by Abhishek Jha, PRIA
“Soul of India used to live in villages but in the present epoch of time most of its souls have deviated and migrated to cities and other urban spaces and they will continue to do so”. These were the words shared by one of the speakers during the PEPAC (Pre-Election Political Awareness Campaign) consultation at Bhagalpur, Bihar. If we analyse and reflect on the above mentioned quote, it clearly connotes and indicates towards the unplanned urban growth in our country, exactly like the disturbed and restless souls which doesn’t know which way they are heading. In the same context one of the urban sociologists coined a term called ‘Pseudo Urbanisation’ which broadly meant a state or situation where the population of urban areas continue to grow unprecedentedly without any improvement in core basic service for addressing the needs of its citizens. This situation is being faced by most of developing nations across the world and India is no exception.
This fact that urbanisation is an outcome of economic change across the world has been widely accepted and hence urban areas widely referred to as engines of economic growth. But ironically the discussions and deliberations around making these engines perform better have been very less. It can be said that this has been primarily due to lack of political will among citizens as they have failed to raise demands (can clearly be understood by the status of cities) and among the political parties (since very few of them have urban on their election agendas). So the question arises what can be done and what should be done?
Taking these into account Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) initiated a dialogue process in the campaign mode with different stakeholders at multiple locations across the country, it must be noted here that representatives from political parties were at the core of discussion to share their views on how to change the challenges of urbanisation into opportunities. And what could be seen predominantly was that, at many places (specifically across small and medium towns) no such dialogues were ever initiated to discuss the issues of Urbanisation or to be specific issues of Urban Governance and Urban Poverty. It can be said there has been an absolute lacuna of vision for the so called these Engines of Economic Growth (bigger and smaller).
Now if we analyse the approaches being followed traditionally at national level the situation is not very encouraging as well. According to data available, out of 551 Lok Sabha Seats near about 201 will be contested from urban areas, but at the same time if we look at the Planned Expenditure under 12th Five year plan it is Rupees 68080 Crores for urban areas and at the same time it is 55 lakh Crores for rural areas. It is worth noting that, all most all the states in country amended the state specific Municipal Acts incorporating the provisions of 74th CAA, but regrettably very few states could perform up to expectations which was envisaged under the amendment i.e. to make urban local bodies into vibrant self- governing institutions.
The inefficiency of the urban local governments can be understood as a direct manifestation of many actions (known and unknown) coming together as whole process of urbanisation is not a standalone phenomenon. The recipe of urbanisation involves many ingredients which are politically and socially high priced, land, infrastructures (social and physical), economic linkages to name a few. This altogether makes it a politically lucrative delicacy and takes it even farther from the reach of urban poor, who have been living and serving the cities since decades.
So the question remains what can be done?
Citizens in a democratic set-up, get some selected opportunities to demand and negotiate from the candidates and the political parties and that is only during the time of election. Here comes the election again (Lok Sabha 2014 ) and its the time that we as a part of civil society need to demand collectively for our towns and cities, as Harvey has rightly said we all have a right to city.
“To claim the right to city in the sense I mean it here to claim some kind shaping
power over the processes of urbanisation, over the ways in which our cities are made and
remade and to do so in a fundamental and radical way.” (Harvey)