«The view from below: Access for the urban poor to basic amenities and services. Sheela Patel, SPARC Introduction: This paper attempts to bring to the ...»
The view from below: Access for the urban poor to basic amenities
Sheela Patel, SPARC
This paper attempts to bring to the discussion a view from “below”. By
that we mean to bring into a national and international dialogue about
basic amenities and service delivery to cities …. views about these issues
which come from communities of the poor themselves. It is our hope that
over the years the space created for such a view will create fora where community representatives can come to such meetings and say what their constituencies believe in and want without having to posture as paperwriters and present academically oriented papers. Such “gates” exclude the poor and create conditions for consultants and NGOs and others who can write papers and present them to make a representation on their behalf. In the absence of that option we take the next best solution: to come to this discussion with a experience-based perspective, which neither exaggerates what we know nor modestly belittles what this movement of the urban poor represents as a critical stakeholder in this discussion.
SPARC is a voluntary organisation which was set up in 1984 by a group of professionals who sought to explore innovative ways of establishing long-term partnerships with the urban poor with a view to seeking equity and social justice in cities for the urban poor.1 There are many SPARC publications which provide details about how these organisations work together. But very briefly, National Slum Dweller’s Federation (NSDF) is a network of slum leaders from 21 cities all around India who build capacity of grassroots leadership to take charge of issues affecting them while working with SPARC at city and state level to bring change in policies and programmes. The purpose is to create greater space for the poor to participate in development. Mahila Milan is a network of women’s collectives from those communities which are members of NSDF and its main goal is to strengthen collective functioning of women at micro-community levels and to give greater recognition to the roles and capacities that poor Presentation at the NIUA seminar in Delhi March 1999.
This paper presents the views that communities of the poor associated with NSDF and Mahila Milan have on basic amenities and services to the
poor in cities:
a. Firstly they believe that minimum access to water, sanitation, pathways drainage and electricity to all those living in cities is essential for the health and survival of all in cities.
b.Poor communities pay more in both absolute and relative terms and
women have when they develop habitat and infrastructure for themselves where none is provided by the state.
“A view from below” paper by Sheela Patel on behalf of SPARC Mahila Milan and NSDF Jan 1999. 3 d. Long term sustainability of all investments made in basic services
Background about the alliance: (Who is who and who does what) SPARC is a non profit organisation established in 1984, with the objective of exploring innovative mechanism to work in partnerships with the poor As a result of SPARC’s alliance with Mahila Milan and NSDF, the work of the three organisations has linked communities of poor informal settlements to each other, and has gradually facilitated dialogue with city and state departments working on the concerns that both the city and the poor have i.e. basic services to the poor.
While no one particular area of functioning forms the basis of the alliance, over the last decade, land tenure, housing, financing of credit needs of the poor and basic amenities have become the main areas of focus. These are clearly areas where however optimum self help seeks to be, it can never bridge the gap between what is needed and what poor can provide to themselves. These areas reflect the interconnectedness between city planning and resources allocation and whether these are adequate and reach the poor or not. In the absence of that communities develop survival solutions which work on a day to day basis but create problems and difficulties to both the city and the community.
Unlike many NGOs with a specialised focus, SPARC was started by a group of professional who sought to allow communities to identify priorities of concerns to work on. This created arenas of work that the SPARC staff knew very little about, namely housing, basic amenities etc. As is well known, in India, very few urban NGOs work on issues such as land tenure, amenities, and services which have traditionally been areas in Presentation at the NIUA seminar in Delhi March 1999.
which there was little space for NGOs to function. By that we mean that cities and State governments and the National Government see the role of the state and its functioning institutions to be the major providers of services. This closes possibilities of non state or even civil society institutions to come in to participate. Unlike sectors like health and education where both the city and state have been more inclined to explore dialogue and number of NGOs working in these areas at some scale are in existence. As a result Private philanthropies and trusts may run schools and hospitals and so on… As a result, SPARC staff and the core leadership of Mahila Milan and NSDF are almost “professional generalists”, who now specialise in creating solutions with communities and negotiating for them with the city, state and private sector. Subcontracting works related to amenities and services have been done to increasingly include the constraints from the private sectors, however the specifications and choices continue to be made by city and state officials without any consulting with communities.
The focus of the partnership in the alliance is to create space for both professional and technological know how and community insights and combine in order to articulate solutions and strategies that work for communities.
Within the alliance, the manner in which NSDF and Mahila Milan themselves are organised reflect this process. Communities who squat on the same land-owner’s land form a federation. The logic behind that is simple. All issues of tenure, or security, access to amenities and services are today linked to where people stay. So for instance if the slum is on Municipal land, it gets amenities and services to some extent, however if they are on airport or railway land, the chances are almost non existent.
All such federations in a city form a city federation. Women in these federations form Mahila Milan collectives and together they form a city wide network. Each federation, each city locates its own priorities, “A view from below” paper by Sheela Patel on behalf of SPARC Mahila Milan and NSDF Jan 1999. 5 chooses its pace of growth and learning, and has as its back-up the whole NSDF and Mahila Milan’s critical mass for negotiations, experience sharing and technical and financial transactions. This makes negotiations with cities more “equal”. Often a community leader if put in a meeting with a commissioner or even a ward official, may end up agreeing to anything as the situation and language may over power the logic which the leader may come to the meeting, this gets “equalised” when a delegation comes instead.
