Call to Strengthen Civil Society Engagement & Promote Community Participation to Address Urban Poverty: Rajasthan

Shared by Tripti Sharma, PRIA – Rajasthan,

Source: Sunday Times -Jaipur, http://lite.epaper.timesofindia.com/mobile.aspx?article=yes&pageid=3&edlabel=TOIJ&mydateHid=03-06-2012&pubname=&edname=&articleid=Ar00301&format=&publabel=TOI

The urban poor need to be accorded the highest priority in the planning process for cities and the civil society’s role should be strengthened in resolving the issues of urban poverty with the emphasis on community participation in the initiatives for housing, livelihood generation, expansion of civic amenities and conversion of slums into modern colonies.

These views emerged at a day-long multi-stakeholder consultation on “Strengthening Civil Society Voices on Urban Poverty in Rajasthan” organized at the Institute of Development Studies here today. The participants were mainly the policy planners, elected representatives of urban local bodies, activists, government officers, civil society representatives and residents of slum localities in Jaipur.

The consultation helped in evolving a collective understanding on methods and approaches to address the issues of the poor people living in cities. It was organized jointly by the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centre (SPARC) .

The recognition of urban poverty and its scale, manifestation, causes and consequences remain obscure in the current development planning process. In Jaipur alone, 22.4 % of the population resides in the slum areas and the administration listed as many as 238 slum locations in 2011. The slum population in Jaipur is estimated at 4.87 lakhs. These were some of the findings revealed in a presentation made at the consultation.

The prominent speakers at the consultation were Mr. Sundar Burra, retired IAS and Advisor PRIA and SPARC, Mr. G.S. Sandhu, Principal Secrertary, Local Self Government Department, Rajasthan, Mr. K.B. Kothari, Member, CTAG, and Managing Trustee, Pratham-Rajasthan, Jaipur, Ms. Aditi Mehta, Additional Chief Secretary, Department of Social Justice & Empowerment, Rajasthan, Jaipur Mayor, Ms. Jyoti Khandelwal, and Kota Mayor, Ms. Ratna Jain.

According to the PRIA State Coordinator, Mr. Krishan Tyagi, the consultation strived to sensitize and educate different sections of society about the need to strategically and collectively focus on the issues relating to urban poverty, which is typically equated with slums and squatter settlements. A weak civil society voice on urban planning has led to a situation in which the demand for inclusive and poor-driven urban development, including housing, sanitation and livelihoods in cities, has failed to influence the public policies and programmes in this sector.

The PRIA Director, New Delhi, Mr. Manoj Rai, said the civil society needs to articulate its voice for ensuring that the urban poor are not only included but they actually drive the implementation of schemes such as the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), which envisages a slum-free India. The benefits of various slum improvement programmes launched in Rajasthan since 1973 have not accrued to the target population in real terms, said Mr. Rai.

Mr. G.S. Sandhu said the pilot project under the RAY would be started shortly at a cost of Rs. 400 crore at the Sanjay Nagar Bhatta Kachi Basti in Jaipur. This will pave the way for full-fledged implementation of the ambitious scheme, under which the state government intends to give the land title to the people getting the allotment. The state government will also bring an Act for this purpose, said Mr. Sandhu.

Mr. Sundar Burra said the RAY should not be treated as the last word on urban housing. For addressing urban poverty, the efforts should go beyond housing alone and address other equally important issues of livelihood and excess to resources. The social infrastructure, comprising health and education, should also be strengthened with the community participation, he suggested.

Ms. Aditi Mehta said the development of social infrastructure should be accompanied by the drive for cohesion in the society, as the migrant population was often found to have stratification on the basis of caste and region, which gave rise to tension and conflict. She noted that urban poverty was a greater challenge in comparison with the rural poverty and laid emphasis on carrying out meaningful surveys to find out the correct picture.

Mr. K.B. Kothari pointed out that the government officers themselves sometimes did not have proper information about the infrastructure and background of slums and cited the instance of Bhatta Basti slum, which is situated on the forest land. He called for development of leadership and management in the urban sector and suggested that the community centres numbering about 100 in Jaipur be utilized for education, health care and employment training.

Ms. Jyoti Khandelwal said there were several technical problems involved in the functioning of Jaipur Municipal Corporation and there were several areas in which it did not enjoy unfettered powers. Even the RAY would involve the Jaipur Development Authority as its implementing agency. She said she was interacting regularly with the slum dwellers and was willing to settle their grievances.

Ms. Ratna Jain pointed out that poor people were not confined to slums alone and suggested that livelihood generation schemes be promoted to address the issue of urban poverty. She said the minimum wages at the rate of Rs. 135 per day should be ensured to all workers and benefits of Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojana be extended to the deserving people.

Dr. Adesh Chaturvedi, State Coordinator, Capacity Development for Local Governance, UNDP, Rajasthan, suggested that the private investors be taken to the slum colonies and encouraged to launch construction of multi-storey residential buildings and take up employment generation projects.

The residents of several slum colonies of Jaipur, who were invited as the people from the grassroots to the consultation, narrated their tales of poverty and hardships and appealed to the policy makers to devise ways for reducing their suffering. The technical officers of RAY and officials from the government departments dealing with urban development and social security listened to their grievances and promised to evolve strategies to deal with them.

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