Monthly Archives: October 2014

Participatory design is not trying to ask people to validate the ‘right’ answer!

ELEMENTAL SA led by prominent Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena was presented with a Global Holcim Awards Finalist 2012 certificate for the Sustainable post-tsunami reconstruction master plan, of Constitución.

The master plan was developed after the 2010 earthquake and tsunami that struck Constitución, a city of 46,000 people located on the shore of the Pacific Ocean and 300km southwest of Chile’s capital, Santiago. 8.8 Earthquake Chile – Sustainable reconstruction master plan proposes a public-private strategy to respond with “geographical answers” to the “geographical threats” of the earthquake and tsunami risk.

Instead of considering a construction ban or a massive barrier along the risk zones, the project proposes to plant the flood-prone areas in order to break the waves. Located behind this first line of defense are facilities that have specific restrictions on the use and layout of ground floor areas. These two interventions are accompanied by an evacuation plan as the third protection element. The aim is a long-term preservation of the city at its historical position next to the estuary mouth – a strategic location for the city’s economy. The complimentary concept is to create public open spaces along the banks of the river that alleviate the lack of inner-city recreation areas as well as support the dissipation of rainwater runoff in order to avoid further flooding.

Half a good house is better than one small one

“Participatory design is not trying to ask people to validate the right answer – but starts by understanding what is the right question,” says Alejandro Aravena.

Supplemented by empirical evidence from the most recent tsunami, the architects relied on mathematical models and laboratory trials. Implementing their master plan proved very challenging both politically and socially, because it required the city to expropriate private land along the riverbank. Elemental’s successful approach was to rely on participatory design to define the citizens’ needs and engage them in the planning process. Today, four years after the earthquake, the individual projects from the master plan are being implemented.

In Constitución, the population has managed to apply the necessary innovation to ensure its protection against future flooding. By adopting a bottom-up approach, in a very constructive way a joint decision has been reached regarding what the city should look like in the future. This exemplary concept is not restricted to Constitución, but could also apply in many geographies around the world that have been destroyed by natural disasters.
elemental Elemental proposed combining the funds available for temporary emergency shelters and social housing to provide better-quality shelters with a higher initial cost that could then be dismantled and reused in an incremental social-housing scheme. The architects designed the social housing units as half of a good house instead of a complete, but small one: building-in the possibility for residents to double the floor area of the house to 80 square meters. Next to each built section of the row house is an open space of the same size into which residents can expand their house. Higher quality social housing eventually increases in value and provides families with capital growth where the collateral can be used to guarantee a loan for a small business, or pay for higher education for children.

Innovation in the built environment in this project did not come from new materials, new techniques or new systems: it came from having the courage to follow common sense ideas, to understand the needs of the people of Constitución, and by viewing the problem in terms of both the micro- and macro-environments.



Out of Fashion

by Rajesh Tandon, President -PRIA

During the height of the Emergency, the government of then Prime Minister late Mrs Indira Gandhi passed an ordinance on October 25, 1975 to abolish bonded labour; the ‘suspended’ parliament four months later ‘enacted’ the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976. The newly formed National Labour Institute (under the leadership of Labour Minister late Shri Raghunath Reddy) began its operations from the rented premises in Safdarjang Development Area, New Delhi.It focused on the plight of rural and bonded labour by organising popular education ‘rural labour camps’; the late Prof Nitish De was brought in from IIM, Calcutta as its first Dean. These rural labour camps began to popularise several ‘revolutionary measures’ taken through the Ordinance route by the government during the Emergency to ameliorate the plight of rural and unorganised sector labour.