The goal of the alliance is to create a path between the aspirations of communities and their participation in the final solution to that problem.
This way communities can truly begin to take part in development processes. The federations seek to be inclusive and make their learning process available to others. However, since all these strategies are based on the huge pool of human resources and experiential networking, individual communities or organisations working with individual communities often find these strategies hard to absorb. The “critical mass“ of members in the federation create the basis of first affirming the problems communities face, and create the basis of dialogue …. firstly among themselves, to learn from each other as to how to address these problems, and later to explore collaboration with municipalities and state government departments to resolve the problems of basic amenities. The experimentation that communities within the federations do are gradually beginning to explore solutions to what cities are trying to solve in the area of housing basic amenities and services.
The organisational and mobilisation activities of the alliance seek to create a strong learning base in each community, then federate them and build within them and the alliance a capacity to learn and develop new knowledge and hitherto unknown insights into sectors of mutual concern.
Presentation at the NIUA seminar in Delhi March 1999.
How does this process get started? First of all, women in communities begin to talk about their concern in collectives facilitated by NSDF and Mahila Milan. The discussion is around problems women see themselves and their communities facing. Reflecting at what households do presently to deal with the problems is the starting point of creating a solution. Many communities remain at the reflection stage, a few begin to look at what they can do. And soon they begin to put together a possible solution. This solution is often incomplete because if reflects what communities know and can do themselves. (If they could have found the total solution, then there would be no problem.) So instead this attempt to explore a solution is encouraged and the alliance of SPARC Mahila Milan and NSDF begin to add ideas and strategies that they have. The process of experimentation begins.
Rather than romanticising community organisational and collective processes, the alliance believes that it is only when individuals and households cannot solve problems by themselves, that they explore the possibilities of doing things together. If they believe that even collectively they cannot achieve much, then there is no incentive to explore such a process and communities show no interest in collective behaviour. These initial “pilot” projects within the alliance help demonstrate that change is possible and communities can be central to that change. It has been the experience of Mahila Milan and NSDF that once poor communities begin to do things collectively and see what it is feasible to achieve, that achievement reinforces the value of collective choices and increases possibilities of working in co-operation.
When community after community finds it faces the same problem, an organisation like a federation is able to voice that collective concern, and it is through such articulation that land tenure, housing, basic amenities and services have formed the main areas of work of the alliance. In each instance, the path we have taken is one which does not start with what “A view from below” paper by Sheela Patel on behalf of SPARC Mahila Milan and NSDF Jan 1999. 7 others say “should be done” but rather, it begins with women being able to articulate what the nature of their problems is, and even more specifically, how they envision the solution. When the whole community begins to accept that these are indeed the priority concerns of the community, they begin to look at the solution, and look at what aspects of the problem they can solve themselves. They assess the human and financial resources they have and then they look at the skills and resources they need to acquire to achieve this goal. They also define what they cannot do and this forms the basis of the negotiations with the city and state. The framework of both the training and skill-building aspect of the alliance occurs through small groups of people DOING this themselves then in turn it forms the basis of the dialogue and negotiations they have with the city, state or any resource-providing institution.
Our initial interest in issues of basic amenities and services for the poor was kindled when discussing the long term solution to evictions faced by communities of the poor, especially pavement dwellers in Byculla, Bombay. One of the many activities that was started was the designing of a plan for their settlement, the basic core house, settlement design and its infrastructure. While parallel efforts were made to work on issues of land tenure and the right of pavement dwellers to get land, the alliance felt that land tenure( although a major reason why poor communities do not have access to amenities and services) by itself would not solve problems of amenities and services as existing norms and standards would not permit poor communities to construct housing and infrastructure which they could afford. Therefore much of the exploration was in search of how costs could be reduced to an affordable level so loans taken by communities could pay for these houses amenities and services.
In search of possible solutions women pavement dwellers and staff of SPARC explored housing and infrastructure option in 1986-872. Leaders of the communities, mostly women, visited housing projects, slum amenities and services provided by the cities to the poor, in at least five cities. To illustrate how this process lead to a solution which they believed See “Beating a Path Bapat and Patel, SPARC 1988.
“A view from below” paper by Sheela Patel on behalf of SPARC Mahila Milan and NSDF Jan 1999. 9
The design of the core house itself led to the first choice for a community based toilet as the costs of even self built house increased by 25% if there was a toilet attached, and reduced space by that same amount. They wanted to suggest to the city that they would build the toilet blocks, for which the city could pay for capital costs and which they would later manage and maintain. The ratio of toilets was one seat for 20 people, or one seat for 4-5 households. There would be separate toilets for men and for women, and children’s toilets for the all those under six in the open outside the toilet. Children especially between two and 7 years would use these toilets. Then, gradually as households wanted, they could get toilets in their homes. This would be constructed at their own cost.