THE URBAN CRISIS: The Role of NGOs

Mr. Stanley C. Karkada 

The Urban Crisis

To come to live in the city is not to solve the problem of poverty. For, behind the glamour of the city lights, the city skylines and the facade of airport terminals, or the massive and grand shopping arcades are shacks of these very urban migrants. Denied any form whatsoever of relief or services which may have contributed to a better life, they squat on just about any land that they can have access to and scrape up whatever falls off as crumbs from under the tables of the urban elite. Increasingly, even the prospect of squatting areas seems to elude them. Either they cannot afford the demands of the slumlords, or they find the conditions much too oppressive. Little wonder, then, that the streets of most major urban centres are becoming crowded with street sleepers by night. Indeed, it is no more an uncommon sight to find an asbestos sheet dangerously drawn over a few sticks making do for a tenement. Thousands upon thousands of children grow up not knowing what a shelter is. Not only can they not claim an address which is theirs; worse still, they live a dehumanised existence. They must compete for a place with a million others in their type of predicament. These children wander around in hunger, fighting stray dogs in a common search for food in the garbage dumps in and around restaurants and major hotels. Law enforcing authorities refer to them as being “unauthorised” and occasionally, harass them at night often with a view to obtaining a 

small bribe in return for which they become temporarily "authorised" until the tormentor once again finds the need to have his palms greased. The children grow up tough and ruthless after the hardening experiences of life. Poverty and hunger easily convert their vulnerability into illegal jobs. They resort to drug-peddling, petty thefts, prostitution, pocket picking, or even becoming pimps and beggars. 

Society then ostracises these immigrants. Behind the cloak of respectability, the city elite and intelligentsia condemn these poor, helpless folk. From rural poverty, they have moved into another painful struggle for survival, often far more demanding and dehumanising. Yet it is not just a survival issue. It is a question of finding human dignity, a struggle to make the city their own, indeed to be acknowledged as a somebody.... For jobs seldom, if ever await the migrant-turned city dweller. And besides city planners while providing for shopping complexes and skyliners, never have, and probably never will, give any real thought to housing or employment needs for the new immigrants:

What Else Causes Urbanisation 

Studies on urban development have shown that modern urban slums punctuate almost every city in the world and are an out-growth of limited and distorted industrial and commercial development. In a study on the structure of urban poverty. S. S. Jha points out how countries that have followed the path of development based on privately-owned means of production have always ended up with vast areas of stink, misery, squalor and degradation for the poor and the bulk of middle-class inhabitants of their cities. The vast bulk of immigrants, whose conditions have been descriptively covered in the earlier part of this paper, come into the city with nothing but their labour power to sell. Their cheap labour is welcome, not their demand for housing. Their massive (though unnoticed) contribution to the economy is accepted without any grudge, but their just claim for a

normal human existence is conveniently ignored. In other words, as Jha points out: "A labourer's eight hours of work is useful for economic growth and development, but his needs for housing, public transport, water supply and other civic amenities for the remaining sixteen hours become urban problems". 

The Bombay Situation

Of the several issues that must be seriously taken into account in dealing with the problem of urbanization, the problem of shelter becomes the most crucial. Many others are often by-products of the shelter question. In an incisive study entitled The Shelter Conspiracy" by John Mohan Razu, Razu points out that the denial of shelter is a scandal and a major human rights issue. In Bombay, Razu shows how the politician finds shelter to be an ideal "ploy" which he promises to the people and then sneaks away with their votes. The builder equally finds the need for shelter to be an ideal business indeed a super-profit industry. Equally, if not worse, bureaucrats enunciate policies and programmes which stay on paper and only serve to ensure their survival. Bombay, in the view of Razu, having moved from a small town to hyper-city status, acquired all the attendant problems of housing, basic amenities, transport, sewerage, growing population and pollution.

Indeed, Bombay's growth into a major city hasgiven it two distinct and oftentimes contradictory dimensions. On the one side is prosperity and wealth; on the other-poverty and deprivation. Then there are the concrete jungles, and not too far off the uglier slums.

What Can be Done 

The findings of a Committee set up to review the Development Plan of Greater Bombay by the Government of Maharashtra reported: 

"Bombay is a vibrant, thriving hive of activity, a source of strength to the National economy despite the efforts of planners and environmentalists, Bombay will grow in numbers as well as in economic strength. It is the function of the plan to sustain and promote that growth and simultaneously, to raise the quality ofcitizens’ life."