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Kailash Satyarthi with children. Photo credit:

Two years later, the newly formed Janata government in Delhi then launched a Centrally Sponsored Scheme in 1978 for the rehabilitation of labour thus released from bondage. Several Gandhian institutions, especially the Gandhi Peace Foundation and Gandhi Peace Centre (under the leadership of late Shri S. Radhakrishnan) conducted the first nation-wide study of bonded labour (which was subsequently published by a radical woman lawyer ManjariDigwaney). A new generation of voluntary organisations emerged in the country in the late 1970s and early 1980s, taking forward such efforts at social transformation, after getting frustrated with the formal political process with the demise of the Janata coalition.
Freeing and rehabilitating bonded labourers amongst dalit and tribal communities became a major focus of such social mobilisation efforts of many of these voluntary organisations. Joe Madiath in Kerandimalsin southern Odisha, VivekPandit of SharmjiviSangathan in Thane and Swami Agnivesh in and around Delhi began campaigns to free bonded labour, as well as demand their effective rehabilitation. It is in the course of these campaigns that some social activists focused their attention on bonded and forced child labour. KailashSatyarthiwas one such early champion for the abolition of child labour, and formed the BachpanBachaoAndolan (Save Childhood Movement).

The two main industries, other than agriculture, where incidence of ‘forced’ child labour came to light in the early 1980s were the carpet weaving in eastern Uttar Pradesh and manufacture of firecrackers in Sivakasi (Tamilnadu). These early campaigns led to the enactment of the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act 1986. However, this Act was more about regulation, and much less about prohibition of child labour. Prohibition was restricted to hazardous industries like chemicals and firecrackers.

Typically, national and state governments throughout the 1990s paid scant attention to monitoring the implementation of the regulations of the Act. As a phenomenon, child labour was most widespread in the Indian sub-continent. Several international agencies joined together (and Kailash was in the forefront of this) to launch a Global March Against Child Labour in 1998, resulting in the adoption of ILO Convention 182 prohibiting such practices. Kailash and his team later joined, and provided substantial leadership to, Global Campaign for Education For All (EFA) as rehabilitation of such children needed proper educational opportunities.

In response, the government first denied the presence of forced and bonded child labour in India; it later released figures to indicate that it was a decreasing occurrence. The NSSO 2004-05 data indicates less than 9 million child labour in the whole country (Delhi having around 9000 only). A quick assessment of supply of domestic servants in the kitchens of several lakh Delhi households would establish the sheer denial of this reality by the governments, and citizens alike!
The issues surrounding child labour gradually disappeared from the attention of governments and funding agencies. The dawn of the 21st century saw emphasis on different new agendas, and India declared itself both as emerging and ‘shining’. Attention towards India’s economic might, its IT industry and its growing middle class seemed to imply that 20th century problems (like child labour) had been solved.

Despite the fact that child labour (and bonded labour) issues began to go ‘out of fashion’, BachpanBachaoAndolan continued its work single-mindedly. Gradually, new occupations of prevalence of child labour were included in the expanded definition of child labour. The most prominent amongst these were child labour in tea-shops, road-side restaurants and domestic servants. It was only in 2006 that these categories of child labour in India have been included in the legislation.
By this account, the current Prime Minister escaped being classified as child labour when he was selling tea at railway stations in his childhood.

A new law to prohibit child labour altogether, so that Article 24 of Indian Constitution can be operationalised nearly seventy years later, is in the making in the Indian parliament for the last three years. The Prime Minister’s launching of ‘a slew of labour reforms’ on 14 October 2014 did not mention reforming legislations regarding child labour; it would have acknowledged the unending practices surrounding the exploitation of our children, especially in light of the recent recognition to KailashSatyarthiby the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.

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Representational image

Likewise, those who are championing the ban against lighting of Chinese-made fire-crackers this Diwali, may well demand enforcement of the ban against use of child labour in Sivakasi and elsewhere.
At the bane of this reality is the rapidly shifting nature of India, and the world around. New generation of civil society actors, using new generation of social media tools, are campaigning on new issues as part of the global movement. New philanthropists are eager to support such ‘new causes’ with ‘new approaches’. In the meanwhile, several thousand KailashSatyarthis continue to carry on their hard work of addressing century-old societal malpractices in the country, unheard and unsung. They do so because their commitment to these causes of social transformation are not time-bound; their interventions are not limited to short-term log-frames; and they understand that such systemic transformations require generations of sustained efforts. Policy-makers and donors come-n-go, but struggles for social transformation continue!

