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Contribution to the E-Conference

From: Saraswati Heider, India
Category: Category 2
Date: 18 May 2000
Time: 09:25:15
Remote Name:


From: "Saraswati Haider" <> To: Date: Wed, 17 May 2000 16:34:36 IST

Dear Colleagues,

First of all let me introduce myself. I am a 56 year old woman who has embarked on obtaining a Ph.D. from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in Sociology. The subject of my thesis which is to be submitted end June 2000 is 'A Sociological Study of a Selected Jhuggi-Jhompri Cluster (squatter settlement) in the Metropolis Delhi. My study is a socio-anthropological one. I have published extensively on gender and life in a squatter settlement in particular,

Now to come to my comments which relate mostly to India but I am sure could apply to other countries in the developing world.

1. There is no doubt that urbanisation is taking place e in developing countries at a very rapid-rate though in India there has been deceleration in the urban growth rate in the decade l98l-9l. Migration has also slowed down. All the same it is estimated that 40 per cent of India's population will be living in urban cities\towns by 2020--a huge number of 6oo million people. The urban development and development of cities will need to be prominently put on the development agenda.

However, India is basically a rural society and will remain so for a long time to come. Thus, the development of cities and the villages both would need attention. The city cannot on its own assume centrality even though the economic reforms in India are encouraging foreign investments and these investments will find space no doubt in the cities especially the four metropolitan cities Mumbai (Bombay), Chennai (Madras), Delhi and Calcutta because of the relative better urban infrastructure and communication facilities and also because most of Indian manufacturing and industries are concentrated in these four metro cities.

Industrial development and urbanisation is extremely uneven in India inter-state and intra-state. Urban development will need to be encouraged in low-urban areas with industrialisation dispersed to other cities and these cities better developed to become world class cities which they are not at present.

But, industrialisation has to be diversified to the rural areas also with encouragement to agri-businesses. Villages need to be modernised and provided with infrastructure so that the chasm between cities and villages diminishes and rural to urban migration which is the main reason for the immense population of cities especially the four metros in India is arrested to some extent.

The point I want to make here is that we cannot plan for cities in India exclusively. The development of cities will need to take the larger context into consideration. The cities' interrelationship and interlinkages with their rural hinterlands will need to be kept in mind. Integrated planning is called for not sectorial water-tight compartmentalised planning. The city and the village both need to be given central place in India and research needs to be conducted on identifying best urban city practices and best village practices which can meaningfully and fruitfully interlink the two for the benefit of the inhabitants of both.

2. Urban poverty in India and perhaps all the developing countries is one of the most challenging problems that cities are facing, even though in India in the 1990s while rural poverty has stagnated urban poverty has been reduced but not sufficiently.

In India urban poverty is a spill over of rural poverty. If we treat urban poverty in cities in India as a problem of housing and lack of basic amenities as it is being treated then we will be tackling only the manifestation and symptoms of poverty not attacking its root cause which lies in rural poverty, in lack of employment, underemployment and unequal land distribution in rural areas.

Urban poverty in India is most definitely more brutal, degrading and dehumansing and the Indian government has still to come out with a policy on what it plans to do about the growing and mushrooming slums and squatter settlements where urban poverty gravitates and which form a large portion of Indian cities and are growing in some cities at four times of the growth rate of the cities concerned. While the government dilly dallies slums and squatter settlements grow. The slum policy of any country will have to deal with the problem of urban poverty on its own terms but at the same time also in order to check the proliferation of slums and squatter settlements develop rural areas especially employment and unequal land distribution in them so that rural marginal and landless peasants do not have to migrate to cities.

In India there is an extreme birth of sociological studies and research on urban poverty, debate on which has been monopolized by economists and is concentrated on incidence of poverty judged by income distribution relating to caloric consumption at the minimum level.

Urban poverty is a multi-dimensional and multi-latered phenomenon that is not related to income alone but has socio-cultural aspects which need to be studied and tackled through policies and plans. The socio-cultural and political aspects of urban poverty can best be studied by sociologists, anthropologists. political economists, etc. Social sciences have to find a much more significant space in the Habitat Agenda than they do now.

3. In India there is awarenss that decentralization in planning and governance has to take place but this decentralization is envisaged only in the implementation stage.

Plans and policies of the government still continue to be top down dictats with no extensive and in-depth discussions with the local urban bodies and more importantly with people for whom the policies and plans are meant. Unless the people for whom the policies and plans are meant are involved in planning which should stress debate and dialogue with them right from the planning stage, decentralisation will end up being mere hetoric, Research is needed to be conducted on how planning and policies can be made participatory especially plans and policies meant for the urban poor who have to be brought centrestage in all plans and policies including those for the cities in India where urban poverty is on the increase especially in the metros. It is perhaps true as it has already been proved in several developing countries that the economic reforms are deleterious for the poor including the urban poor in cities.

Research is needed to assess the impact of economic reforms on urban poverty and the urban poor in the cities and in rural areas as the latter affect the former's proliferation .

4. It is envisaged that the state will play an 'enabling ' role in urban development including human settlements in India. This is merely reneging of the state of its duties and responsibilities.

Housing is a fundamental human right and has been declared as such in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. It is the state's duty to ensure the human rights of its citizens and not minimal housing but adequate housing at affordable price. The economic reforms with the blindfolded move towards privatisation are making the state an enfeebled one with reduced political and economical strength.

How can a politically and economically emasculated state guarantee human rights to its citizens ? Who do we demand human rights to housing from but the state?

Today the Indian state's identity is in crisis and hence is in crisis the human rights agenda.

Can the private sector ensure human rights? Can we expect the invisible hand of the market to guarantee and provide our human rights. The market, especially where the poor are concerned, cannot grant human rights. The market is a social institution and in it get reflected the inequities of the context in which it is ensconsed. The state's enabling role in human settlements development will not do, A more direct involvement of the state is required in housing, is mandatory, especially for the poor. Research should be conducted on whether or not housing is being viewed as a human right. If not, why not?

5. Gender has been consistently neglected in human settlement development. The crux of the problem I feel lies at the planning stage for plans and policies for human settlements are not gender sensitive and hence how can projects and programmes be so? It has to be realised that gender planning is a legitimate planning tradition in its own right now and needs to be woven in mainstream planning and women's concerns and needs not only treated as add ons.

I have recently presented a paper at the Amritsar International Conference on Habitat Agenda and Human Settlements in South and South East Asia, sponsored by the FRHS, wherein I have assessed the gender sensitivity of three planning documents produced by the government of India in the l990s and found them wanting, It is policy making and planning that needs gendering first and foremost.

More research on gender is certainly called for in human settlements development.

6. We need more research on the informal sector in the cities which is of wide scale in India and gives employment to India's large non-skilled, illiterate population, However, the informal sector is exploitative especially of women and needs to be regulated. It needs to be supported but at the same time made just and fair and not be productive at the cost of its workers' health both physical and mental as it is now consuming excessive energy of the worker without sufficient remuneration and providing work in appalling conditions. It is also finding ways and means with the help of the ubiquitous m iddlemen to pay the worker as little as possible. The informal sector is productive but at immense cost to the worker.

More studies as said above especially sociological and anthropological ones are needed on the informal sector and its workers who are the urban poor in cities,

Thank you for bearing with me,

Saraswati Haider

122--B\13 GAUTAM NAGAR - NEW DELHI 110049 - INDIA Telephone: +91-11- 6531907

Last changed: March 13, 2002