PRIA’s interface with Slum Dwellers in Bihar Sharif highlights their capacity to plan!

By Gargee, Programme Officer -PRIA

Slum dwellers face discrimination in the decision making process also. Not only are they treated as insignificant stakeholders in the decision making and planning process; their knowledge and suggestions on the local issues are not recognized. There is a need to realize that community engagement is a vital component for success of many different programmes and schemes. If given an opportunity, slum dwellers can come up with most cost effective and simplistic solutions to their complex problems.

 This excerpt was written as a part of the study conducted by PRIA under Ford Foundation Funded project ‘Democratic Urban Governance: Promoting Participation and Social Accountability”. Slums mentioned in the article are located in ward 32 of the Bihar Sharif Municipal Corporation.

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Ward No: 32

Type of slum: Notified

Total no. of households: 313

Banaulia Haat and Mahalpar slums are located in ward 32 of the Bihar Sharif Municipal Corporation. Total number of households in Mahalpur and Banaulia are 200 and 113 respectively. Total population of the two slums is 1722 (approx.) which is 20% of the total population of the ward. Average family size in the slum is 05 – 07 per household. Most of the slum dwellers are employed at the small shoe making units’ operational in the ward. Other professions in the slum are rickshaw pulling, daily wager labour and vegetable vendors. A meeting was organized with the slum dwellers to solicit their feedback on the level of infrastructure and the civic services provided to them by the Bihar Sharif Municipal Corporation (BMC). The meeting was intended to cover three aspects of the civic services being received in terms of quality, efficiency and adequacy. It was made clear that through this meeting the aim was to list down the problems faced by the slum dwellers related to basic services priority wise (the most pressing issues which needs immediate attention were to be listed at the top) and also to provide solutions which they would want to be implemented.

 

The discussion initiated by sharing of the ward map and general information about the area with the slum dwellers. The slum dwellers shared their responses on the status of the services and revealed that their areas lack availability of basic services. The roads in the area were in bad condition which was causing the denizens inconvenience in travelling. They also listed unavailability of safe drinking water as a crucial concern. In the Mahalpar area only few households have individual water connections. Banaulia Hat on the other hand has no water supply pipeline and the residents were dependent mostly on community taps and bore wells for their water needs as digging a hand pump involves comparatively higher cost. Also fetching water from existing public hand pump takes a lot of time and also results in quarrels among denizens many times. Other major issue highlighted by the participants was problem of water logging especially during monsoons. The open drains in the slums were filled with solid waste and were rarely cleaned. In many places, there were no drains. Other listed issues included sanitation (none of the slum households had individual toilet), inadequate solid waste management and lack of adequate number of schools. 

 

After the gathered slum dwellers listed their concerns priority wise, they were to suggest solutions for their problems. The following suggestions were made by the slum dwellers;

  • The slum residents opposed the suggestion of construction of community toilets in absence of space available for construction of individual toilets and due to unavailability of funds. They were of the view that maintenance of community toilets will be an additional burden on them and community toilets will be successful only when the corporation takes the responsibility of O&M of the toilets. They suggested that to improve the sanitation conditions in the slum, it is better to construct individual toilets than community toilets, as people will take care of the O&M for their own individual lavatories.
  • To improve the drainage conditions in the slum, the slum dwellers made a suggestion. They shared that an old naala, popularly known as Pan through which excess water during monsoons used to drain away in the Panchanan River exist in the slum. But presently the naala has been filled with silt and solid waste. The residents proposed that, cleaning the naala will help in solving the problem of water logging to a great extent.
  • The slum dwellers also identified place for construction of community hall, school etc.

 

In this exercise, the slum dwellers not only listed their issues priority wise but also provided suggestions. When the slum dwellers came up with these solutions to their own issues, we realised that some of their suggestions were much cost effective than the actual cost quoted for those activities for e.g. on our proposal of construction of new drainage system, they suggested cleaning of the existing drain to solve the problem of water logging and provided many other effective suggestions.

 In many of the policies and planning processes for urban poor, it has been seen that community, which is the centre of all the activities, is side-lined most of the time by the decision makers. It is believed that community especially slum dwellers have no or very little understanding of the issues they face and they cannot come up with solutions to their problems. The slum community is considered as an insignificant stakeholder when it comes to contribution in decision making or planning process that impacts the lives of these citizens. Many times, even after huge resources spent by the government on various schemes and programs for slum dwellers, what people get as a result of these programmes either does not provide solution for their priority concerns or remain useless for the community for various reasons. This participation gap in the policy making often creates a void between the service providers and the community.

 With surging urbanisation in the cities of developing countries, Government is becoming more complex and community expectations are growing. It has been accepted by many policy makers that engagement of the community’s energy and local knowledge is a vital component in the success of many different types of programs. As a result there is a shift to higher levels of public participation in both the planning and implementation of programs. Engaging the community in decision-making processes leads to decisions that are more responsive and appropriate to their needs and interests. Meaningful community participation encompasses recognizing and fostering their strengths, interests and abilities, by providing opportunities for them to become involved in decisions that affect them, at both individual and systemic levels.

Many slums like Banoliya Hat and Mahalpar slum have shown their capacities to come up with innovative and simplistic solutions to their most complex issues. All that slum dwellers need is an opportunity to contribute in the decisions impacting their lives.

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