components needed in our approach.

Earlier, giving the opening remarks, Mr. Sunjoy Joshi, ORF Director, said that the pace of India’s urban transition is going to be unprecedented, and being a democratic nation, the nature of contests and conflicts around urbanisation will have huge implications. It was pointed out that if the current pattern of uncontrolled growth is allowed to continue, it can overtake any modicum of urban order across the entire spectrum of urban sectors. Some areas requiring immediate attention according to Mr. Joshi are improving mobility, ensuring low carbon growth, and overall sustainability; need to decrease pressure on urban spaces, resources and on the environment. He said that the very dynamics of this quest of so-called growth mandates that planning and policy can never be de-politicised, and therefore the unpredictable dynamics of demography can disrupt the best laid plans, schemes. Contradictions and conflicts will be an inevitable part of this process in his view, but the conflicts can be strong or weak, manageable or disruptive depending on the governance structures and response systems that we manage to put in place.

Prof. Halvard Buhaug, Research Professor at PRIO, Norway, in the inaugural session, gave an overview of his institution and mentioned that it is one of the oldest engaged in peace and conflict research. He described the scope of the on-going ORF-PRIO joint research project and said that it deals with a set of emerging challenges which are not specific or unique but they are particularly important to India. Some of these provide opportunities and we need to be aware of the potentials and negative aspects of these trends, he said. How these trends interlink and what could be the possible insecurity challenges are important aspects which will be covered in the joint study, said Prof. Buhaug.

The first conference session was chaired by Dr. M. Ramachandran, former Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India. He said that in India, urban development and management is left to the States, but the country should have a clear urbanisation strategy that addresses issues such as vertical versus horizontal, new townships, smart cities which are inclusive, rehabilitation of slum dwellers, land acquisition for building affordable housing units, urban migrants, etc. In this session there were presentations on: ’Urbanisation, Growth and Equity: Patterns and Challenges’, by Darshini Mahadevia, Professor and Dean, Faculty of Planning, CEPT University, Ahmedabad; ’Planning, Privatisation, and Governance in the New Urban India’ by Kristian Hoelscher, Researcher, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Norway; and ’Removing the Mask of Implementation Failure: Land Use Planning and Violations in Bangalore, India’, by Jayaraj Sundaresan, Researcher, London School of Economics and Political Science, London. Discussants in this session were Prof. Jamal Ansari, Formerly Professor and Director, School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi; Dr. P. Jayapal, Senior Executive Director (O), Housing and Urban Development Corporation Limited, Delhi.

Prof. Ansari commented on the misconception of migration as the single most important component of urban population growth. It was clarified that natural increase accounts for the largest share. However, in recent times, he said fertility rates in urban areas have declined, perhaps due to female foeticide. Concern was also expressed over preparation of sectoral plans without the basis of spatial plans which results in a lot of wasted expenditure.

Dr. Jayapal suggested that the ORF-PRIO study should analyse three aspects, namely urbanisation and its impact or relevance in relation to planning, inclusiveness or equity, and governance.

The second session was chaired by Prof. S. R. Hashim, Chairman, Indian Association of Social Science Institutions, Delhi, who said that there are various kinds of disparities and inequalities, and creation of sustainable habitat is the key issue. In this session there were presentations on: ’An "Urban Morphology" of Structure, Identity, and Conflict’, by Ravi Bhavnani, Professor, The Graduate Institute, Geneva; ’Urban Inequalities and Disparities -How Exclusionary are Cities in India?’, by Preet Rustagi, Professor, Institute for Human Development, Delhi; and ’Community Needs and Expectations from Government’, by Rumi Aijaz, Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi. Discussants in this session were Dr. K.K. Pandey, Professor of Urban Management, Indian Institute of Public Administration, Delhi; Dr. Renu Khosla, Director, Center for Urban and Regional Excellence, Delhi.

Dr. Pandey said whether segregation or intermixing will lead to conflict needs to be examined, because conflict could occur due to various reasons; urban poor are adversely affected at the time of occurrence of natural calamities; skill development will go a long way to improve the economic status of poor.

Dr. Khosla submitted that there is a process by which inequality is evolving which needs to be looked into. She felt that there seems to be a State sponsorship of segregation which is observed in the approach followed by the government in housing provision, and measures such as relocation of poor to the peripheries could, in some situations, lead to conflict. She said that it is important to understand whether new spaces create an environment of inter-mixing, lower the tensions, can these spaces become more homogenous. It was enquired whether we should informalise the formal systems so that these are tolerant towards the poor.

The third session was chaired by Dr. Amitabh Kundu, formerly Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. Prof. Kundu appreciated the efforts of the ORF-PRIO team for working on a very important topic and gave valuable suggestions for the enrichment of the study. In this session there were presentations on: ’Economic Shocks and Political Instability: The Importance of Political Context’, by Anjali Thomas Bohlken, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia, Canada; ’Creating Inclusive Cities, within Spaces of Exclusion: A Case-Study of Saath Charitable Trust’s Experience in Integrated Urban Slum Development, Ahmedabad’, by Keren Nazareth, Executive Director, Saath Charitable Trust, Ahmedabad; and ’Exploring Inclusion-Exclusion Dynamics in India’s Urban Space: A Survey of Three Cities’ by Niranjan Sahoo, Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi. Discussants in this session were Ms. Jayshree Sengupta, Senior Fellow, ORF, Delhi; Dr. Anjoo Sharan Upadhyaya, Professor of Political Science, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi.

