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May 16, 2009 / zanzi

Day Eleven-Twelve

By Day Eleven, Friday the 15th of May, a clear methodological framework had begun to emerge. On the evening of the 14th, the group had a preparatory session for the learning dialogue on urban sustainability, preparing a list of foci under each leading question. This led to an extremely well-informed morning dialogue, with the resource persons complementing each other well. This continued right up till evening, and it was decided to take a break till the afternoon of the 16th so as to consolidate all the outcomes (in terms of processes, solutions and models). This would then be presented by each group on Saturday afternoon.

With the learning to emerge from the dialogue on the 15th, Week Two in Hyderabad reached its natural conclusion. On Sunday, we board our flight to Tirupati for a week of action research. The feeling is of having gone through an immense process of learning over the course of this fortnight, and an urge to put it together. We’ll work at this during the final week in Delhi, culminating in a presentation. Now to outline the methodological framework:

This is envisioned as a set of concentric circles. The innermost is made up of knowledge pathways, including new technical solutions, institutional forms, planning concepts and models, as well as social engineering, collective bargaining and participatory governance. This is contained within a bigger circle that involves stakeholder analysis. This considers the roles of civil society, institutions, science, businesses, implementation agencies and governance forms.

The next bigger circle looks at implementation problems, such as the lack of interface management, lack of communication and education, various obstacles, conflicts, corruption and, partially, tradition. The outermost circle is sustainable development, concerned with accountability, sustainable planning and communication and the implementation of new concepts. In addition to this there are external factors. The external risks include climate change impact, global economy, and global versus regional consideration. Positives are global environmental governance and global networks of checks and balances.

Thus we proceed from knowledge via stakeholder analysis to sort our way through implementation problems so as to attain sustainable development, mindful of external factors. Staying alive to this picture, we now move on to the leading questions for urban sustainability, the theme my group has worked on this past week and more.

  • How do climate change aspects and water management politics impact urban planning?
  • Who responsibility is it to implement water management, waste management, energy and mobility?
  • What has happened to the 74th Amendment and institutions of self-governance?
  • Are there any promising future models?
  • What are the solutions, in terms of pathways, best practices and suggestions?

The resource persons consisted of Dr Suneel Pandey from TERI, Dr Ravi Anand from JNTU, Mr Raghu Babu from GTZ, Ms Jasveen Jairath from CEE, Mr Prasada Rao (again) from EPTRI, Prof Ashwani Kumar from CEPT, and representatives of the Tarnaka Welfare Association.

With respect to the impact of climate change aspects and water management politics on urban planning, a number of issues were raised. Lifestyle choices play a determining role, and rising population and demand increase pressure. The issue of migration and the attitude of urban planning towards taking them into account must be considered. The feasibility of RE forms is crucial, and systems thinking must be utilized. For instance, as traditional water management systems are made defunct by alterations to local topography, water management politics need to be integrated into urban planning in a way that ensures equity and efficiency in conservation, delivery and access. During the dialogue, a huge variety of responses and standpoints came up.

The counter-intuitive first challenge for urban planning is to lower water supply standards to the bare minimum acceptable, rather than aiming at what has become an unfeasible 135 litres a day of drinking quality water. No existing model incorporates this understanding. The impact of urban planning on the energy sector due to multi-stage pumping and the like ties in with climate change impacts and can be drastically reduced through optimization efforts in conjunction with a paradigm shift in approach, which is case specific. Costing and user charges of water supply need to be rationalized, since the worrying current trend is to subsidize urban against non-urban users.

The lack of capacity among Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), lack of funding powers being transferred despite responsibility for planning and implementation resting with them, and political vision and commitment are problem areas. Urban development reforms must ensure separate local level election and financial commissions. Permitting FDI and liberalized private sector activities 1991 onwards has been an enabler of sorts, but must be used to achieve aims such as one-third forest cover in urban areas.

With half the Indian population projected as being urban in the future, intra-city water distribution must be safeguarded for equity, and small, localized water bodies used to the extent possible. This would help cut GHG emissions, 8% of which are caused by water pumping. Leach pits, septic tanks and other outdated techniques are used for wastewater disposal due to the lack of underground drainage systems in many areas. Faulty governance structures and the systematic outgrowing on the part of urban planning and development can be destructive in this way, contaminating ground water and threatening health. Gravity flow in water supply rather than the current widespread practice of pumping it in from distant areas for urban use must be planned for, rather than adopting an energy intensive, crisis management approach. The lack of usage data leads to inequitable water supply, and public sector dysfunction paves the way for private sector profits on a common resource, or denial of basic rights. Public utilities need better management, which is possible with much less effort than privatizing water, if the fact that the public sector is slower to respond than the private sector is accounted for and addressed.

