Re-think urban poverty, participatory municipal governance and role of civil society – highlights of National Urban Poverty Consultation!

The National Level Consultation, held by PRIA and SPARC at New Delhi in June saw an active participation from speakers and attendees who together dealt with various issues of urban poverty in India. Some of the key highlights of the technical sessions of the consultation were:

  • PRIA, with its action research and experiences in various states in India on urban poverty theorised various dimensions of urban poverty in India and the role civil society should/can play in dealing with the issues of urban poverty in our country. PRIA also sighted the issues faced by the community due to poor or inefficient delivery of services by the state and the centre and spoke about the challenges faced by the marginalised women and children groups amongst the poor.

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  •  Dr. Renu Khosla of Centre for Urban and Regional Excellence pointed out how ‘Halving Poverty’ by 2030,aim highlighted by UN, is a Big Challenge! She highlighted the ‘three groups of urban poor’. Core poor individuals or households are those with income levels half the official poverty line and need to be specially attentive to this group. Intermediate poor are those that have per capita monthly incomes between Rs. 270 and the poverty line and require inter-mediation, both financial and institutional. Transitional poor are clustered just above the poverty line but remain at the risk of slipping below the poverty line. The main challenge is to work on the issues of ‘core poor’ who are often synonyms with ‘informal, irregular work, lack identity, are illegal citizen and acquire illegal land, they deal with insecurity and are the invisible lot in the city in respect  to planning and services’.Interestingly Dr. Khosla elaborated on how there is a need to‘re or unthink the definition of poverty’. Poverty that has been as a problem of scarcity is now about identification, targeting and distribution.
  • SPARC also illustrated from their research and critical review of BSUP Projects of Raipur, Chhattisgarh, and the inadequate state of housing for the poor implemented by the city municipality. It for certain raises questions on the role of municipal bodies in addressing urban poverty and their capacity and what should be the mechanism that the municipal bodies be more transparent and accountable in providing for urban poor.

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  • Prof. Mukesh Kanaskar, Director of All India Institute of Self Government, deliberated on the importance and urgency of ‘participatory municipal governance’ in our country. The clear question that  confront our cities is  the fact that even though many schemes for urban poverty may be proposed at the central level, but how well are they translated at state and city level is the question. The fact that programmes like Rajiv Awas Yojana may have articulated participatory methods, but do they really see the light of the day at city level! It is obvious that there is a need for facilitative mechanism at local level with greater stress on capacity building & IEC at multiple levels, especially at municipal governance.He sighted some of the work his institution has done, in respect to this capacity building and facilitation process. A portable IEC kit was developed for Support to National Policy for Urban Poverty Reduction for Rajiv Awas Yojana. Another participatory tool developed by the institute is the Self-Assessment and Planning for Management and Maintenance of Tenements under RAY by community representatives.
  •  R. Padmini from CIVIC Bangalore explained about the present situation of municipal governance and how it addresses the urban poverty issues on ground. He elaborated on the delivery service mechanism as existing at present and the potential role that ‘ward committees’ can play for more participatory governance. He also highlighted some other positive examples of community participation such as Kudumshree in Kerala and Single- Window system of Delhi.
  • Manoj Rai, of PRIA summarised various aspects, issues and challenges that were elaborated upon by all the experts and from the work of PRIA, SPARC and various partners that are working closely on urban poverty issues across the country. From on-ground work it is clear that the pressing issues are ‘multiple dimensionality of urban poor in our country and there is an urgent need to redefine and recognise the urban poor’, ‘the fact that there is a very weak structure or municipal governance at present in respect to dealing with urban poverty issues and there is need of effective devolution of powers along with appropriate capacity building at municipal level’ and ‘ the need for proper implementation of various urban poor schemes and services with adequate translation from centre to state to local level’. He pressed upon the Role of Civil Society in this demand-service equation, wherein through initiatives of PRIA, SPARC and others there is now a movement to collectivise, engage and mobilise community. It is this ray of hope that these organisations belief will be the key in addressing urban poverty issues in our country.
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