Urban Planning Need to Plan with the Poor.
Most often, in India, people who live in the slums have other people planning for their lives. As a result, what they get is not planned with them but what other people plan for them.
Most slum redevelopment projects in India have brought the issue of community participation in development decision-making into sharp focus. Redevelopment of Dharavi in Mumbai for example, revealed a complete lack of regard for the life styles of an affected community’s input into key decisions that would have far reaching implications for their lives. It is an example of how tragically wrong things can go when communities are not consulted by those charged with execution of such projects.
Be it Dharavi in Mumbai or development in Navi- Mumbai it often leads violent protests making headlines in the media.. We have become accustomed to regular media reports of such “service delivery” protests. At the heart of the issue appears to be the problem that people are not being listened to by the concerned authorities and the state.
A recent research conducted in South Africa by the ‘Community Agency for Social Enquiry’ with funding support from the Ford Foundation probed whether community participation is working; especially in the way municipalities interact with marginalized residents in terms of their housing strategies. The research hoped to improve communication between local government authorities and marginalized residents.
The research found that, despite the legislated requirements and the structures and processes that both municipalities have in place to engage in community participation, these do not always work. Consultation is often seen as ‘token’ or ‘time-consuming’ and does not necessarily mean that residents have a meaningful contribution to government’s planning and implementation.
The Town Planning Acts in most states of India provide for structures and processes to facilitate and enhance community involvement including community based integrated development planning. In addition, cities like Mumbai have elected ward councilors and ward committees,
Citizens are promised effective community participation through several legislative mechanisms including the 74th-75th amendment to the Indian Constitution, which focus on a range of socio-economic rights and promotes developmental, inclusive and participatory local government. The law requires local government to work with its citizens and communities. For example, ward committees are a forum for citizens to voice their concerns to promote community participation.
Yet, community participation in housing-related decisions remains inadequate. In some cases poor people’s housing strategies are in conflict with competing interests and authorities, and they are removed from settlements. Declaring their activities as “unauthorized” by the authorities increases their vulnerability, with non-local population particularly at risk.
Since 1995, when it was created, the Mumbai Slum Redevelopment Authority has consistently failed to put in place policies focused on in situ upgrading. In other words, improving informal settlements where people have already erected structures for shelter has been deliberately neglected.
Slum re-housing continues to be built on poorly located land far from work opportunities and social facilities. In addition, the upgrading of informal settlements and provision of low-income rental units is almost non-existent. The recent cases in Mumbai, Delhi and some other cities where government demolished houses built by residents who were duped by fraudsters into buying illegally secured land, reveals the extent of the shortage of land for affordable housing in Indian cities.
There is a growing problem of homelessness and inadequate housing. This huge demand for housing has led to the poor resorting to “illegal” occupation of dilapidated buildings in inner cities like Mumbai causing frequent structural collapses and human fatalities
In Mumbai most dilapidated old buildings are poorly maintained “chawls” usually in the inner city, which threaten the health and safety of occupants. Mumbai has approximately 16000 dilapidated (cessed) buildings of which only about 1200 have been reconstructed since 1999.
Location of housing remains critical as economic opportunities for the poor are so important. Poor people try to locate close to areas where they can find economic opportunities, which often bring them into conflict with the local authority. Various social surveys by NGOs in the slums of cities in India (and in the Author’s own experience of interaction with project affected families in world Bank aided projects in Mumbai and Chennai ) highlighted the availability of employment opportunities, transport networks and schools as key motivations for the location of housing for resettlement of slum residents.
At the same time, local government is faced with serious urban management challenges, particularly those linked to housing. Municipalities do not have adequate funding and capacity to deliver physical services. Court cases that have followed evictions of families from dilapidated structures and illegal slums have only further underlined the fact that there is an urgent need to provide options to these families living in intolerable conditions, by considering in situ upgrading and provision of alternative accommodation.
Cities must make explicit commitments in their development plan making process to make public participation an integral part of the planning, budgeting and service delivery processes. City development process must work with the people to plan for their future rather than merely informing the community of what is going to happen to them. Community participation processes should be seen as a genuine attempt at capturing the developmental aspirations of the people and not merely a public affirmation or a checklist exercise.
Community participation for residents living in dilapidated buildings marked for redevelopment and in informal settlements is inefficient where it exists, and non-existent in most cases. In fact, in cities like Mumbai the only interaction the slum residents have with the authorities is when the police or officials of the local or Slum Redevelopment Authority harasse them for identity documents. The drive for “Adhar” cards should in fact be concentrated and taken up vigorously in the dilapidated buildings and slum areas of cities like Mumbai
There is a perception that politicians only seek out such communities during the election period. What is their interaction in the so called participatory mechanisms for local development? In the affected people’s eyes, the enforcement of municipal by-laws seems to be the only feature of municipal-community interaction!
The civil society organizations, rather than engaging themselves in national corruption issues, could instead, fight for the “right to participate” in the city development process. In the absence of any such initiative, mass protests, demonstrations and approaching the “news hungry” TV media have often become the outlets for people’s expression of frustration. A key issue is the importance of effective communication. When considering housing options for the poor it is important that issues around participation of the poor are addressed in conjunction with those affected. Far more emphasis should be placed on effective communication with ward councilors, NGOs and residents.
Prakash M Apte