By Nidhi Batra, PRIA
Urban poverty is an issue which is so complex and intimidating that the government, social activist and even the community themselves are unable to address it in totality. However, it is important to continue to take small steps towards an equity based development of our urban towns and cities and responsibility lies on all of us for the same. PRIA and SPARC, through its project of ‘Strengthening Civil Society Voices on Urban Poverty’ are continuing to take small steps in this direction.
A three pronged tool for strengthening the voice of those impoverished in the urban milieu has been initiated, with an overall aim and goal that community themselves are the real stakeholders and can bring about the requisite change and development.
In Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Bihar – PRIA with its partners began by preparing an information base of existing slums, the situations therein, relevant government schemes and policies addressing urban poverty and also gathered information on participation levels of community in these slums. This was the first step towards a scenario building. This has been followed by a community empowerment exercise of providing the information gathered through this process back to the community.
The second step is to give the power of ‘knowledge’ to the community. Slum improvement committees or community leaders are being organised in various slum communities. These committees are empowered with relevant knowledge about the most pressing issue for that particular slum, and methods of how the community themselves can initiate a movement to resolve those issues. This committee act as an interface for the community and governing bodies.
The third step is to encourage dialogues between various slum committees and the elected representatives and all other stakeholders. These dialogues are one of a kind, since in most urban local bodies – there isn’t a mechanism where the poor can come together and discuss their issues out in the open with the decision makers. Lots of poverty alleviation schemes such as RAY speak of community participation, but all failed to formulate a tangible system for the same. Unfortunately the whole mechanism of decentralisation and mechanism of ward committees and area sabhas are also not active.
Of course, the biggest challenge for any social organisation – is to organise the community and it is even more challenging in an urban context. Urban situations wherein the value of time is seen in monetary terms, a context wherein men might be away for work or too drunk or wasted to participate, in situations where crime and politics might play together, also a situation wherein the vulnerability level is very high and fake promises should never be given – it is interestingly being realised that the sword of an equitable development lies mostly in hands of women!
Shelter and infrastructure projects have a direct impact on the quality of life of the whole population, but they certainly have a particular impact on the lives of women. They do this by reducing the female work load, as well as the material penury and health risks to which women are subjected to a greater extent than men. Also, an improvement in infrastructure and shelter usually reduces the incidence of psychological and social problems tied to poverty that hit women particularly hard: marital separations, domestic violence, and school abandonment. For all these reasons, the level of interest of women in urban upgrading and housing projects is very high, as shown by their key role and high degree of participation. As PRIA is initiating formation of slum committees in various slums of Raipur, Patna and Jaipur, it is realising how active is the participation of women community members.
The second aspect that attracts community to unite and work for their own community is knowledge and wants for empowerment. And the third aspect is power relations. Interestingly most leaders also have political aspirations and by working for the community, they want to gain their trust.
Whatever the reason of unity might be, the fact there is a step towards a community led development is a leap in the direction for an equity based living.
PRIA is acting like a facilitator for these slum dwellers and is learning along with them. Various issues are surfacing in these urban poor communities. For example, the residents of Tarun Nagar in Raipur want to discuss aspects on right of in-situ development. They have been recently given notice for relocation, since the Nigam is planning to build a whole sale fish market in the same location. But the residents are demanding to know the correct procedure for the same. They also have a valid argument. They are raising concern that a private building is also sitting on the same piece of land, and in all probability that building might get a registry and a right to exist. In the same fashion the residents are also demanding a registry. The same slum has also highlighted an issue for the governing bodies to deal with. Urban local bodies usually provide patta or tenure rights to slums. But slum dwellers with this right are now even selling their jhuggis. Is that permissible and how would the urban local body deal with this aspect, in case of rehabilitation?
In Patna, a cluster level meeting was held in September which brought together various representatives of slums, elected representatives, councillors, MLA and it gave a rich platform for a discussion which has never happened before! PRIA is actively tracing the effects of the State Slum Policy on ground in Bihar and empowering the residents about the services and facilities that are being promised but not yet delivered.
In Jaipur, PRIA is facilitating a process of providing relevant information to the slum dwellers about various schemes such as Prashasan Sehron Ke Sang wherein the residents can apply for regularisation of their housing communities. PRIA here is acting as a facilitator not just for the slum dwellers but also is an aid to the government which is still struggling with a lukewarm response from slum dwellers to avail this right, due to lack of awareness seen in the slum community.
All of these are steps in a direction where much still needs to be done. Participation of one and all shall boast this movement! It is time we act together – each in his own way – just one step at a time!!