Sunday, August 03, 2014

Showcased as urban model by Modi, Sabarmati riverfront has "worsened" life for uprooted slumdwellers

By Our Representative
In a scathing attack on Gujarat’s Sabarmati riverfront project, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has showcased as a glowing example of “inclusive growth”, the Los Angeles Times (LAT) has said all that the $200-million public project offered to thousands of uprooted slumdwellers is a life which is “worse off than before”. Ahmedabad’s city officials have “failed to find them alternative housing as promised”, it says, adding, many “families are stuck in a temporary housing site, living in tumbledown shacks made of plywood and plastic sheets that fall apart during the heavy summer rains, miles from city services or decent jobs.”
To prove its point, the top US daily quotes a slumdweller, Laxmi Devipujak: "They built a megacity there, and we're all sitting here. We gave the authorities gold and we got rupu [cheap metal] in return." Such comments come despite the fact that few urban renewal projects in India have been as celebrated as the Sabarmati riverfront. “Once a bleak riverbed that was dry most of the year, the Sabarmati that winds through central Ahmedabad is now a swelling and much cleaner waterway, fed by canals and barrages from an upstream river”, it adds.
LAT says, “Although the riverfront is far from complete, city and state authorities have flaunted its rehabilitation all over India, winning numerous government awards and recognition from the international consulting firm KPMG.” In fact, it has been sought to be projected as "India's answer to the Seine or the Thames." But “underneath aggressive boosterism” given to the project by Mod lie “familiar shortcomings”. The growth has “prioritized a prominent middle class — the symbol of a rising India, those who can afford plane tickets and riverboat rides — while neglecting poor families displaced by new construction”, LAT adds.
“Overhauling the Sabarmati required one of the largest urban resettlement programmes undertaken in India. Tens of thousands of poor riverfront families were given space in government-built apartment blocks, but most were located on the outer reaches of the city, all but disconnected from transit networks, utilities and people's former livelihoods”, LAT says, adding, “Some of the buildings were unfinished or lacked potable water, problems that took city authorities years to resolve.”
Titled “India’s river development project is a double-edged sword”, and written by Shashank Bengali, the LAT article says, “Hundreds of families never secured apartments because they were missing paperwork, forcing many into temporary camps where they have languished. It quotes CEPT University professor Renu Desai to say, “There's been a very successful narrative about how this is inclusive development. Whereas what you really see is not different from other cities in India. It's the marketing that stands out."
By way of example, LAT says, “More than 1,000 uprooted families still live in tents in a remote temporary housing site at Ganeshnagar, 10 miles from central Ahmedabad, boxed in by a recycling plant, electrical transmission towers and the city's largest trash dump. Most arrived in late 2011, during the last phase of slum evictions from the Sabarmati riverside, with city authorities promising to move them to apartments within two months.”
“Many no longer believe they will ever see those homes. Before, living along the river in the hub of the city, the women sold vegetables, washed clothes, or labored as housekeepers for nearby middle-class families. Now many say they are jobless, their husbands forced to travel by costly rickshaws back to the city center to search for menial work. Often the families go to bed hungry”, LAT says.

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