Here’s what citizens are demanding for inclusive and just urban development

Members of civil society organizations, urban poor and worker collectives place their demands that reimagine cities and envision more inclusive and sustainable urban development, so that there is a place for all in these cities.

The National Coalition for Inclusive and Sustainable Urbanization, comprised of a group of people across different parts of the country, is involved in exploring questions pertaining to the city and whom the urban is meant for. The Coalition has recently put out a charter, endorsed by 150+ organizations and 2 lakh signatories across 40 cities, that lays out a number of steps that can be taken to make development in cities more inclusive and sustainable, keeping the real ‘Citymakers’ – urban poor and worker groups – and their rights at the centre of discourse and action.

Right to Housing and Land Title for Slums – “har basti ko ghar aur zameen ka adhikar”

More than 30% of India’s population in cities live in slums that are unprotected and are deprived of basic amenities. In contrast to popular perception, slums occupy only around 5% of urban land in most cities. The housing policies that aim to monetise land under schemes like ‘housing for all’ have exploited land, leading to numerous evictions and displacements of urban poor. It is therefore demanded that land titles be conferred to slum dwellers in Indian cities and their protection is ensured first. Only then can inclusive development benefit more than 15 crore urban poor population.

No Cut-off Dates and Zero Eviction Policy – “bastiyon ka cut-off date ke adhaar pe visthaapan pe rok ”

Numerous basti pockets remain ‘illegal’ without access to services and amenities. This is due to regressive policies of centre and state governments, like cut-off dates that determine the legal status of people’s settlements. This is leading to numerous evictions that lead to homelessness and further marginalisation of urban poor. Moreover these policies also contradict the larger urbanization policy of the country, which is inviting more people to urban areas. It is demanded that such cut-off dates be removed, or cut-off date be as the date of survey, and a zero eviction policy prepared at a national level.    

Slum Upgradation Scheme with provision of basic services on ‘as is where is’ basis – “Basti Sudhar Pariyojana”  

Bastis or slums have always been considered to be filthy and unhygienic. This approach towards solving people’s housing needs has only resulted in evictions and removal of slums in the name of ‘beautification’ of cities. There are numerous successful examples the world over, where it is amply clear that the problem with people’s settlements is not the ‘houses’, but the service provision.

There is a demand for a national scheme that only focuses on the improvement of the settlements on ‘as is, where is’ basis and ensures that there is no diversion of housing debate into the number of houses, but protecting and improving the existing people’s housing wherever possible.  There should be other sections within the existing national housing scheme(s) promoting construction of houses for all segments of population to cater to future needs of the urban.

Introducing a National Housing, Habitat and Urban policy in 2019 – ‘Rashtriya Nagri Awas aur Shehri Neeti’

The National Urban Housing and Habitat Policy of 2007, has mostly remained on paper, with many loopholes in its formulation and gaps in its implementation at the state level. There is a need for a new holistic Habitat and Urban Policy that will pave way for legislative reforms for inclusive and sustainable urban development. This policy should also keep the needs of and protection to informal settlements and livelihoods in Indian cities as a core focus of its agenda. This thereby brings together the diverse policies on housing, transport and sanitation with other emerging issues of quickly urbanising India focusing on marginalized sections and groups (caste, class, gender, disability).

Amongst other pertinent issues, this policy should also broaden the definition of housing to include upgrades, social housing for EWS and LIG, rental housing, migrant hostels, shelters and other housing plans required in Indian cities.  The policy also needs to address the needs of peripheral urbanisation and include the transient population migrating to cities because of rural distress.

‘Smart’ cities to be reconceived as ‘Liveable & Just Cities for All’ – ‘Smart City nahi, balki Rehne Yogya and Nyayi Shehar’

Smart Cities Mission has been a disaster for the urban. The unrealistic plans, focusing on technology centric solutions, prepared by foreign companies and implemented through Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) against the democratic participatory planning principles has resulted in chaos and bypassing of local elected governments. And without any benchmarks and standard definitions, Smart Cities Mission has led to an exclusionary development model. This needs to be replaced by the concept of “Liveable & Just Cities for All” – that begins with the premise of inclusion and sustainability, with clear benchmarks and standards for all the urban poor and worker communities in their cities, and protect the existing people settlements and livelihoods.

