Tag Archives: Bodhgaya

Multi-Stakeholder Consultation around urban poverty- Bodhgaya, Bihar

The Buddhist pilgrim town of Bodhgaya caters to large international and domestic tourist, but also houses about 19 slums, holding about 8-10% of the total population of the town in these pockets of urban poverty. Unfortunately, these pockets of the urban poor have not found enough voice in the larger governance of the town and have not sufficiently been able to access their minimum rights.

Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) has been working with the civil society and the urban poor of Bodhgaya, facilitating their participation in schemes directed towards the urban poor. PRIA has over the last two years initiated various activities in Bodhgaya such as:

  • Slum Listing: undertaken to evaluate the current scenario in Bodhgaya in respect to number and type of slums in the town, slum population and characteristics, applicable policies, present infrastructure and participatory strengths and potential of the community members in these slum pockets.
  • City level consultations and regular interaction with media engaging multiple stakeholders in discussions around urban poverty issues, status and lacunae of popular urban poor schemes such as Rajiv Awas Yojana, role of civil society and development of an exchange platform wherein the service providers and the demand side are able to interact and facilitate a better delivery mechanism.
  • Strengthening Community Participation through Slum Improvement Committees: Facilitating formation of a representative committee of the slum dwellers ( in 10 slums of Bodhgaya) . These slum improvement committees are being given necessary trainings, orientation and hand holding support to engage effectively with the government and bridge the gap between the community and the governing bodies. Through SIC, relevant information about various applicable schemes for the urban poor is also shared with the entire slum community. Empowered with knowledge and awareness, the slum community thereby is more equipped to get their rights.

On 15th May 2013, PRIA held another city level consultation as a dialogue platform between the governing bodies, slum dwellers, civil society, academia and the media in Bodhgaya. Present in the consultation, Dr. Hari Manjhi – Member of Parliament from Gaya reflected on how very few urban poor have been as of now been able to access the various development schemes for them, the main reason of which might be lack of awareness and information dissemination. Dr. Prem Kumar – Minister of State Urban Development and Housing Department shared that about 34500 youths in Bihar are being provided skill development trainings in 17 trades under SGRSY, CDP of 28 cities is being prepared under SPUR, and the minster assured construction of dwellings for urban poor through in-situ up gradation. He also mentioned about the urban poor women convention – Self Help Group, that has been formulated in Gaya under Support Programs for Urban Reforms in Bihar(SPUR).

Mr. Dine Kr. S h,Vice Chairperson Bodh Gaya, Nagar Panchayat expressed the delimmas and issues that confront the Nagar Panchayat for smooth functioning, coordination with District Administration, devolution of functions and the capacity of the Nagar Panchayat itself. These issues for certain also result in an inadequate address of urban poverty issues in Bodhgaya.

Interestingly, even though today in times of election and political change, the Bihar Government has been actively promoting and boasting its development report. This report however as highlighted by the academia present in the Consultation cater to the issues of urban poor very superficially and inadequately.

The consultation was also an opportunity for PRIA, Civil Society members and the community at large represented through SIC to share the various initiatives taken together by them and the main issues that the urban poor pockets are facing in the city. Such city level consultations are must to create the necessary accountable environment for the urban poor. 

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Mastipur, Bodhgaya: story of an “incidental rehabilitation” scheme in the land of the Enlightenment

By Hugo Ribadeau Dumas and Abhishek Jha, PRIA

While the “city” of Bodhgaya might be characterized by a negligible demographic and geographic importance, its influence and prestige at the international scale is nevertheless undeniable. Officially labelled as a class-III town by the government, the nagar panchayat of Bodhgaya had a population of just 31,000 people according to the 2001 census. But it is at the same a major destination for tourists and pilgrims:  hordes of visitors come here from all over the world come to visit the Mahabodhi Temple, famous for being the stage of the Enlightenment of the Buddha, and recognized as a World Heritage Monument by the UNESCO in 2002.

The international dimension of Bodhgaya, and consequently its economic potential and its brand value for both India and Bihar, is a strong parameter in the urban development of the city. It is indeed interesting to observe that, despite its limited size, Bodhgaya was selected among the 63 cities all over the country that would initially benefit from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) and a City Development Plan was prepared under it in the year 2006.in 2011, the Government of Bihar (GOB) prepared again  a new ambitious City Development Plan in order “to develop Bodhgaya as an international tourist destination by preserving its cultural heritage and by providing all basic infrastructure services to its citizens and tourists in an eco-friendly way” (CDP, 2011).