Terraurban- Monthly Digest

Catch all the action at Terraurban in the last month below or save a pdf from the following link: Terraurban- Sep digest

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by Shivani Singh, PRIA

In Greek mythology, a phoenix is a long-lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn. A phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.(wikipedia, 2014).Urban poor represent phoenix birdas their houses, livelihood, belongings,relationships and networks, rather their whole existence gets burnt either by residing in an unsafe place or due to powerful forces that surrounds them. Power can be of all kinds’ money, muscle, governmental orders or vested private interest. But still they continue to live and struggle.

Patna grapples with many social and economic issues. Urbanization is happening but at snail’s pace. The urban poor and urban slums of Patna are no different than other urban poor and slums of Kolkata, Jaipur, and Bhubaneswar which I got to visit this year. The problem of land, water, sanitation, education, health, and security remains common phenomenon everywhere.

I met the newly formed Slum Improvement Committee (SIC) Federation’s core committee members who will work for the development of their respective slums and engage in demanding various rights from the government. The core committee is democratically elected body by the SIC members in the PRIA intervened slums. The SIC members narrated the problems encompassing their slums and how SIC formation led to bringing in improvement in their community.

Ram Dheeraj Prasad, 62
“My basti was set on fire four times. Where should I go? I do not have any house. When I go to meet the government officials they call me ‘ganda aadmi’ and say, ‘kaun bulaya tumko, chal bhag yaha se’.
Despite of being rejected ad humiliated many times by the authority he still has the willingness to fight for basic rights for the slum he lives in with his grandchildren.

Bacchi Devi, 27
“There is a sewage treatment plant near our ‘basti’ when there is power cut the sewage plant overflows and our basti gets filled with filth. We can’t enter our slums. Our house gets flooded with filth and the livestock, our belongings flows away with it. It’s a regular phenomenon. Again we build our houses and live there. No other place to go.”

Munna Kumar, Sandalpur, age 27
I don’t have much earnings. My basti has been set on fire many times. It costs Rs. 10,000 to construct a kuccha house in slum. It’s difficult for us to every time build a new house. Government should resettle us in same place we live.

Sagar Ram, Dhobi Ghat, age 65
Our slum doesn’t have basic amenities. Eviction is our greatest fear. I legally own the land, yet it was encroach by few powerful people. Being powerless I tried to mobilize the community and together with their help and contribution we built a primary school. But as the school land is near a pond which get over flooded during winter seasons this hampers the studies.

Sharda Devi, Adalat Gunj, age 55
“There is no water facility in basti. A hand pump was installed with the help of an NGO (Water Aid). There is no school or crèche for children in slum.”

Rita Devi, Vetinari Campus, age 30
“My basti doesn’t have proper waste disposal system. There is no water, no electricity. The only insecurity is getting evicted from the place we have been living since long.”

Sanjay Kumar, Hima Nagar Ward 34, age 40
“I have been living in ward 34 for past 30-40 years. There is no water, no toilet, no drainage in our basti. There are many governmental schemes but they are least accessed by the poor.
We are associated with Dalit Vikas Samiti and PRIA and have formed a SIC that works for the betterment of community. We collected Rs. 25000/- from the community by taking a donation of Rs. 100 from each household and installed a 400 feet pipeline and a motor. This collective effort helped us in bringing in water in our basti. It’s because we collectivized we were able to think about how to solve the problem. The SIC also played an important role in putting pressure on the municipal commissioner to install a handpump in their basti.”

