CIVIC, an NGO working for participative democracy, in conjunction with Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), conducted a pilot study on slum and urban homelessness in Bengaluru and an event was organized at Institute of Agricultural Technologists, Queens Cross Road on 28th February, 2009 to release the report and highlight some of the findings.
BBMP had commissioned the study to understand the effectiveness of the services they provide to urban poor in the city. The study itself was conducted over two months in 19 habitations, through Focus Group Discussions and the use of secondary data. Some of the findings highlighted at the event are listed here.
The report contends that the BDA’s Revised Master Plan 2015 or the Comprehensive Development report (that came into force in June 2007) has a heavy focus on infrastructure while concerns of the urban poor are neglected. Even on infrastructure, there is a marked tendency to promote private transportation – a direct fall out of which is the felling of trees to widen roads to accommodate private modes of transport. Even the BBMP budget is not supportive of the poor with just two percent being earmarked for education and six percent for welfare measures.
In terms of defining who the urban poor were, there was a complete lack of clarity on data on the urban poor. Different agencies have different statistics and there is no data on urban homeless at all. Thus, whenever any projects or schemes for poor have to be launched, there is no basic data guiding the planning and execution of these schemes.
The urban poor are guaranteed supply of food-grains at subsidised prices which are distributed through fair price shops or the ‘ration shop’. However, the study revealed that these shops were only open for a couple of days in a month after which they remained shut. The study also pointed out that there was a low level of awareness amongst the urban poor regarding their rights vis-a-vis PDS entitlements. The study also had a very interesting pointer. It said that the costs of running a PDS shop were close to 3 times the profit made from it, which may be a big disincentive for the people actually running the shops. (Author’s interpretation)
On the issue of land and housing, there is a huge shortage between demand and supply for housing for economically weaker sections of the society. The study found that even in slums which had been officially recognized, land titles had not been given. In slums where houses were being constructed for the residents, the construction activity had been going on for well over 3 years. An inadequate financial credit support system meant that affordable housing was an impossible dream. Finally, in some cases, advances had been taken by the government for construction of houses, and no houses had been constructed and no money had been refunded.
A similar story with water supply where there was an increased focus on the part of BWSSB to move from public taps to private water connections (for the urban poor), which directly affected them negatively. In the public taps that existed and which were in use, the water supply was highly irregular, of poor quality and supplied in the middle of the night.
In terms of primary health, the study revealed that for the poor to get a birth registration certificate, they had to pay large sums as bribes. This bribe amount was higher if the child was a boy. Doctors in public hospitals were only available for a few hours every day. Medicines were not available in the hospitals, forcing people to buy from medical shops outside.
On the issue of primary education, the study points out that the CDP makes no mention of free and compulsory education, rather focusing its energies on promoting private educational institutions. The study further revealed that infrastructure in schools in terms of drinking water facilities, toilets continued to be poor. Schools are located far away, the teaching quality was not good and financial assistance to economically weaker students which would have served as an incentive to study were missing to a large extent.
The report recommended that the government must be directly responsible for fulfilling the basic needs of the people and that the requisite funds and functionaries should be earmarked for that.
The report also said that there was a need to develop a comprehensive database which could capture all data regarding the urban poor and that there needed to be a single window clearance cell which would co-ordinate all the activities of different agencies involved in the eradication of urban poverty.
While the findings of the report are not at all surprising, the magnitude of the problem is certainly alarming. Though there are many agencies involved in tackling the issue of urban poverty, the fact that it exists and continues to thrive is worrisome. To think that Bangalore could end up like Mumbai where more than half of the population lives in shanties and which has the distinction for having Asia’s largest slum is certainly not a sobriquet which Bangalore should aim for.
The initiatives of different civil society bodies working in the area of urban poverty have time and again proved that the issue of housing rights, financing mechanisms can work for the urban poor. However, civil society can only go so far. It is for the government to take a cue and start implementing pro-poor policies, something which is completely missing from the agenda of any state or the national government.
A final note on the event. Justice Gopal Gowda, Judge of the Karnataka High Court, during his talk at the event, made some very interesting points. He was critical of S Subramanya, Commissioner, BBMP and the BBMP in general for being absent from the event, when it was they who had commissioned the entire study. He further said that while the report was good, the work was in fact the BBMP’s responsibility. By not doing it, BBMP is shirking its duty. That statement summarized the general state of affairs regarding government’s attitude towards governance, something which need to be addressed quickly. ⊕