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Hiding the poor is not a desired development model

Cities across India are getting dressed-up to host G20 events, for which the poor have been removed from sight, their dwellings demolished, and their livelihoods hit
Last Updated : 07 June 2023, 14:59 IST

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The G20 meetings are being held across various cities in India, and if there is one pattern common, it is that in all these cities the poor here have been targeted. To dress up the city, the poor have been removed from sight, their dwellings have been demolished, and their livelihoods hit. What has been presented are the ‘achievements’ of the Government of India.

Be it Srinagar or Indore, Delhi or Ahmedabad, Nagpur or Mumbai, the idea has been to hide the poor from the sight of the visiting G20 delegates. If in most cities preparation for the summits meant evicting people from the land they have been living for years together, in Mumbai the slums were hidden behind walls meant to keep them out of sight. The evictions in Delhi could have a communal and a social angle to it as well, because of more than 5,000 households evicted in Mehrauli, 3,000 of them belong to Muslims and Dalits.

What is perplexing is the silence from the elected representatives of both the city government and the legislature. Adding to the intrigue is that most of these evicted are registered voters who are represented by these elected leaders who are now maintaining a silence.

Various reports have pointed out that India's urban population is nearly 35-40 per cent, and about 500 million people live in urban centres. This figure does not include the near 23,000 villages which are for all reasons urban but still have not been considered in the urban nomenclature. Also, about 40 per cent of the urban population in some of the major urban agglomerates is living in slums, or slum-like conditions. Slums are not a slur but a reality we cannot wish away. They are part of the ecosystem and demand the attention of the government and planning authorities.

In fact, slums reflect the failure of the governments and civic bodies to provide its people decent living conditions. The trajectory of planning since the 1990s and particularly after 2014 has further accentuated the problem. Post-2014 the government relied heavily on capital-intensive technologies in the urban sector. The flagship programmes of the Union government: smart city mission, AMRUT or even SBM were in tune to this principle. The programmes laid out roadmaps for levying more burden on the people in the form of user charges and even the grant from the Centre was only for 50 per cent of the scheme, unlike the JNNURM where it was 90 per cent.

What is required is a strong consensus and acceptance of the reality that evictions are no answer — rather housing and land rights is the way forward. Even the United Nations has laid a broad policy framework for shaping the principles for slum rehabilitation: like, including slums in a city’s masterplan, provide security of tenure for slum dwellers, plan with (not for) slum communities, and accept their importance in economic development.

In this regard, three state governments look favourably on the ‘right to life’ for the urban poor.

Punjab and Odisha have large slums in their cities and towns. Here, the land tenure rights have been ordained in the policy framework, and the PMAY has been customised to meet ground realities.

Both states have shown exemplary political leadership in designing their slum policies. In both states a multi-pronged strategy for each city has been designed, rather than a state-level policy framework. Inter-departmental partnerships were built, which are driven at the state level and is crucial for unlocking land for slum/informal settlement, and for its improvement. Community partnership is ensured at every stage of planning and its implementation.

In Karnataka, it is slightly different, where more than 100,000 people have been given rights of registration in 2022. This scheme was started by the previous Sidaramaiah government. This means that it is not just a land patta that has been given to the slum dwellers, but the sale deed in the name of slum dwellers were issued for a nominal sum of less than Rs 5,000.

The Karnataka story of reclaiming rights by the slum dwellers is a story of two decades of struggle that started in 2003. Another important feature is the subjective role of the officers. The slum board comprised officers who were not just proactive but also assimilated the argument of housing for all.

Unfortunately, as far as India’s urban poor are concerned, evictions are a continuous process, especially when the ruling political party envisages a ‘world class city’ where the poor are invisible. Alongside this is the ongoing struggle of people reclaiming their spaces in cities and towns. Acquiring land tenures, apart from housing, top these struggles.

Some mobilisations have shown promise and resulted in policy-level interventions. These struggles are the starting point in a long journey for a decent and dignified living.

(Tikender Singh Panwar is the former deputy mayor of Shimla)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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Published 07 June 2023, 08:50 IST

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