Indian cities are also witness to daily occurrences of deaths – the best examples being of urban homeless and manual scavengers. 10 lakh urban homeless, who without adequate shelter as prescribed in National Urban Livelihood Mission – Shelter for Urban Homeless (NULM-SUH) scheme are suffering daily lives of humiliation in the open and in spite of The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 – the inhuman prevalence of manual scavenging continues in Indian cities, leading to the daily occurrence of deaths in the streets and sewers.

Strict implementation of the acts, with appropriate technological and financial support is required to ensure that no more urban poor-workers lives are lost. The whole mission should be channelled through capacitated local elected governments following public consultations and discussions to develop an indigenous model of ‘Liveable & Just cities’.

Particular attention will be on promoting e-governance with support from Indian institutions like IITs and NIC (National Informatics Centre), to monitor and support the improvement in service delivery and implementation of projects.

‘National Action Plan’ to address ‘climate change adaptation and pollution’ for resilient Indian cities

Indian cities are the most polluted in the world and are increasingly becoming unliveable. In the coming years, our 10,000 plus cities are going to be great contributors to global warming and climate change, and the same can be controlled only through appropriate measures. Alongside the threat of pollution, climate change induced disasters are also on the rise in urban areas, leading to further marginalization of urban poor groups who are more vulnerable.

There is a need to target the 100 most polluted/vulnerable cities and take strong measures to control the rising pollution and climate change  threats through integrated relevant policy interventions, one of them being urban planning and development.

Promoting mixed land use, live & work urban form, public transport and non-motorized transport, and sustainable handling of solid waste management are the first steps in the urban adaptive and resilience building of Indian cities.

Basic rights, social security and entitlements for all informal sector workers – “Sabhi Asanghatit Kshetra ke Kaamgaar ko Pehchan aur Samman”

A huge majority of urban informal sector workers – around 20 crore in population, though recognized and protected through numerous existing laws, are not able to avail any benefits of schemes as they lack ‘identity’ as workers. There is a need for willingness to ensure that all workers are registered as workers through various provisions available in the acts/ policies.

In addition, there is a need to reactivate The Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008 (UWSSA) with enough financial provisions in budget to ensure universal minimum social security – like health care, maternity, insurance and pension. The needs of vast number of migrant workers must be addressed and portability of these schemes should be ensured to provide seamless benefits across jurisdictions to workers.

The centre should also fix universal minimum wages and (or) launch a ‘National Urban Employment Scheme’ to provide livelihoods to the informal sector workers to lead a life with ‘dignity’. Women domestic workers – who number around 2 crore in cities and whose work is still not considered work and who are exploited in a patriarchal society – need to be accorded policy protection with a specific act on Domestic Workers.

As women work in the informal sector as domestic workers, street vendors, sex workers, home based workers, waste collectors, construction workers, etc. they should be provided with safe access to public spaces and services. With respect to the on-going demand for amalgamation of labour codes, it is demanded that in the name of universalisation of benefits, the dilution of different acts/boards that exist for different workers be stopped and be maintained separately, so as to contribute to the specific needs of workers.

Street vending to be protected and accommodated in Indian cities – “Rehri patri/ sadak vikretako ko vending ka adhikar”

Street Vendors (SV) Act ratified in 2014 has not been implemented and street vendors – including chaiwalas and pakodewalas – who number more than 2 crore are being harassed by local authorities and state agencies on a daily basis. It is demanded that street vendors and their positive contributions be recognized, and their survey and registration carried out in mission mode, as specified in the SV Act 2014.

Thereafter, Town Vending Committees (TVCs) must be constituted through elections and space for street vending designated in urban planning processes and schemes. Also access to social security schemes must be ensured as for other informal sector workers.

Implementation of 74thConstitutional Amendment Act (CAA), and devolution of powers and finances – “74th ve sanshodhan ka amal aur adhikar aur vith ka vikendrikaran”

After 25 years of 74th CAA, there is a need for more autonomy and power to City Governments (ULBs). Increasingly there is a trend of re-centralization of urban governance, SPVs being the best case of the numerous examples. It is expected that the finances and powers of city planning and provision of services controlled presently by the centre and state governments should be handed over to capacitate ULBs, which ensure that urban planning is localized in scale (through democratic participatory processes like Ward Committees), and thereby make it inclusionary for urban poor groups.

