Cities and the Resources for Local Capacity Building at the RCUES at Osmania University

Prof. Bhoopathi Rav at the Regional Center for Urban and Environmental Studies at Osmania University (RCUES) welcomed us warmly, eager to discuss the programs that the RCUES had been promoting to build capacity in urban environmental governance: (1) training, primarily of public sector officials in southern states and (2) scholarship and research on urban environmental and management issues (soil and waste management, water supply, transportation, sanitation, poverty alleviation).

In fact, our visit coincided with a training session conducted by the center for district level city managers from the state of Karnataka on executing slum surveys in their area of jurisdiction. The new surveys would assist in building a new database on slums in India as part of the Rajiv Awas Yojana, a Central Government of India program.

Our visit and attendance in the training session at Osmania University was also very revealing of a prevalent gap that exists in most city governments in India, where the local public officials lack the training and tools to utilize the available government programs and resources.  The Center at Osmania University has the mandate to bridge this gap in the Southern States in India. It was interesting for us to observe the governance issue from another perspective (poor governance has often been noted as a key challenge to implementation by private sector organizations in our meetings and interviews). We were enthused about meeting a handful of young officials who had a genuine interest in making things better in their districts and using the resources available to them to the highest degree. They pushed the need for dialogue among the public and private sector. They expressed an understanding that the problems in cities are complex and tough to define, and hence providing cookie cutter solutions is often not the best long-term resolution.

The center conducts interesting research but we had trouble getting access to reports that we found of immediate interest to us and our mission.  The center is on its way to building a data center. We hope that this enables the dissemination of data and knowledge that the research team has painstakingly collected and documented over the years.

Notes on the Rajiv Awas Yojana: Through this program, the Government of India hopes to use creative mechanisms such as land pooling, incentive zoning and FAR bonuses to deliver property rights to slum dwellers. The government of India defines a ‘slum’ as a cluster of 20 or more families or dwellings that lack basic infrastructure. With this broad definition, keeping up to date records of existing slums becomes a challenging job for the city officials. The new database is part of the Central Government of India’s vision to create a slum-free India within 5 years. The goal is no doubt ambitious, and may result in hasty policy making to show sizeable results that may not be able to account for the finer issues involved with slum rehabilitation.

Slum in the river flood zone in Surat

Slum in the river flood zone in Surat

The dialogue of the city planners at the RCUES workshop covered the informational aspects of these economic, spatial and environmental issues:

  • Slum rehabilitation is more than just providing affordable housing. There is of course the primary issue of property rights. The land under the slums is not owned by the slum dwellers and they therefore have no legal right to the land or their dwellings. Reforming information on ownership and registration is a big part of this.
  • Slums often develop on marginal urban spaces such as along river beds or train tracks or large construction sites. Alternatively, slums can start on the city outskirts but, over time, become central as the city grows around them.
  • Rehab is difficult due to environmental conditions or the economic value of the land.
  • Slum rehabilitation then just becomes a process of moving slums to more remote locations away from city centers with only marginal improvement to quality of life, especially since residents now face significantly increased time and cost of travel.
  • The size and design of dwellings was generally comprised of a single room unit of around 200-250 SF assigned to each household with each household often 5-6 members resulting in overcrowded conditions.
  • There is a lack of supportive social infrastructure, such as schools, health clinics, community centers and recreational areas, to the rehabilitated slum dwellers.
  • Slum dwellers’ cottage industries and other trades in their neighborhoods slums don’t get relocated as well so their livelihoods are further impacted.
  • The future maintenance of rehabilitated slums has not yet been addressed.
Housing for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in Surat

Housing for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in Surat

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