Civil Society Consultation at Bhopal: How to do an effective advocacy on Urban Poverty Issues

On 4th February PRIA and Samarthan initiated a dialogue on how to really achieve effective advocacy around urban poverty issues, through strengthening the civil society. The consultation was held at Bhopal. The consultations saw the presence of civil society members, ngos and cso including ction- Aid, Water Aid,  UN Habitat,PRIA, GHK, VJSS Indore, Population Foundation of India and Clinton foundation. The discussion revolved around ‘how civil society can be a bridge between the community members and the government’

There is always a concern as to how to make a dominant government work on issues of deprived and poor. These concerns grow up when government is cemented with strong bureaucratic structures and weaker community interface. Civil society, taking initiatives to strengthen community’s interface with the government and make it consider their problems and issues, grapples with the problem of ‘making government listen’ which could later lead to ‘making government work’. In the plethora of issues of urban poor, consolidating and strengthening the voice of civil society is a major objective of national and international organizations working for the betterment of the urban poor and to ensure inclusive governance. There is a need to strengthen informal networks, initiatives and social movements and turn into a structured effort of policy advocacy. The proposed Community of Practice (CoP)/ ‘working together on urban poverty’ consultation at Bhopal  discussed advocacy experiences of various prominent organizations on urban poverty issues in MP and explored possibilities of a shared and effective platform/forum in order to engage with the government.

Goals of the Meeting:

(1)To identify effective channels and process of advocacy

(2) To explore a common platform where a collaboration effort of advocacy on urban poverty can be taken.

(3) To finalize an action plan for the future to work collectively on urban poverty issue

Meeting started with an overview provided by Dr Yogesh Kumar, Executive Director, Samarthan, on the urban scenario in MP, major issues involved with the urbanization and scope of civil society organizations to intervene in collaborative manner. He also spelled out the objective of this meeting and need for a collaborative effort to place organized energy for the cause of urban poverty. A presentation was made on the issues and prospects of advocacy on urban poverty issues. Presentation discussed three major issues i.e. Advocacy by smaller civil society group; Advocacy on small towns; Advocacy in small towns,  that are pertaining to urban advocacy.

After presentation four major issues were placed for discussion:

  • Efficiency versus delivery capacities of local urban administration: There are lowest scores in various services in small towns recorded through various report cards that Samarthan and other organizations have brought at times. Delivery mechanism is not able to deliver services with most efficiency.
  • Exclusive nature of urban planning: Urban planning remains exclusionary in nature and do not accommodate common people. It is still being done by consultants or departments, not by local people.
  • Lack of conversance among various departments and resource to implement components of urban planning.
  • Low ability of elected representatives in engaging with the development process in the towns. Parshads (councilors)  do not know how to utilize the money and their individual grants.

Mr. Narendra Sharma from Action Aid emphasized that on the name of efficiency and transparency, most of the basic services are being privatized based on PPP model and becomes responsibility of private actors. He mentioned a study on water by Manthan to support his argument. Surendra Khadge from VJSS, Indore shared his experience from Indore that in the name of development and rehabilitation, 7000 people have been shifted away from city where they do not have access to basic facilities and they also lost their means of livelihood. In some places, rehabilitated families are forced to make their shift at 20 km away from the city. He also made a point on increasing urban slums in Indore from 599 in 2006 to around 800 in 2011.

Dr Pradeep Nandy from UN Habitat emphasized on the use of information and validation data to be used in advocacy. He stressed upon a point that whenever we use data for the said purpose, they should be validated by concerned authorities and also compared and consulted with previous studies.  Mr Sur from population Foundation of India shared that advocacy efforts with government authorities have not been very successful. So, he stressed upon the need that we should seek some alternative methods of effective advocacy. Binu Arickal from water Aid raised suggested that PPP should be used to ensure rights of the people. Jeetesh Rai from PRIA suggested to include violence against women in the agenda of urban poverty of the CSOs. Shyam Singh from Samarthan advised to include elected political leaders in the advocacy efforts. Dr Rose from Clinton Foundation also endorsed this point.

Dr Yogesh Kumar made point that Ashray Nidhi was way to get away from the system of rehabilitation of people. Nobody is representing the interest of economically weaker people. We need to look at Bread earner especially women, who have not been given priorities in planning. Poor may be willing to pay if they are provided better services. But indirectly, they are paying much. He also said that citizen collectives can play important roles in bringing changes. He emphasized on the need of building capacities of urban administration and elected representatives.

Way Forward:

Dr Yogesh Kumar suggested that we can put our programs together for our learning that organizations are gathering through their own interventions. Organizations can link with inter-connected issues. By using experiences from each of us and identifying the issues, CSOs can engage with the government collaboratively.  Some time administration also needs our support to strengthen good initiatives. He suggested all partner organizations to meet for 2-3 hours once in one or two months and share their experiences.

Narendra Sharma suggested we should bring more partners to these meetings.  We should discuss issues like earmarking of land to urban poor, security issues, planning and audit issues with priority. Binu Arickal said that we need to have regular dialogue through meetings. We also need to build civil society’s capacities. Meeting should be held every month.

Decisions taken:

  1. Meeting or partners on the first Saturday of every month.
  2. Meeting should be organized by partnering organizations in turn basis.
  3. 2nd meeting to be held at Samarthan premises on march 2nd.

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