Required resources and capacities to ULBs have to be imparted by the central and state governments and real time ward expenditure data should be put  in public domain which is accessible to all, leading towards transparency of functions and functionaries of the ULB’s.

Increase gender budget allocation in addressing the issue of lack of Dalit women representation. And thereby, get rid of  the ‘SPV model’ of governance mechanisms granted through Article 243Q proviso that dilutes the fundamental principles of constitution.

Adequate provision and formalization of human resources in ULBs – “Shehri nikaayon mein paryapt manav sansadhan ka hona”

Alongside more autonomy for ULBs, there is a need to address the huge shortage of human resources in the cities due to which the lack of services get exacerbated. ‘Outsourcing’ on contract basis as the main mode of employment and service provision has led to a decline of quality of city functions like water provision, sanitation, solid waste, sewage management etc.

There is an urgent need to have a policy that incentivises regularization of municipal workers, who are at the moment being exploited in sub-human working conditions and are bereft of social security. Also all city governments should have greater control over staffing, with powers to recruit staff to match their requirements directly and from specialized cadres available to them.

5 percent of GDP for cities – “sheharon ke vikas ke liye 5 percent sakal gharelu udpaad (GDP) rakha jaaye”

Indian cities contribute 70 percent of GDP and 90 percent of revenues, but are in dire need of resources being ploughed back into the development of the urban. Now only about 1 percent of the GDP is being invested in our cities and their development through major schemes and programmes from the centre, which is less than some of the subsidies for the well-off like LPG and Petroleum. There is a need to assign at least 5 percent of the GDP to the various developmental programmes in cities from Centre to the States and consequently ULBs, ensuring devolution and decentralization of powers as envisaged in 74th CAA. This will benefit more than 10,000 small and big cities in India, accounting for 50 percent of India’s population by 2030.

Women-friendly cities, accessible to all 

Safety for women in Indian cities have become the most talked about agenda. The accessibility and safety of women in Indian cities have been reduced to CCTVs and more vigilant policing. We wish to demand a departure from the same using urban planning to envisage engendered & women-friendly cities. This may be achieved first through urban development that keeps women and children at the centre. For example, housing, where housing design is gender responsive, and the housing projects should be located in places where an ecosystem of services (public transport, water, sanitation, etc.) is assured.

Secondly, the only way cities will be safe for women is through a more visible presence of women on the streets; this can be achieved by ensuring more pavements and access to public transport, focus should be to encourage mix-use developments so that live-work characteristic favoured by women in informal sectors (workers like home-based, waste-pickers and domestic workers) is supported.

Thirdly, as a means to encourage more women migrant working population in Indian cities – working women hostels for every 5 lakh population in the city, day care centres and livelihood centres should be set up in every ward.

Fourthly,  there is a need to ensure that all our cities have free and accessible toilets in prominent public spaces for women and transgender.

Lastly, there should be regularisation of local sensitisation of government departments, social media, corporate etc  in realising the visibility of women and transgender in our cities.


Jan Vikas Society | National Hawkers Federation | Stree Jagruti Samiti | Nav Chetna Mahasangh | Mahendra Julaya Ganeshnagar Samiti | Ganpat Kale Shramik Hawkers Sanghatan | Deen Bandhu Samaj Samayog | Centre for Advocacy and Research | State Slum Federation Madhya Pradesh Navnirman Manch | Maharashtra Rajya Beghar Adhikar Abhiyan | National Domestic Worker’s Movement | Fernando Domestic Workers Union | Tikender Panwar, Former Deputy Mayor, Shimla | Anand  Lakhan, Housing Activist | Aravind Unni, Activist and Urban Researcher | Zuber Shaik, Social Activist | Rafi Malek, Social Activist | Krishnarjun Burvey, Informal workers Activist | Brijesh Arya, Member of Maharashtra State Shelter Monitoring Committee | Evita, Urban Researcher |  Rosallin Pattnaik, Civil Society representative | Sonu, Social Activist |  Anirudh Singh, Social Activist | Rose Paite, Domestic Worker Right Activist | Geeta Menon, Women’s Right Activist | Dinesh Mishra, Domestic Worker Right Activist … and many more

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