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Comments on e-Conference Phase I and II

From: Saraswati Heider, India
Category: Category 2
Date: 11/6/00
Time: 1:18:44 PM
Remote Name:


Subject: Comments on e.Conference Phase--I and II Date: Mon, 06 Nov 2000 13:18:15 IST From: "Saraswati Haider" <> Subject Comments --e.conference Phase I and II DATE: 6.11.2000

Dear colleagues,

1. I am a little disturbed to note that neither in the summary of the frhs electronic conference Phase I or Phase II the question of adequate housing as a fundamental human right for all and what it implies for the state has been given sufficient attention.

2. The Habitat II Agenda clearly states that it will be the duty of the states to provide adequate housing for all as a fundamental human right.The human rights agenda was framed with the welfare state in mind where the state was to be the most important role player in the direct provision of fundamental human rights.

3. With the rise of the market in a rapidly changing-to-capitalism world the role of the state is withering away though not in the Marxist sense.The market seems to be becoming the locale where all needs of human beings are going to be on sale and those that can pay are the ones who will be able to afford them.

4. It is important I feel for FRHS researchers to direct their attention to how the present emerging market accentuates inequality in an unequal milieu --an unequal milieu to be found in all developing countries at present and perhaps also in developed countries where the chasm between the rich and poor relatively speaking is no less.The market has no ethics or morality at the moment and one wonders if it ever will be imbued by them. It will I feel always be aethical and amoral and hence cannot be expected to be fair and just in an unequal milieu only in a milieu where there is complete economic,political,social and cultural equality.The market is ruthless and unfeeling whereas the human rights agenda is the outcome of ethics a sense of fairness and justice which need an institution to see the agenda through in a just and fair manner.The market cannot pay atttention to provision of fundamental human rights of the actors who are involved in exchange in it unless it is under some control and not totally free. In a free market one can only buy fundamental human rights not claim them.

5. It is I feel the state that can ensure fundamental human rights which include the right to adequate helter. When one thinks of fundamental human rights one cannot help but think of claiming them from the state. To ensure fundamental human rights including rights for the shelter of all the state has to have considerable economic and political power plus some modicum of ethics and morality and pressure groups in civil society to direct its extensive economic and political power in conducive ways for the well being of all citizesn not just a chosen few.

6. What seems to be happening in develoing countries is that the state has become a corrupt state and hence politically and economically emasculated so that it is unable to ensure the fundamental human rights of its citizens and hence is quite happy to pass on the buck to the private sector a sector whose sine qua non is the pursuit of profit.Where profit rules the roost can fundamental human rights of all be ensured equally?We need to ponder over this and investigate.

7. I find it difficult to reconcile the enabling role of the state and its mandatory duties of ensuring human rights including the equal right to adequate shelter for all which is emphasised again and again in the Habitat II Agenda.There is a tremendous contradiction here that needs to be resolved.

8. As researchers I think we have a moral duty to not only conduct research but through it pressurise the state to ensure that the right milieu is created for the ensuring of fundamental human rights. This cannot happen if the state capitulates to the upsurging present market wherein the poor will again be left out in the cold.The market as I have written elsewhere is a social institution ensconced in a social context and hence the inequalities present in the context are bound to get reflected in it with the market having no mechanism through which inequality can be eliminated.

9. It is I think eessential to investigate in different developing countries the motivations of the state's quick readiness to pass on its responsibility and duties to the private sector.

10. In India for instance the coffers of the state are empty because of the rampant corruption which led our ex-prime minister Rajiv Gandhi to make the statement that out Rs. 10 allocated for development for the poor only Rs. 1 reaches the beneficiaries.Since the Indian state has no money to fulfil its obligtions to its citizens it is on the look out to seek private sector resources which can be used to deliver what the state had the duty to deliver and could not because the coffers were looted through corrupt practices by the powers that be-the coffers which was the money of the people.The enabling role of the state as advocated in the Habitat II Agenda suits the Indian government to the tee.It delivers it from its mandatory obligations towards its citizens and gives it an excuse for non performance.Besides though private sector help is being sought in different development sectors like housing for the poor the state apparatus remains the same huge and cumbersome one-- a big drain on the treasury--again the money of the people. The private sector is not coming forward to help as in the case of housing for the poor becase it sees no profit for itself in the venture and so the fundamental human right of Indian citizens--shelter--especially the large number of poor remains unensured.

11. One presumes that if the state has the responibility of ensuring fundamental human rights including the right to shelter these rights will be ensured at least cost not at costs which are so exorbitant that some can enjoy their rights and others cannot.What happens here to the question of equal access for all?For instance, instead of housing becoming cheaper the prices of land and built houses is soaring day by day in India and only the rich can afford land and houses.The middle class can just about make it by indulging in corrupt practices.The institutions that the Indian government has set up to aid what it calls the economically weaker sections of the population which institutions provide soft and easy loans the supposedly soft interests that they charge is still so high that the poor cannot pay them and hence these insitutions are also ending up catering to the middle income group not the poor.

12. The subsidies that are given on water and electricity tariffs by the Indian government again end up being beneficial to the rich.For instance the slum dwellers' need for water is limited but the need of families living in huge palatial houses a common sight in Delhi incuding the houses of ministers with big lawns and gardens is huge which they also access at subsidised rates,Hence who benefits--the rich or the poor and who is being subsidised the rich or the poor?Researchers need to investigate whether the enabling role of the state is benefiting the rich or the poor and whether the enabling role of the state is justified in backward, poor developing counties teeming with impoverished millions.

13. It is emphasised again and again in the Habitat II Agenda that adequate shelter is to be ensured as a right to all and that there should be equal access to shelter by all.The Indian government makes provision of only 25 sq.mts. of land for housing to the slum dwellers who normally have a family of 5 members.Can 25 sq,mts. of land provide adequate shelter for 5 people?And this when the rich are able to afford huge farm houses of several acres and housing built sometime on 1200 sq.mts of land. .Who has easy access to land and housing here?This needs investigation as does the fact that is there in this kind of policy available equal access of all to the fundamental right to adequate shelter.Adequate is the key word. The perpetuation of inequality by the state needs to be exposed.

13. My next point is that it is very essential to investigate what impact the economic reforms and structural adjustment are having on the wide chasm between the rich and poor which is the cause of so much misery and want in the world especially in cities. There are indications in India that this chasm between the rich and the poor has grown and not diminished after the economic reforms and structural adjustment.What impact are the economic reforms having on the economic and social development of the poor which development is so closely linked eith the access of the poor to adequate shelter and to conducive human settlements.

14. The Indian state signs on the dotted line on many agendas including the Habitat II Agenda but after signing it does not make any positive move to fulfil the agenda's goals and objectives. I think there is a need here for a monitoring body of researchers that will conduct research in every country that has signed the agenda to investigate whether goals and objectives emphasised in the Agenda are being taken seriously and with commitment and moves being made to achieve them and especially the results that are ensuing as a consequence of the moves.This data should be fed back to an international body that can hold states accountable.Some such presssure is definitely required from the international community for mostly recalcitrant states in the developing countries who need to prove their sincere intentions and concern to ensure the fundamental human right to shelter especially for the poor and institute such economic and social development so that the poor have as equal an access to shelter as do the rich.The state here should have a major role as a direct provider and not only enabler.The concept of the welfare state if we want the state to be the ensurer of human rights has to be retained not done away with in the developing countries at least.

With best wishes

Saraswati Haider


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