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The Right to City

Updated: Feb 25

Right to city is the paradigm of inclusivity and a core principle of the New Urban Agenda (NUA) of the United Nations (UN). NUA is a landmark document that tries to address the urban issues rooted with concerns of sustainability. NUA was the main talking point at the UN-Habitat’s 26th Meet which was Chaired by India. The theme for this meet was “Opportunities for effective implementation of the NUA”. NUA presented “right to city” as one of its core principles and explained it as ‘equal access to urban life’.

The main tenet of the right to city is that everyone deserves urban life with all the basic amenities. To this, India’s Minister of Urban Development gave the motto of “Integrated, Inclusive and Sustainable Urban Development”. This showed India’s commitment to the idea of the right to city and inclusive urban development. Albeit right to city is a newly coined term, India has time and again worked on inclusive growth and providing basic amenities to all. The 12th Five Year Plan was also in concurrence with inclusivity. Government of India has taken various steps via schemes and subsidies to improve and introduce urban life.

The following works by Government of India show its commitment to the idea of the right to city:

  1. 12th Five Year Plan of the former Planning Commission was built around the idea of inclusivity.

  2. Urban development has been given constitutional importance as well. Local urban development and municipal bodies have been given constitutional status under Article 243. Also, for better devolution of funds, State Finance Commissions are set up to ensure that urban development bodies have the backing of funds to start new projects.

  3. India’s Smart Cities Mission (SCM) is the largest urban development mission in terms of funds allocation. The SCM is allied to the goals of NUA and UN-Habitat. India’s SCM focuses on 24 features for a city to be smart and most of these are aligned with the NUA. SCM can be termed as an extension of strategy expressed in NUA and the right to city idea. Both SCM and NUA emphasize on promoting civic engagement; local governance; water; energy and waste management; reduce pollution; better transportation, etc. Under SCM, 100+ cities are selected to be developed into smart cities and serve as model cities for the development of other towns. The approach may improve urban lives in nearby towns too.

  4. PURA idea: Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas is a strategy for transforming rural areas into areas with urban amenities. The concept was given by the former President of India Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. PURA proposes that urban infrastructure and services be provided in rural hubs to create better living standards. This idea, is also in concurrence with the right to city, as it aims at providing urban life. PURA was part of the 11th Financial Year Plan and its strategy included projects like water and sewage, electricity, hospitals, solid waste management, etc. in the rural centers. It also suggested the use of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) in the development of rural areas.

  5. Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation’s Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS): This scheme is active from the early 1990s and under this scheme, each Member of Parliament (MP) has a bearing on starting some developmental projects in local rural areas of his constituency. The MP has to give ideas and the implementation will be done by the local governance itself. This promotes development within federal boundaries.

  6. Housing for all scheme also works in the context of the right to city. It aims at providing pakka houses to all by 2022. Once housing facilities improve, the process of urban development will gain momentum, as it will be easier for areas to develop into cities with all basic amenities.

  7. To support the housing idea, ‘power to all’ scheme by the Ministry of Power is also a step forward. Along with housing for all and power to all, various other schemes like Swachh Bharat (for toilet facilities and waste management), universal immunization programme (vaccines to rural and urban areas), welfare schemes like Janani Suraksha, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation, etc., all work for providing various amenities the people deserve.

So, the above points prove that there are major efforts being made in India to promote the idea of the right to city and provide people with the urban amenities they deserve.

But, still, more than 50% of the population in India lacks few or more basic facilities. After all the endeavours made by the Government to improve the conditions of rural and urban development, there is still a need of new and innovative efforts that can bolster the idea of the right to city in India. To support India’s efforts following ideas must be incorporated and implemented. Learning from International efforts. There are a few pro points in NUA that India can adopt and benefit from. For instance - NUA calls for citizen participation, help from local groups and NGOs etc. India can make use of this and start creating general awareness.

NUA aspires to integrate vulnerable sections of society. Better financial framework and more responsible and transparent spending. Disaster resilient cities. This facet of development is ignored in India. The development should be in concurrence with disaster resilience. NUA calls for global monitoring. Similar National level monitoring will ensure accountability and transparency.

Exploring and promoting municipal bonds. A municipal bond can be helpful for local bodies to get funds for starting developmental projects without external help. A responsible framework may help here. Better targeting of schemes by Government. This has a two-fold effect. One, it will promote inclusivity and ensure the people really in need are helped and second, it will reduce the Government’s deficit and theses funds can be reallocated to the developmental projects.

Better measurement of development status: Although Ministry of Urban Development has come up with livability index for cities, there is still a need of more comprehensive indices that take into account various pillars of development and rate urban centres wisely and accordingly.

An Ombudsmen can ensure accountability and may increase the efficiency of the projects. In essence, the right to city is a noble idea and no doubt India is working to reach its goal of all-inclusive sustainable development, but there is still a long way to go to attain this goal. However, with continuous efforts of the Indian Government along with some minor tweaks and improvements, India shall reach its target of growth and urban life to all. After all, “inclusion elevates all”.

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