The Review Committee sets out some ideal goals towards which development planning should move:

— Facilitate and promote the city's economic growth in the light of its role in the process of national development;

— Minimise the negative externalities such as traffic congestion, overcrowding and pollution which may occur in the process of economic growth;

— Improve the quality of life, particularly, of the poor and the deprived;

— Achieve these objectives in a resource-efficient way, conserving urban land, energy as municipal finances and Bombay's place in the nation, its contribution to the economy,

demanded a development plan and not simply a passive control on land use.

The Role of NGOs

There are a number of a Non-Government Organisations in Bombay carrying on welfare and development work independent of each other in their own small spheres of service. They touch not even the fringe of the gigantic problems of Bombay. They should help make a concerted effort and educate the people and the government to help them to work together for this cause.

I am more than convinced that what needs to be done in Bombay

is for Citizens Initiative Groups to be organised that can begin to voice People's Concerns through forums at which decision-makers, whether in the legislature or in the administration, can be pressurised to match their words with deeds. It is a rare instance when good programmes and policies see the light of day. Concretely, I would

hope we can call for: 

(1) Citizens' Groups to be set up in every part of the city. These groups should make themselves aware of the problems of the city.

(2) After a study and analysis of the problem, there should be an enquiry at governmental level to see whether there are already programmes designed to deal with the problems but

which are not being implemented. A study of these schemes must be launched to examine how such programmes can be improved upon so as to be truly effective.

(3) Schools, colleges etc. should be encouraged to introduce their students to the problems of the city so as to motivate them for voluntary service to people in situations of distress.

(4) Citizens' groups should propose policy guidelines in coping with the existing and emerging social problems. 

(5) Public education campaigns should be carried out, using all forms of media. Towards these media person, and opinion makers should be mobilised.

(6) NGOs should be encouraged to adopt programmes designed to advance the economic conditions of the poor immigrant. 

(7) Citizen's groups must attempt to use instruments such as public interest litigation measures to bring immediate relief to those abused by the emploiters of the poor.

(8) Citizen's groups must study the ways and means to counter environmental hazards.

(9) People's Housing Schemes should be encouraged to be seen not as an obligation that can provide votes at election time. Rather, housing should be people-oriented and people designed to the maximum extent possible. 

(10) Studies should be carried out as to the roots of immigrant outflow and government schemes started to prevent such needless immigration. In this connection, citizens should

study situations and propose comprehensive development plans which will put an end to the lop-sided development strategies and spread the fruits of development, both to the

countryside and the cities and towns.

(11) Citizen's groups should also get involved in setting up urban-rural concerns cells which will push for implementation of land reform legislation and needed back-up by

relevant government steps whichmake such steps viable. 

In short, what we must be working towards is good policy, coupled with infrastructure and governance in implementation, which includes widespread citizen's involvement. I wish to conclude while drawing on a quote from Barbara Ward which I believe argues for two essential aspects of development planning in the urban setting, viz., conscience and generosity on the part of planners and implementers:

"We are not going to drift into solution. We are not going to slide through a series of adjustments and just come out happily on the other side. We have to have policies, we have to have justice and we have to have a vision. It may be difficult to say it, because it has to be said again and again and again.. And there is nothing more tedious to people than thinking they have heard it all before. Yet from the beginning of time, they have heard this "still a small voice" of obligation and brotherhood. When they have listened, society has worked. When they have refused to listen, society has broken up. Whatever our conscience may say, the voice of realism is going to accept the fact that by the year 2000, there will be 3000 million more people here, whatever we do. Either they are going to make this planet into one of hellish confrontation, of total disruption and technological disaster, or we are going to feel our way towards a society in which people can be neighbours and friends. It is as simple as that. The people are going to be there, the changes are going to come; cities are exploding, resources are under constraint. We have

policy and generosity or we have disaster. The voices of reason, of realism and of conscience — all urge us to choose that generosity shall prevail".

M. D. David, The Urban Crisis: The Role of NGOs, in Urban Explosion of Mumbai: Restructuring of Growth, Himalaya Publishing House, Mumbai, April 1996. P. 460-464.