Event ReportsPublished on Jun 05, 2015
Social marginalisation in urban India can be overcome by identifying committed non-State individuals/institutions, and supporting them so that they are able to successfully contribute to the government's reform process.
Social marginalisation in urban India and role of the State

Social marginalisation in urban India can be overcome by identifying committed non-State individuals/institutions, and supporting them so that they are able to successfully contribute to the government’s reform process.

This message came out strongly during a roundtable discussion on "Social Marginalisation in Urban India and Role of the State" organised by Observer Research Foundation on May 6, 2015.

Indian cities are displaying numerous kinds of social and economic inequalities. Many of these are noticeable from the abysmal living and livelihood conditions of low income communities. In view of such societal problems ailing Indian cities, the participants discussed fundamental reasons responsible for the occurrence of inequalities, and made an effort to identify aspects where interventions are urgently needed.

At the outset, Dr. Rumi Aijaz, Senior Fellow, ORF, introduced the issue to the gathering and shared with them key lessons from an on-going study. It was mentioned that a large proportion of the population living in cities is not receiving various types of services and facilities (housing, public transport, welfare packages, potable drinking water, sanitation, etc.) to which it is legally entitled, and that this is mainly due to deficiencies in approaches followed by the concerned agencies.

Three cases were presented in this regard, namely slum rehabilitation efforts in Ahmedabad, quality of life in Pune slums, and livelihood of handloom weavers in Varanasi. The study findings revealed a growing social distrust in governance. To this end, the role of the State in addressing the concerns of underprivileged communities was questioned.

The participating panel of experts shared their opinion on the theme chosen for discussion.

Prof. Vinod Tewari, former Director of Delhi-based National Institute of Urban Affairs, and former Prof. and Dean, IIM Bangalore, said that India must learn from and build upon previous pro-poor efforts. To this end, he emphasised the need for paying greater attention to allocation of sufficient funds, improving capacities of implementing agencies, maintaining accurate data on number of urban poor and slum settlements, as well as putting control on vested interests of real estate developers.

Mr. Shailesh Pathak, currently Executive Director of Bhartiya Group, Gurgaon/Bangalore, and formerly Municipal Administrator, described areas where marginalisation has been most predominant, such as law and order, jobs, public transport, housing, sanitation, water, electricity, health and education.

In his opinion, city governments should be adequately equipped to cater to the requirements of the urban poor. He felt the need for empowering elected representatives (especially Mayors) without which good city management would not be possible.

Comments from the panellists were followed by remarks from the participants who shared wide ranging ideas and experiences.

Concern was expressed about the unfortunate legacy of India’s colonial past (i.e., cultural baggage, negative thinking) by M. Imtiaz Uddin (Managing Trustee of Indo-American Educational Trust). He said that positive thinking is needed, and for this, an important role can be played by the media and educational institutions.

Prof. O.P. Mathur, former Director of National Institute of Urban Affairs, said that the problem has occurred because till date many matters have remained unresolved. In this regard, attention was drawn to confusion over the definition of a slum, lack of clarity on the mechanisms to capture (shelter, service, livelihood) vulnerabilities, and whether one should settle for security of tenure or go for title. In his opinion, giving residents tenurial security and raising the FAR (for construction of additional floor) could be a better way of dealing with the affordable housing issue.

Commodore P.K. Gupta argued that slums should not be allowed to come up, and said that any improvement work should be done with the involvement of dwellers.

Giving the examples of elementary education/health, Ms. Nargis Jahan of Adi Gram Samiti and Mr. Sourav Singh, Founder, Bestower Charitable Foundation, explained the positive role played by NGOs in upliftment of lives of children/slum dwellers.

Mr. Sekhawat Husain, social development specialist, formerly with Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, described a range of problems faced by the poor in cities, and urged for better implementation of schemes. He expressed concern over the loss of income and production due to lack of essential services such as power supply, and the problems created by middlemen.

Dr. Saket Bihari, Asst. Professor at IIPA, highlighted the need for organising occupational skills training programmes for rural migrant workers. Mr. Arvind Ranjan, retired IPS officer, suggested for identification of one pocket each in an urban and rural area having low parameters, and work out ways to transform the areas with the involvement of all stakeholders. Having this model, he said, it will be easy to know how to spend the money, which often remains unutilised, and such a measure would also bring down rural to urban migration.

Ms. Sarita Pandey, chief executive of SPGF NGO, working for the welfare of slum dwellers including the children, shared valuable experiences. She expressed concern over lack of integrity and passion among various stakeholders, and said that it was important for such players to regularly visit such areas and remain connected with ground realities for bringing about a transformation. In her opinion, no urban development can take place without attending to the problem of slums.

Ms. Manorama Dubey, Secretary, The Divine Light NGO, explained her work for the adolescents, women in Delhi colonies of Sangam Vihar, J.J. Colony Tigri, Dakshin Puri, Madan Gir, etc. She mentioned that slum areas are seen and kept as vote banks, and the priority towards attending to their basic needs is minimal, which adds to the frustration. On women, she said, their condition is pitiable and they are being exploited in various ways because the family needs money. Further, Mohd. Ziauddin of Department of Architecture, JMI, added that slums should be seen as resource areas where a range of goods are being produced.

Noted architect, Mr. Ashok B. Lall offered a critical appraisal of welfare policies followed by the government. According to him, most models being used are making land inaccessible for legitimate use by citizens, which results in spatial discrimination and spatial inequity. The case of Katputli colony of Delhi, which has been home to the urban poor, was described to show how land values are being exploited. In his view, if there is a conflict with the objective of access to the wealth of land, then the poor are likely to be displaced.

Ms. Neera Misra, chairperson of Draupadi Trust, felt the need for doing away with the colonial system of governance, which still exists in various forms. Many senior functionaries, she said, do not have time for the local people/problems. She explained that social problems in slums can be solved by creating local associations, comprising local people, and suggested that it was important to understand the problems, interact with the marginalised groups, generate goodwill and win their trust. Both she and Mr. Ajit Kumar, Founder of Khushigram, recognised the significance of huge wealth (cultural heritage, craft) lying in villages which need to be nurtured.

The discussion came to an end with vote of thanks delivered by ORF. It is hoped that the knowledge shared by experts and participants in the roundtable would be useful and help in understanding how urban inequalities should be reduced.

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

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