Ms. Sengupta pointed out that in India, as against economic shocks, it is jobless growth that leads to conflict as observed in Naxal affected regions. To address the issue of exclusion, she suggested the need to understand how castes, OBCs and minorities in India are separated by trading activities, as well as creation of better mobility systems for the migrant workers.

Dr. Upadhyaya expressed the need for evolving a better definition of exclusion based on local perceptions.

The fourth session was chaired by Mr. Ajay K. Mehra, Director (Honorary), Centre for Public Affairs, NOIDA. In his view security per se is becoming an increasingly complex issue because of the multi-cultural nature and complexities of society. In this session there were presentations on: ’Measuring Attitudes towards Political Violence across India: A Cell Phone based Approach’, by Sebastian Schutte, Postdoctoral researcher, Zukunftskolleg, University of Konstanz, Germany; ’Sustaining Inclusive Rule of Law and Security in the Face of Rapid Urbanisation’, by Satya Narayan Pradhan, Additional Director General of Police, Criminal Investigation Department, Jharkhand; and ’Urban Livelihoods and Security’, by Anil Shukla, Additional Commissioner (Traffic), Delhi Police.

Discussant in this session was Mr. Saikat Datta, Editor, National Security, The Hindustan Times, Delhi, who appreciated the kind of positive thinking going on within the police force. It was submitted that for going forward there has to be a paradigm shift. On inclusive policing it was said that a key aspect would be to ensure transparency in processes, as well as optimising technology use. He suggested that police departments and intelligence agencies must be prepared for emergencies such as the 26 - 11 Mumbai incident.

The fifth session was chaired by Dr. Prem S. Vashishtha, Visiting Professor, Galgotias University, Greater Noida. He submitted that the possibility of aggravation of violence could be low if there are non-farm activities or on-farm activities, and suggested introduction of this variable in the modelling exercise. In this session there were presentations on: ’Food Production and Conflict Severity across India’, by Halvard Buhaug, Research Professor, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Norway; ’Urbanisation and Food Insecurity amongst the Slum Population in India: A Case Study of Nagwa Area of Varanasi’, by Anjoo Sharan Upadhyaya, Professor of Political Science, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi; and ’Some Issues of Urban Food Security in India’, by Himanshu, Assistant Professor, Centre for the Study of Regional Development, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

Discussant in this session was Mr. Bharat Sharma, Emeritus Scientist, International Water Management Institute, Delhi. Mr. Sharma described the impact of climate change on human security based on a study conducted by him in a drought prone area from north western parts of India and up to Iran. The basic question explored in the study was: does occurrence of droughts leads to violence or insurgency? It was found that such problems occur when there is a prolonged drought period (5-6 years), since this affected crop production. In parts of India also, a higher level of restlessness, violence is observed due to environmental problems (water availability), he said. It was suggested that planning should take these dimensions into account.

The sixth or final thematic session was chaired by Mr. S. Vijay Kumar, Distinguished Fellow, The Energy and Resources Institute, Delhi. Mr. Kumar highlighted the significance of managing adversities of climate change in the context of an urbanising India, and suggested for making a clear distinction between climate impacts and weather-related impacts. In the context of food security, he highlighted the importance of disaster preparedness, measures for improving the robustness of the supply chain, including local warehousing and diversification of supplies; and increasing efficiency of PDS for water, food and cooking energy. In this session there were presentations on: ’Ecological Footprint as a Determinant for Regional Development: Case Study of Cuttack District, jointly by Neha G. Tripathi, Assistant Professor, and Jasprit Kaur, Master’s level Student, Department of Environmental Planning, School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi; ’The ’Drivers’ of Migration: Spatial Patterns and Characteristics of Origin and Destination Areas in India’, by Jochen Mistelbacher, Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi; and ’Climate Vulnerability and the Urban Poor: A Case Study of Ganeshnagar, Ahmedabad’, by Sarah Hasan, Junior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi.

Discussant in this session was Dr. Uttam Kumar Sinha, Research Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Delhi.

At the concluding session, Dr. Vinod Tewari, formerly Professor at IIM Bangalore and Director of the National Institute of Urban Affairs, delivered the valedictory address. Taking note of the topics identified for investigation by the ORF-PRIO project team, Prof. Tewari expressed his opinion on the subject ’Responding to the Challenges of Urbanising India’. He said that in today’s changing scenario, it is necessary to: follow a coordinated approach to rural and urban development; enhance urban planning and management capacity; improve urban governance systems and legislation; provide sustainable services and climate resilient infrastructure.

Each of these points was explained by giving examples of government interventions in various parts of the country, as also the shortcomings in current approaches. He expressed concern over deficiencies in planning process and laws, inadequate capacities of plan preparing, project monitoring and implementing institutions, urban planners and managers; shortage of planning institutions; slow implementation of urban reforms. The progress with respect to municipal e-Governance was appreciated. On PPP, it was said that since municipal institutions are not credit worthy, private agencies do not want to partner with them. Another important point put forward was the need to design urban infrastructure considering unexpected climatic patterns (during heavy rains, the drainage system is unable to take the load). In conclusion it was said that re-engineering in current processes are needed for successful implementation of innovations.

(This report is prepared by Dr Rumi Aijaz, Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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