Saturday, June 13, 2015

Gujarat's govt's recent top-down, project driven, deterministic model has "ignored" communities, poor, civil society

By Our Representative
A well-researched study by Overseas Development Institute (ODI), UK's leading independent think tank, has regretted that the Gujarat government’s recent top-down approach to urban development, especially in Ahmedabad, has “negatively affected poor people”, even as damaging “relations between government and civil society.”
Pointing out how civil society, more particularly Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), led by Magsasay Award winning activist Ela Bhatt, and Saath, were instrumental for helping inclusive development of the poor, the think tank study, “Towards a better life? A cautionary tale of progress in Ahmedabad”, has blamed the state authorities for lately failing to “understand people’s concerns and priorities.”
“Organisations such as SEWA, its sister organizations, and Saath have played a crucial role by extending financial services to the urban poor, especially women, to help them raise money to invest in their livelihoods and housing improvements”, the study says.
However, the study regrets, now, “the top-down, project-driven and deterministic model of development” has happened with “minimum community input”, adding, this took place despite the fact that in “the western Indian state of Gujarat, where Ahmedabad is located, the urban poverty rate declined from 28% in 1993-94 to 10% in 2011-12.”
The scholars who carried out the study -- Tanvi Bhatkal, William Avis and Susan Nicolai – said the choice to study Ahmedabad was made because “the city has been at the forefront of many of India’s defining social, political and economic developments” – after all till mid-2014 Gujarat was ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Looking into the past, the study says, Ahmedabad was the city where “the development of a vibrant industrial sector was accompanied by the emergence of an influential civil society”, adding, “The families that founded and owned the textile mills sponsored the establishment of various educational and charitable enterprises.”
Suggesting this helped root civil society organisations in Gujarat, the study says, they played a “critical role in mobilising poor communities”, with the municipality collaborating with them. However, this has now got broken, with “gaps” having surfaced. “Relations between communities and the government have become strained in recent years”, it emphasizes.
The result is, “significant sections of the population continue to lack access to good quality services”, with Ahmedabad evolving into a city “segmented by class, caste and religion”, the study says, adding, there has been a shift “from inclusive growth to the creation of ‘global cities’ marked by capital-intensive projects” and “dialogue has decreased, becoming increasingly confrontational.”
Pointing towards how public funds have been “diverted focus away from flexible local programmes built on a collaborative model of development”, the study says, consultation for Ahmedabad’s town planning has excluded “many other people that depend on the land being incorporated into the urban areas, notably labourers, people renting land and also landowners that purchased land informally.”
The study further points to how since the 2002 riots, the city became “increasingly divided along religious lines”, with many fleeing the city and “now living in areas where there has been no town planning and, as a result, they have poor access to basic services.”
“There has been a very marked segmentation of residential space in the city since 2002, with the ‘ghettoisation’ of Muslim communities. The core (or walled city) houses both Hindu and Muslim communities that have become increasingly distanced from each other”, the study says.

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