Ajay Kumar Malik, 34, Kankarbagh
“I also belong to basti that doesn’t have any basic amenities. I do manual scavenging and earn Rs 4000/-. The government claims that scavenging is abolished hence doesn’t exist but the same is false as in my basti itself there are 200 youths that are involved in manual scavenging. We get Rs 100 as wage for cleaning the gutter whole day! I worked in municipality for 3-4 years. Now that the work of sewage cleaning is contracted out I work on private basis.”

The above narrations of problems faced by the urban poor who are now part of SIC federation showcases a known picture of any slum. Eviction is the biggest insecurity with which the urban poor grapple. When asked from the SIC members what is the first thing you demand? They all answered unanimously that “we want land rights rest all can only come after we assume land rights. ‘Jaha hum rahe rahe hai hume vahi basaya jaaye’(rehabilitate us where we are living now).

India’s urban chaos: Whose responsibility is it anyway?

Bibek Debroy in Policy Puzzles, Economic Times

India has been rapidly urbanizing and will continue to do so. What is “urban”? As is common with many other countries, there is a technical definition of urban in the Census. More accurately, it is a definition of a “town”. A town is (1) “All places with a municipality, corporation, cantonment board or notified town area committee”; or (2) “All other places which satisfied the following criteria: a minimum population of 5,000; at least 75% of the male main working population engaged in non-agricultural pursuits; and a density of population of at least 400 persons per sq km”.

The problem is obvious. If (1) is satisfied, we know who is responsible for urban governance, interpreted as collecting revenue and spending it to provide urban services. In addition, we know the conduit for devolution of public expenditure through assorted schemes. These are statutory towns. If (2) is satisfied, the habitation exhibits urban characteristics. However, since there is no (1), we don’t know who is responsible for urban governance. These are known as Census towns. In addition, though it doesn’t directly concern us, there are definitions of urban agglomerations and outgrowths. Census 2011 tells us there are 7,935 towns – 4,041 statutory towns, 3,894 Census towns, 475 urban agglomerations and 981 outgrowths.

A few days ago, ET did a story, flagging governance problems in Census towns that aren’t statutory towns. 3,895 is a huge number. Let’s take the example of Delhi. There are 3 Census towns in Delhi, Asola (population 5,003), Bhati (population 15,888) and Jonapur (population 7,419). There also happen to be 369 villages in Delhi. I find it a bit odd that there are two “villages” right next to where we live – Mahipalpur and Masoodpur. Why is it odd?

Because there is a Mahipalpur-Masoodpur main road that cuts across the heart of Vasant Kunj, from Chattarpur on one side to the National Highway on the other. The widening and maintenance of this road is the responsibility of MCD. But the street-lights (and assorted other things) along one side of the road are the responsibility of MCD, while along the other side of the road, they are the responsibility of the Panchayats concerned. There are shops along both side of this road and they aren’t dissimilar from each other. However, the Delhi Rent Control Act applies to one side and not to the other. (So I have been told.) But let’s leave the villages aside.

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A Day in Jaipur

by Swathi Subramaniam, PRIA

It was my first visit to Jaipur. Jaipur is a planned city of Rajasthan and one of the most important tourist destinations of India.
Jaipur is one of the better developed cities of India. Here things definitely look organised. The city is very calm and composed,there a clear mix of rural and urban culture in the city. It is not as populated as other metros. It has good roads and easy accessibility within cities. I found many females driving two wheelers and cars. It is safe travelling on own for a woman butshe has to be alert all the time. There are plenty of autos and one does not face difficulty for travelling. However, the condition of buses is very pathetic. You can expect a superior public transport once Jaipur metro is operational from 2015 onwards. I found the food very delicious. There are many autos here,there was no difficulty faced during travel. Jaipur has always been a tourist destination so even if you are an Indian – shop keepers, auto-rickshaw, general public etc. identify just by looking at you whether you are a tourist or a local resident.

