Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Workshop on ‘Cities, Environment and Social Justice’

The workshop on ‘Cities, Environment and Social Justice’ was organised jointly by Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and Institute of Development Studies (IDS) from 2nd to 4th February 2011. It was held at India International Centre in Delhi. Two of our team members, Dr. Vishal Narain and Mr. Pranay Ranjan participated in the workshop.

This workshop marked the final event under the project, ‘The Peri-Urban Interface and Sustainability of South Asian Cities’ headed by STEPS Centre in collaboration with SARAI and Centre for Study of Regional Development. However, the workshop had much more to it than simply discuss about the project. In fact, there was only one session out of a total seven, devoted solely to peri-urban dynamics. Some of the speakers in the workshop were – Mr. Aromar Revi from Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Marie Helen from Centre de Sciences Humaines, Alankar from Sarai programme of CSDS, Kaveri Gill from IDRC and Tim Karpouzoglou from STEPS Centre. 

The presentations and ensuing discussions during the workshop very much revolved around growing cities and resulting issues, from different perspectives viz. waste generation, water pollution, climate change etc. The peri-urban perspective was highlighted by Alankar and Tim in their respective presentations. On one hand where Alankar focussed on understanding water pollution in the peri-urban region, Tim on the other hand presented a critical perspective of policy processes for monitoring water quality in peri-urban environments. Both the works derived from fieldwork in the Trans Hindon area of Ghaziabad, with focus on villages of Karhera and Arthala.

Alankar mentioned how Ghaziabad’s master plan, in reality, supplements the Delhi master plan. As a result of this, the aforementioned villages are no more called village but slums because they are now designated as urban area. Despite the change in nomenclature, the area never witnessed a change in infrastructure, especially concerning the vulnerable poor population. Whatever infrastructure was built for the supply of municipal water supply in early 1990’s, went in favour of upper caste people, leaving the lower caste vulnerable. This has continued to be the story of this region, even though currently it is designated as ‘urban’. On one hand where elite classes receive supply water from Ganga, poor and vulnerable populations have become increasingly dependent on groundwater. Alankar also went on to add how water needs in this region are conditioned by socio-economic conditions and demands. An interesting point mentioned during the presentation was to do with reversal of ‘Polluter Pays Principle’ in this region. Since the elite class has better access to water, they use it and in turn pollute it more. Poor on the other hand have limited access to good quality water and thus end up paying more in terms of expenses on health and also loss of opportunity. Among many suggestions/recommendations made during the presentation, one was to enable democratization of water issues in peri-urban regions. Tim spoke about the gap that remains in monitoring water quality because of difference in how government and individuals perceive it. The gap arises mainly because government’s definition of water quality is in terms of/based upon figures and data, whereas individuals perceive it more in terms of how they experience and understand it. Since policies are formulated based on perception of government, this gap continues to exist.  

As a value addition to our work, the workshop provided a very good platform for sharing the conceptualization and progress of our project with participants of the workshop. Some of the issues such as caste and socio-economic conditions determining access to water, need of democratization of water issues etc. are very relevant to our research sites as well. The workshop also provided an opportunity to meet and interact with people from different backgrounds and areas of expertise. It also provided an insight into recent works that have been carried out in the major urban centres across India.  

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