Event ReportsPublished on May 15, 2009
Jagmohan's address to the ORF faculty included a discussion on six important topics, namely slums and illegal constructions, human settlement patterns, culturally significant towns, cities and climate change, pattern of governance after the enactment of the Constitution (seventy-fourth amendment) Act, and resource mobilisation for city development
Urban development needs more attention, says Jagmohan

The Observer Research Foundation (ORF) invited former Union cabinet minister for urban development Shri Jagmohan at the New Delhi campus of ORF on May 15, 2009 for an interaction on the current state of urban affairs in India. Present on this occasion were Mr. M. Rasgotra, President ORF Centre for International Affairs and a former Indian Ambassador, Mr. Surendra Singh, President ORF Centre for Politics and Governance and a former Cabinet Secretary to the Government of India, Mr. Baljit Kapoor, Honorary Secretary ORF, and the faculty engaged in urban research.

Shri Jagmohan’s address to the ORF faculty included a discussion on six important topics, namely slums and illegal constructions, human settlement patterns, culturally significant towns, cities and climate change, pattern of governance after the enactment of the Constitution (seventy-fourth amendment) Act, and resource mobilisation for city development.

The former urban development minister discussed a number of problems which have arisen due to globalisation, especially with the introduction of new technologies and investments. In this context it was mentioned that large cities are experiencing a rapid growth in the number of slums, and there is lack of proper accommodation for 70 per cent of the population. The private companies are investing in land only for profit, and for them slum housing is not a paying proposition since costs involved in providing basic infrastructure and services are tremendous.

He gave the example of ORF Mumbai where an attempt was made to resettle slum dwellers by allocating land to private builders, who were asked to build commercially and accommodate the slum dwellers. However, it was experienced that many people sold their property and went away, and the objective of planned and orderly development was not achieved. He further pointed out the successful initiatives taken in Delhi, where slums existed in large numbers near Humayun’s Tomb, Lodi hotel, Nigambodh ghat, Red Fort, Yamuna bazaar, Hauz Khas, Rose Garden, Deer Park, etc. In this regard he stated that due to appropriate steps taken by the government, slums do not exist at such places anymore.

It was further mentioned that the government built resettlement colonies in the year 1976 to resettle all slum dwellers, and directions were issued for preventing fresh squatting. A plot of 25 sq. yds. was given to each dweller, with basic household and neighborhood amenities – latrines, water, electricity, schools. At some places, work centres were established, where men/women could work and earn. In this manner their economic condition slowly improved and they were able to build a pucca house on that area. Often, there were protests by slum dwellers who were not happy due to their relocation, however due to the initiatives taken, many slum dwellers are today engaged in diverse activities and earning about Rs. 30,000/- per month. For example, when Jahangirpuri was established, sabzi mandi was shifted and located close to Jahangirpuri. Due to this movement, the truck terminal was also relocated near sabzi mandi. Shri Jagmohan explained that the whole policy was not only resettlement but it was connected with the logic – how to make migration an economic proposition; or how to provide for skill-oriented migration.

Shri Jagmohan expressed concern over the continued existence of slums in Delhi along Yamuna river, Najafgarh drain, railway tracks and at various construction sites. In this regard it was mentioned that the problem of slums in India continues because many political leaders do not want the slum dwellers to migrate to new areas since their valuable votes will be lost. He further pointed out the current practice of violation of laws and the master plan observed in the case of residential areas such as Defence Colony, Darya Ganj, etc., which are being converted into commercial areas, and the expansion of commercial areas, resulting in major parking problems.

It was suggested that some citizens/leaders should take suitable steps for a strict enforcement of laws. Moreover, for controlling problems relating to land use conversion, a penalty should be imposed on violators. Regarding newly developing towns, it was stated that slums are growing due to deficiencies in planning. For example, in Manesar (near Gurgaon), squatting is taking place. In Chandigarh, many transporters from Ludhiana, Hoshiarpur are settling down in illegal colonies, and this activity is not being prevented by the concerned agencies. In Gandhinagar, however, the authorities are strict due to which there is hardly a slum. Shri Jagmohan was of the view that if arrangements are not made for the labor, they start living anywhere on vacant lands. Therefore, a migrant colony should be established by acquiring land and providing basic services.

A need to evolve new human settlement patterns was also emphasised. In this regard it was mentioned that urban and rural problems are so integrated that rural-urban division is no longer valid. What is needed is a new pattern of human settlements where the village, small, medium and large towns can be weaved into a web of regional development. For this purpose, necessary infrastructure should be created so that migration to large cities reduces. Regarding culturally significant towns which are rich in historical monuments, places of workship, sacred river, etc., it was stated that such towns should be developed since they have immense potential for contributing to the State economy. But the condition of many such towns (such as Mathura, Varanasi, Brindavan) is poor, with low levels of infrastructure and services. Reference was made to the improvements carried out in the past by the government in Mahabalipuram, Ajanta and Ellora, Katra. The other important issues discussed were the high levels of energy consumption in cities and their contribution to global warming, problems of coordination among multiple city authorities responsible for provision of electricity, water supply, sewerage, etc., and mobilisation of funds for city development by acquiring and selling land for various commercial purposes.

ORF faculty expressed their appreciation to Shri Jagmohan for sharing his views on important urban development issues, and thanked him for giving valuable suggestions on the current and proposed urban research activities of ORF. ORF faculty also expressed their willingness to conduct studies on urban problems highlighted by the former urban development minister.

This report has been compiled by Dr. Rumi Aijaz, Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

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