Urban habitats should be integral to urban planning
The urban poor, mainly the slum dwellers can be meaningful actors in the development of their living conditions and in the social and political space only if they have the basic needs of life, and an urban identity.
The provisions for these can be ensured by the State through affirmative actions of different types, differentiated approaches to the differential needs of the different sections of the population, education, employment guarantee schemes, healthcare, basic infrastructure facilities, and so on. The State in turn should ensure that the MNCs which have major presence in the cities honour their corporate social responsibilities.
Most importantly, there should be blue-prints of the development of the highways and byeways of the cities in the context of their denisens, and plans of action by the States that those who live in the cities should necessarily have decent dwellings of their own along with other facilities for decent living and development of life, even if it means the State spends for the same.
Let me say, those who are in a city for a continuous period of five years, should necessarily own their own dwellings. The poor infrastructure facilities in the cities such as housing, roads, communication networks, power supply, safe-drinking water, affordable healthcare, education, ecology, air pollution, etc., should be part of a holistic package of urban planning.
As of now it is a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth, with no proper coordination of the work of different agencies, and with politicians, criminals, business class, middle-men, fixers, and so on, exploiting the urban space and urban facilities to their own advantage, with corruption as the culprit-cause.
In some sense, the unscrupulous and corrupt construction and real estate mafia are the real wreckers of the cities, and they should be fixed first.
The Right to Information Act, which India has just introduced, if implemented earnestly and effectively, will have a major impact on the imperfections and inadequacies of urban planning, will help in minimising urban chaos, and in ensuring that the urban poor are not the disposables of society, but are an integral part of it.
But information alone will not help. Information should be backed up by appropriate and timely action. Even access to information can be jeopardised if those involved in its implementation are not properly informed and committed, if the provisions are not foolproof, and if the beneficiaries are not aware of the provisions and the benefits. In speeding up the facilities and grievance-redress the legal system should be on the fast-track.