It is easy to travel in Jaipur. I had a small conversation with an autowala, he said, “my family used to live in Delhi for many years but it was a struggle based life. We struggled for everything but could not save anything. But after moving to Jaipur we have our own home, decent living, much better than Delhi. He had a Samsung smartphone. Another auto driver I had met had the latest Apple mobile. They have all the facilities and have comfort in Jaipur. He lived with his parents in his own house in Jaipur. They were all well-dressed and have income enough to satisfy their materialistic needs. According to Transport Department of Rajasthan, upto March 2013 – there are 22,248 autorickshaw registered in Jaipur, 8,105 in Kota, 8,222 in Bikaner and 4,758 in Ajmer.This shows high influx of migration to city and growth of informal sector.

The city of Jaipur is very much dominated by hand loom, handicrafts, traditional artisans and other traditional industry. They all can be categorised as medium and small scale industries which is completely labour dependent. These industries in Jaipur flourish only because Jaipur is a global tourist destination. These industries enhance the charm of the city. While the tourists enjoy visiting the monuments in Jaipur, they also enjoy shopping. A tourist is completely delighted looking at the ethnic things around. While shopping in Jaipur the temptation drives you to buy everything possible. The shopkeepers do not leave any chance to hold the interest of tourist. The shopkeepers are very much friendly. The prices appear relatively expensive and is understandable considering that it is a tourist destination.

I did not find slums adjacent to main city areas. Thus there is a big contrast between the JMC areas and walled city of Jaipur.
The Rajasthani context of Urbanization

Growth of urbanization in Rajasthan is very different when compared to urbanization in other states. Rajasthan since historical times is ruled by Rajas, Maharajas, Rajwadas etc. Kota is the most urbanized district of Rajasthan according to a study, followed by Jaipur, Ajmer, Bikaner. Due to high level of migration from rural to urban areas the decadal growth in population is highest in Jaipur. The cities in eastern and northern parts of the state have grown more rapidly than the western parts of the states. The connectivity to Delhi is visible through the National Highway 8 – Delhi- Jaipur – Ahmedabad/Mumbai which is a good example of the impact from neighbourhood state. Other major factors of growth in economy of Rajasthan are agriculture, industry, tourism and crude oil.

Different areas in Rajasthan hadbeen ruled by various kingdoms. During their ruling era they developed their provinces and their ruling cities. There were many small towns built during the era. For example – Ajmer, Mewar, Kota, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Bikaner, Jaisalmar etc. What makes me think is that Rajasthan does not have an industrial base of economic development, but a growth led by Tourism, Hospitality, Ancient culture, Handicrafts industry (traditional industry) when compared to other cities like Gurgaon, Delhi, Noida, Chandigarh etc. This traditional industry which was earlier in rural areas has come into mains cities of Rajasthan to benefit from tourism.

The walled city area is highly congested and chocked and is inflicted by poverty, unemployment, poor health etc. Walled city had streets, chowks, bazars, colonies, walls, temples etc. built in the 18th century itself. I could not visit the walled city areas this time but hope to see it next time.

Private mailmen are mapping Brazil’s slums by hand because Google Maps can’t

Over 11 million people in Brazil, about 6 percent of the country’s total population, live in slums of cities called favelas, according to the latest census figures. Among the myriad challenges that arise in these dense, impoverished urban areas, getting mail may seem to be a surprising one. Yet due to the unique, improvised architecture of favelas — the fact that structures are often created and destroyed rapidly, using a variety of available materials, such as concrete, that are impenetrable to mapping satellites — many buildings don’t have addresses. Further complicating matters is the fact that many streets are called different names by residents in different areas. As a consequence, postal workers haven’t been required to deliver mail in these areas, frustrating residents. Many areas only appear on Google Maps and other digital maps in extremely limited forms, as a single road, for example (controversially, Google also removed the word “favela” from some of its maps at urging from the Brazilian government).

But a group of enterprising friends recently decided to tackle the problem starting in Brazil’s largest favela, Rocinha, using good old pen and paper.

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