Slum dwellers in Ludhiana are still waiting for the National Urban Mission to deliver.
“We are poised to have nearly fifty per cent of India living in our cities by the earlier part of the present century and that should give you an idea of the magnitude of the development and renewal task that awaits all of us.”
– PM’s address to the nation on the launch of Jawarharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.
Gandhi’s nation of villages is moving like never before, roots, identity and all, towards the city and as the Prime Minister puts it; the tipping point is in plain sight. The reasons are many- employment, convenience, infrastructure, livelihood, sustainability. A recent example in the Scientific American special on cities mentions the case of a woman who pounds millet and lives under the authority of her husband in then village moves to the city and suddenly she is capable and free to seek employment, start her own business and even provide for her children’s education.
The migration from the sticks to the city is not just a national phenomenon but part of a global paradigm shift and as many have pointed out, very soon we will be living on an urban planet. In December 2005, the Government of India took the shift into account and flagged off, as part of its five-year plans, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), a massive modernisation scheme launched under the Ministry of Urban Development with an aim to create ‘economically productive, efficient, equitable and responsive Cities’ and with a special focus on the Urban Poor.
In the last few years, this mass exodus of global population has greatly increased the numbers of the urban poor and the resulting friction threatens to damage the fabric of the city. Cities are divided by invisible barriers across which class serves as an indicator. One increasingly sees the development of city spaces along class lines, of which the luxury mall and multiplex is at one end of the spectrum and the slums on the other. As the rich move in their private vehicles, the cheap public transport becomes the conduit of the poor and the net result is congestion, pollution and a nagging dissatisfaction. At the end of this jam is a vision of a dystopian future.
In the light of such a scenario, the JNNURM seems timely and ambitious. It recognises that the cities across the nation cannot just afford to segregate themselves and continue building skywards to tackle the ground realities. A slum relocation project in Ludhiana offers a glimpse on how the Mission is in progress. The slums in question are in Sanjay Gandhi Nagar and Rajiv Gandhi Nagar. These settlements have been around for more than two decades and are densely populated. One slum dweller says,” We live in hell”.
Home to factory workers, labourers, low level government workers, it has never received any form of aid or infrastructure. There is a complete lack of toilets, drains, gutters, schools and electricity. When the prosperous city of Ludhiana lights up at night, these slums are two hollow eyes staring at the sky. If these eyes are seeing a promise, it is the low cost flats being built under the JNNURM scheme which they have been promised. The process of building them, howeverm has been going on for an excruciating eternity.
The five year JNNURM plan is scheduled to come to an end in December 2011 and while the structure has been raised, the flats are far from being inhabitable. The first stone was laid in early 2006 and the slum dwellers of Ludhiana continue to hope and wait. The Municipality assures that it will complete the buildings in time and that the structures are of the highest quality. What it fails to factor in is the rise in the number of slum dwellers. The policy is still not clear on who will get the flats and who will remain in hell.
Our Correspondent Jai Kumar who made the video admits to feeling certain exasperation. He says,” God knows when it will be complete and by the time it does, there will be a bigger problems at hand.”
There’s this other thing the prime minister said at the launch- “Indians stood out as city builders as evident from the traditions we carry from the ancient civilisations of Harappa and Mohenjadaro. Those cities were symbols of human engineering excellence in their own times.”
It’s easy to be grandiose but “in their own times” is the key phrase. And JNNURM seems to have a hard time keeping up with its own. “The promise has to be delivered,” says Jai Kumar. Some have been left waiting in hell.