On-site recycling (extreme decentralization in terms of household level environmental billing) of limited per capita treated water supply is the future. This needs widespread dissemination of technology, possible given strong political will. The politics of technology are interesting themselves, with financial allocation often being elitist rather than effective, illustrated by the simple lack of fund allocation for water pipe repairs, a small but essential detail. The dearth of repair service professional, with plumbers, cobblers and minor electricians not regarded highly, is indicative of social decay, which can only lead to inefficiency and rundown systems.

Municipal corporations and development authorities would do well to take a leaf out of the book of advanced planning in ancient civilizations, since they currently seem to lack emphasis on provision of drinking water, treatment of groundwater and sewage waste even within their own areas being developed. Even the basic principles are not mentioned in policy, and unsustainable practices ensue. The role of RWAs, especially in low-income neighbourhoods and on behalf of slum dwellers, is crucial in pressuring for citizen oriented changes, such as for migrants. Regional planning and livelihood issues also need attention alongside city planning.

Coming to the next leading question, that of whose responsibility it is to implement water and waste management, energy and mobility, a number of associated questions were looked at. These dealt with lifestyle issues, attention to detail (leakages, decay), the need for water auditing, the role of women in solid waste management (SWM), and monitoring mechanisms. Integrated urban sanitation programs, assessment of social impacts, and the need for a stakeholder coordination mechanism were emphasized, with the importance of bottom-up approaches in general and top-down mechanisms in specific cases being mentioned.

There are design solutions but also cultural aspects to consider in waste management. PPP models are often a way for private firms to arm-twist the public sector. This goes back to the tragedy of not only the commons but all open-access systems, and not everything can be left to individual interests. Of course, the next phrases that come to mind are collective action and social accountability. In the case of SWM, corporate agencies are taking over, invited in red-carpet mode by helpless municipalities and cashing in on profit possibilities, aligning their interests with profit rather than the responsibility, naturally. True, the public sector is sluggish compared to private operators, but this must be woven into the analysis of which development model to adopt, using game theoretic models to avoid elite capture.

In SWM, an example is the corporate agency compacting recycled waste into energy cakes and selling them to boiler factories as fuel feed, without adequate safeguards against this potentially being even more polluting. In terms of transport, this is even more obvious. Intermediate Public Transport (IPT) vehicles serve as very useful feeder systems provided by self-employed operators, such as shared autos. But government policies are ridiculously biased against them thanks to a powerful lobby that promotes expensive GPS-equipped cabs. Unified transport authorities, though instituted, have not really come into their own, and they must play an enabling role for IPT. For waste water discharge, a zero waste water discharge policy for large-sized institutions is coming in. This must demand adequate capacity installation of cleaning systems within the same area.

When it comes to the policy perspective, solid waste handling and management rules that demand zero waste are simply not feasible for profit, with private operators preferring other investments, and expecting grand incentives from heavy tipping to provision of vast quantities of disposal land. No operator is willing to take over public authorities’ manpower, which is inefficient and problematic, and the reasons for inefficiency and unsustainable practices remain unaddressed. A study places the size of SWM in India at perhaps Rs. 55,000 crore. Such unexploited potential not being dealt with sensibly except in those instances where the private sector manages to capture profits while externalizing costs by damaging the environment needs to be examined.

Inefficiencies in the domain of urban infrastructure and services must be removed from the public sector, and the question is how. Top-down approaches can enable quick effective action in times when capable officials handle the reins, but this is not sustainable, falling to pieces with their transfer. Regardless, there is always need for a bottom-up process to be followed in formulating policies and decision-making. Hence, the importance of knowledge empowerment for citizens in order to enable participation and information flow dynamics cannot be overstressed. From the political perspective, it is imperative to utilize dedicated politicians and officials within local constituencies. RWAs, as discussed, must network horizontally and secure the interests of low-income areas. The question of representation is directly involved in this aspect. On the question of inter-ward equity, programs such as ENVIS and Ward Infra Structure Assessment (WISA) must be explored. The municipality must be made to publish in readily accessible ways the details of plans and operations on a regular basis in a proactive manner.

The leading question pertaining to the 74th Amendment took up this question of forms of representation, as also the gender perspective, equity concerns, implementation issues and the importance of capacity building. This means a continued but different role for the higher level government bodies, in order to enable effective participation and local functioning. Linked with this is the provision of more than rudimentary standards to qualify for elections, and the important issue of evolving a code of conduct for common governance. This is a process of defining responsibility, and involves the proceedings of communication as also locally specific allocation and distribution of responsibilities.

The problem with the 74th Amendment is that, historically, it has been rare for a person to hand over power on a platter save under duress. But this is what is demanded of higher level government bodies with respect to their local counterparts. There is a need for struggle and constructive engagement. There is no room for romanticizing about the have-nots as poor innocents, for they would not necessarily be any different in terms of furthering their vested interests at others’ expense than the current haves, given a chance at power. The problem is one of accountability and transparency, and a bottom-up approach is to popularize knowledge on how to analyze a municipal budget, raise awareness about the processes of governance and the decisions taken, so as to clarify the real deciding factors.

