Tag Archives: urban poor

A day in RAE BARELI……….

By Swathi Subramaniam, Program Officer, PRIA

I had a chance to visit Rae Bareli for the first time. Rae Bareli is a constituency of Sonia Gandhi and has been the constituency of Gandhi family for many decades. Naturally, I was very much excited and was expecting to see a model constituency.

The city has well known institutes like NIFT, AIIMS, Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology, NIPER, Feroze Gandhi Institute of Engineering and Technology, Feroze Gandhi College etc. and many other colleges named after Gandhi family. Another visible ‘development’ is the connectivity to Lucknow through Lucknow – Rae Bareli highway. However, when I visited these localities within Rae Bareli the experience was shocking.

The local transportation is very unwelcoming with broken buses. Living in Delhi we are used to seeing landmarks and directions for different areas but perhaps expecting such a thing in Rae Bareli is a luxury. The city continues to have Horse Drawn Carriages as an important source of transportation. There are no autos. Quality of hotels in the area is much below standards as expected in any normal small town. If you do not have a cab or a local person with you it is impossible to move around the city. In spite of being a politically important place and having many educational institutes we could not find places which could be visited for relaxation. Another interesting observation was that very few girls were found on the city roads.

The city has umpteen number of handpumps found every 300-400 meters which is the major source of water for drinking. Ironically the Piped Water Connections inside the household deliver poor quality of water. The piped water is not fit for drinking hence leading to several illnesses. That is why this water becomes a source for “water used for non-potable purposes”.

The city has a sewage issue. Every side of the road, dirty water is stagnated. The whole city lacks a lot of such basic amentias which portray a different view of the city than what one would expect from such a politically important place.

Rae Bareli is an eye opener for the development illness it is suffering.

Open defecation and India’s urban poor

By Sharmila Ray, Senior Program Officer, PRIA

A couple of months back my cousin and I got talking about the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. It’s a good policy if it can be implemented and Prime Minister Modi is right, having strong, efficient sanitation services is a good way to restore dignity to India’s people. Sanitation is also of course an essential service and just by that it should cover 100% of the country’s population. This was my point.

My cousin agreed but raised a question. If in the last few decades of the 19th century, people in England, rich and poor both, could rally the government for water and sanitation services why was it that in India, it takes so much rhetoric and government policy pressure in as late as 2014. Why was it that Indians, regardless of social status were willing to spend so much money and energy on marriages and festivals but not on ensuring basic community or household level sanitation? He was exasperated “Why can’t they build more toilets?”

According to UNICEF, nearly 50% of India’s population defecates in the open. 37 million from India’s cities resort to open defecation which is about 12% of India’s urban households. The situation is worse in smaller cities (population<100,000) with open defecation at around 22%.

Some houses are too small for all members to dig pit toilets within its premises

Some houses are too small for all members to dig pit toilets within its premises

My experience from the field while working on SLBConnect tells me that most people do understand that these are important services. During field work, many have told me how unfair it is that they don’t have access to clean water or that even where toilets have been made, there is no water connections/source close by. There have been quite a few awareness raising campaigns in the last decade and these seemed to have worked.

In many small towns and cities, more than half the houses are not connected to sewerage facilities either because there are no sewerage connections close by, or because their households haven’t been connected to the main city sewerage network.  In some towns, houses do not want to connect with the main sewerage line because they believe they will be charged for services, something they are unwilling to pay for.

In the cities we are in the process of surveying- Ajmer, Jhunjhunu and Rae Bareli- the urban poor living in squatter colonies have dug pit toilets or arranged for soak pits and other such way of discharging waste water since their houses are not covered by sewerage networks.  Not every can afford to do so though. Some houses are too small to support pit toilets since these need constant cleaning otherwise feces starts piling high and the houses start smelling and becoming unhygienic. Only the young girls of the house use these pit toilets for the sake of their safety, the others go out in the open. Not everyone owns a residential space big enough to have soak pits either.

Young girls try and avoid open defecation as much as they can especially during daylight since the amount of safe or hidden places available have been shrinking with ubiquitous construction

Young girls try and avoid open defecation as much as they can especially during daylight since the amount of safe or hidden places available have been shrinking with ubiquitous construction

There is also the population of urban poor living in non-notified and unauthorized slums. To put it simply non-notified and unauthorized slums are those slums which are not recognized by the State. This means that residents have no claim on any service- water, sanitation, electricity etc.

These are people literally in a no man’s land. They do not own the houses they live in, the utensils are not theirs, nor the clothes, nor anything else. These can be razed, burnt, thrown, taken without any legal implications. Come monsoon, houses get washed away, and then plastic covers and mud houses emerge again out of the slush like sprouting mushrooms. Every monsoon. No sanitation either. So people defecate in the open and there is no way to clean the place. When you are in no man’s land nothing belongs to you, and nothing possibly can. In this piece of land you are the mercy of others. What can you possibly claim here?

Just building scattered toilets will not work and cannot work. Unless these basic infrastructure issues are addressed along with the necessary behavior change, an open defecation free India will remain a distant dream and the content of mere rhetoric.

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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Easier to dial than to flush! —Har Hath Mein Phone

Shared by Nidhi S. Batra

In what could turn out to be its calling card for the 2014 general elections, the government is finalizing a Rs 7,000 crore —Har Hath Mein Phone—scheme to give one mobile phone to every family living below the poverty line.

The scheme planned to empower the poor is likely to benefit telecom service providers and can also increase the GDP growth. The move is also seen as UPA’s motive to communicate with this important electorate who play a big role during polls.

United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health recent report highlighted the fact that India has over 545 million cell phone users as compared to about 366 million people having access to improved sanitation. This makes one wonder ‘why a country that is now wealthy enough cannot afford the basic necessity of a toilet, where 69% of the country still adheres to open defecation?

Why do the poor see the ‘mobile’ as an urgent need, rather than hygienic conditions of living? And why or rather how has this telecom sector been able to penetrate to large population, wherein the infrastructure just couldn’t?

For the poor, it can be argued that though policy makers see sanitation infrastructure with the express intent of reducing contamination, but for the poor it enforces a culture of hygiene that in turn imposes additional cess on their daily survival. Another interesting development was seen when hundreds of newly built toilets had been ripped apart by poor households in many parts of rural Madhya Pradesh. Such incidents reportedly abound across the countryside. The reason: possessing a toilet lifts the households above the poverty line (as it adds up the requisite points to jump the line) and strips the poor family of the lucrative monthly doles like assured employment and free food grains.

On the other hand, the de-regulation of telecom sector may have impelled the mobile phone market through private-sector investment but the subsidy-driven sanitation sector has failed to create a market for toilets. ‘Total sanitation campaign,’ the government’s flagship programme launched in 1999, has suffered on account of peoples’ apathy. Far from generating demand, it hasn’t even encouraged adoption of toilets that come with a subsidy of Rs 2,500 per toilet.

Sudhirendar Sharma, a water expert, very rightly states ‘The virtue of living ‘below poverty line’ is without doubt compelling; a one-time toilet in contrast is a poor substitute. The tragedy is that neither has the technology of toilet been examined as a reflection of perceived needs nor has it been seen as intent to fuel demand through institutional innovation for fighting poverty. Unless the issue of toilet is perceived in its totality, it will be easier to dial than to flush’