Yet, despite the peculiar attention that Bodhgaya managed to draw, improvements at the local level have been actually very limited. According to the mapping conducted by PRIA in 2012, the situation in the 19 slums of the city is still critical. Sewage systems are quasi-inexistent in most of the slums, and a great majority of the inhabitants still do not have access to private toilets. The government efforts have so far failed to address effectively these issues; very few urban poverty programs have been actually implemented by the Bihar Urban Development Agency (BUDA), and the funds channelled through the National Slum Development Program (NSDP) have been insufficient to generate any substantive impact (CDP, 2006).

In this context of global visibility associated with a permanence of poverty, one slum singularized itself and experienced an unprecedented model of development. Mastipur, as the neighbourhood is locally known, underwent what we could call an “incidental rehabilitation”, as it benefited directly from its international exposure. The neighbourhood belongs to the ward 17 and is located in the vicinity of the Mahabodhi temple complex. Populated by Musahars (Scheduled Caste and Mahadalit Community as per GOB), the locality is today surrounded by the Japanese Buddhist temple and various hotels and guesthouses. In the early 1990s, Mastipur received an unexpected international assistance. The Sri Lankan President of that time, Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was himself a devout Buddhist, could not bear that the paramount pauperism of Mastipur could be sustained on such a holy land. To put an end to this situation, he decided to launch under his own patronage a Rs75-lakh in-situ up-gradation scheme with the funds of the Sri Lankan authorities.

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View from the roofs of the slum, with a hotel complex in the background.

The built environment of the neighbourhood was radically altered. 100 new concrete housing units were constructed – each featuring two rooms, one kitchen, and one bathroom. Each home got a taped connection to water supply, which is particularly rare in a city where only 10.5% of the inhabitants have access to such service (GOB, 2011). Proper roads and a community centre were also built at that time. On April 1993, the renovated neighbourhood was inaugurated by President Pramadasa himself, and officially renamed as “Buddhagayagama”, which means “The village of the re-awakened people” in Sanskrit.

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Board commemorating the rehabilitation scheme conducted by the Sri Lankan authorities.

However, the tale of Mastipur did not eventually end-up in a totally rosy-masti way. While the infrastructure of the neighbourhood is significantly better than most of Bodhgaya’s slums, its social situation is still highly problematic. The Sri Lankan project initially had genuine social ambitions. For instance, in order to address the livelihood issues, the Sri Lankan government provided thelas (pull carts), few cycle-rickshaws and training to make candles and incense sticks. The Government of Bihar issued licences to thela vendors for trading kerosene oil, but these licences soon became useless when a national law banned this activity.  President Pramadasa also had in mind to develop a long-term network of exchange between slums dwellers of India and Sri Lanka. But in May 1993, only two months after the delivery of the new Mastipur, Pramadasa was killed during a terrorist attack by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Since this tragic death, the involvement of the Sri Lankan State faded away, to finally disappear.

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Such initiatives were not always fruitful. A Sri Lanka’s newspaper, the Sunday Time, for instance highlighted in May 1998 that the very rickshaws that had been distributed were quickly sold to be used in the trading activities of alcoholic products (http://www.sundaytimes.lk/980628/plus9.html). Field observations by PRIA also revealed a non-appropriate use of some infrastructures; the school, which was not part of the rehabilitation scheme, seems for instance more prone to shelter cows rather than students (see photo attached). Twenty years after the rehabilitation of the neighbourhood, the question of maintenance is also a matter of concern. Without material assistance available, the sustainability of the built-environment is today seriously questionable, and this problem will tend to be reinforced by the demographic growth which is adding up even more pressure on the infrastructures.

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Maspitur’s school building

Mastipur’s story highlights that slum up-gradation, whatever significant and well-intended it might be, must be compulsorily accompanied by a well-rooted follow-up, not only of the State but also of the local population. As compared to other slum areas in Bodhgaya, Mastipur was lucky enough to experience this “incidental rehabilitation” – however, the empowerment of its inhabitants was relatively not outstanding. During the whole process of rehabilitation, the participation of the community was feeble, and in the years afterwards the inhabitants did not collectively organize themselves to sustain and capitalize on the benefits of the programme, as mentioned above. One of the challenges now for Mastipur dwellers will therefore be to forge a platform upon which common issues could be discussed and rationalized at the scale of the neighbourhood. It is under this approach that PRIA has initiated in Mastipur a community-based organization called “Slum Improvement Committee”. In this committee, local problems will be debated on a regular basis and will thus be made more visible in the public sphere, so that local citizens can negotiate with the government and other agencies for their rights and entitlements.