At one level higher of abstraction, it is a case of economic and political forces leading social and cultural forces in terms of making changes. The optimistic hope was expressed that this might change with the current recession! But consider that pretty much every municipal corporation in the country is dependent on the government for funding, and works merely as its bureaucratic extension. Financial independence is what will give autonomy and breathe life into the 74th Amendment. At present, planning and implementation responsibilities are handed down, without corresponding financial autonomy.

Finally, coming to the leading question on promising future models, there are several issues to consider in the light of the exhaustive discussion above. A relatively unexplored facet is the integration of tribal spaces within cities, in terms of special land rights for indigenous populations that wish to live in cities. The tribal land rights act has not extended, at least in practice, to urban areas. Infrastructure must be provided for public spaces that afford non-hierarchical migrant representation. Besides urban land policy and tribal public spaces, the broader question of aligning policies on tribals with a realization of their intent rather than letting them remain a mere mock-up for lip service to principles of human rights bears looking into. The integration of peripheral urban areas and satellite towns in development plans is important to consider. Climate change adaptive and mitigating reforms, and pros and cons of supply and demand driven models for water and electric supply also merit attention, as also regulation practices in conjunction with a green economy approach. The question of ‘how’ to bring about change and apply pressure for guiding the dynamics of the process is an important one. Disaster risk management and preparedness captures many aspects any model needs to incorporate, and the integration of migrants into urban planning through methods such as involvement in local politics is an interesting concept to consider. Housing provision for contract labour during and post-construction, and the role of ecological budgeting and accounting systems that factor in environmental cost externalization, is a way forward.

The lack of an integrated urban and regional planning policy in India and the impact this has must be kept in mind. The revenue and planning departments lack coordination. An example on addressing the information gap would be the Transport Oriented Development Policy (TODP). A study shows research and planning as the most passive of factors, whereas vested interests are the most active contributor to orientating development!

Various questions remain partially addressed. In the context of risk management, how can development dynamics be taken into consideration in planning so as to avoid conflict within approaches? The differentiated roles of various stakeholders in different sectors, such as that of the Ministry of Urban Development in industrial disaster management, are crucial to identify and build on in this regard.

On the issue of migration, the phenomenon of Tata in Jamshedpur was considered. The real challenge becomes clearer, however, when studying the numbers. Chicago, with an annual population growth rate of 6% during its occupation of the fastest urbanizing centre, registered an absolute increase of 1.3 million. On the other hand, , Mumbai experienced 4% annual population growth between 1975 and 2000, which translates into 11.2 million in absolute terms – a completely different order! This underscores the completely different and ridiculously difficult issue of migration in the context of urbanization in India.

On the question of tribal public spaces, it must be considered that it is not so much a question of urban planning as a deep-rooted, direct political clash of power. Green economy can be successful if it is properly embedded in its local setting. India is no stranger to the concept of new urbanism, with practices largely being of mixed land use, pedestrian access development and an attempt to cut dependency on automobiles – human-scale design, basically. However, this is hardly the case in the major urban centres, and the example that captures this most obviously is the number of flyovers being constructed. These are nothing but a way of siphoning off public money into private hands. Finally, the issue and forms of representation raises the question – who is deciding, and for whom? The lack of visibility of public health clinics, PDS shops and the like, which should be prominently present within each neighbourhood, must be addressed. This is the most indicative of missing attention to detail, no matching of implementation with stated intent, and low political will. Intelligently crafted policies that identify and assign responsibilities to the most appropriate stakeholders can break this deadlock. Otherwise private interests will naturally prevail over a chaotic public sector that misuses funds and provides insufficient, inefficient services. Policies that address equity and inclusiveness issues while envisioning a clear path to actual implementation without leaving room for ambiguity are the order of the day. Else planning will continue to be driven by an organized industrial lobby prioritized over the voiceless agonizing hundreds of millions.

In closing, the concept of sustainability was interestingly juxtaposed with that of survivability. For the have-nots, who are the majority, this is more crucial at present, and approaches to development must emphasize this aspect. The starting example of lowering water standards to the bare minimum acceptable captures this brilliantly. A given, dependable amount of water that one can be equipped to handle carefully individually is preferable to no water or unpredictable quality. Unfortunately, development has never been looked at this way, tying together the context of sustainability and prevalent ground realities. A model based on a premise of this nature would need support systems such as organizing citizens at multiple levels. And the role of knowledge is key in this, if strong communities are to be developed at the local level. Programs such as ENVIS and WISA can empower data collection and analysis by directly affected stakeholders and elected representatives, which makes it easier to design models within which it is possible for sustainability to survive. This is the only way to forge ahead without periodically being at the mercy of IFIs like the World Bank and ADB for determining the way ahead. In this manner, India can eventually become an empowered world citizen, and play a contributory role in development pathways rather than seeking out direction and chancing its luck on a trial and error approach.

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