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Lok Sabha 2024: A people’s manifesto for urban areas

Shehri Rashtriya Andolankari Manch (SHRAM) has released a ‘Shehri Sankalp Patr’ with their collective vision for the marginalised in cities.

Cities in India are set to host half of the population by 2030, driving the country’s ‘growth’ and ‘development’. Urbanisation is now being seen as a key focus area of public policy and ‘solution’ to ‘development needs’ of our country. However, this rapid urbanisation has brought numerous challenges, particularly for the urban poor, working class, and informal workers who struggle to access housing, livelihoods, and basic rights like water, healthcare, and education. Despite contributing significantly to cities, their rights have often been ignored and violated until now.

Over the past year, community groups, workers’ collectives, and people’s movements with decades-long experience from over 15 states have come together to deliberate on urban issues and the paradigm of urban development. From these deliberations, the Shehri Rashtriya Andolankari Manch (SHRAM) or the National Forum of Urban Struggles, an important initiative of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), emerged, which has prepared a Shehri Sankalp Patr or People’s Manifesto for Cities – outlining our collective vision for India’s cities.

We have crafted the “Urban Manifesto, outlining a vision for inclusive, just, and sustainable cities, focusing on the urban poor, working classes, women, and youth. This People’s Manifesto for Urban India calls for urgent action, emphasising human rights, constitutional values, ecological sustainability and participatory city development. It serves as a pledge and a call to action for the State and all stakeholders to create more equitable and thriving urban communities.

Zero evictions, ending monetisation of land, and putting an end to oppressive bulldozer rule and corrupt builder regime:

  • We urgently advocate an end to forced evictions of communities and a shift in policy, focus away from the monetization of land promoted by the real estate builder regime.
  • Our manifesto calls for legal reforms to recognise and ensure the land use pattern towards social and economic justice in cities.
  • We also propose that the State initiates affordable social housing programmes that cater to the entire spectrum of housing requirements in cities.
  • We call for an end to the bulldozer regime and the illegal eviction processes that are used to disempower minorities and marginalised communities.
kannagi nagar
Chennai’s resettlement colonies face poor civic amenities even as continued evictions take place in the city. Pic: Laasya Shekhar

Upholding the right to housing and urban land for bastis/slums, with civic amenities for all urban working people:

  • Our manifesto calls for legal reforms to recognise and protect the fundamental right to housing as a part of Right to Life enshrined in the Constitution.
  • We demand a central legislation on Housing and Shelter Rights Act for urban areas.
  • We advocate for ensuring the right to land and secure tenure for all settlements built by people, while acknowledging the co-operatives and agency of communities on their self built housing.
  • Development plan of every city should have 25% of land reserved for social housing and should be used to address issues of inequality of land distribution.
  • Arbitrary cut-off dates that deem settlements of the poor as ‘illegal’ are unconstitutional and should be removed from public policy on housing.
  • Basic infrastructure and services such as electricity, water, solid waste management, drainage, and sanitation should be provided to all households regardless of the legal status of their house.
  • Access to social infrastructure for primary health, education and other services like PDS/ ration shops within a radius of 2 km should also be provided to all households regardless of the legal status of their house.

Enactment of Urban Livelihoods Guarantee Act, ensuring livelihoods with dignity for urban resilience:

  • Establish an Urban Employment Guarantee Act (UEGA) to offer a robust safety net for urban workers with fair and dignified wages.
  • We demand for the UEGA to improve urban resilience, concentrating on city infrastructure, ecology, environment, climate resilience, and the preservation of urban commons, green spaces, and water systems through the existing and additional livelihoods generated.
  • Drawing from UEG models in Rajasthan, Odisha, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, we advocate for a nation-wide initiative guaranteeing at least 150 days of work per year in urban areas. This legislation should aim at providing consistent employment opportunities, promoting economic stability and social well-being for residents in urban areas.

Read more: As Delhi aims for Bhalswa landfill closure, thousands worry about livelihood loss

Withdraw anti-worker labour codes and ensure a fair policy regime for all urban-based workers, across sectors, upholding labour rights and social security:

  • The manifesto calls for the withdrawal of new labour codes, advocating for worker referendums on future changes. It emphasises inclusive policies for informal and marginalised workers, covering registration, living wages, migrant worker recognition and facilities – entitlements irrespective of location, and social security to all workers.
  • We demand enforcement of the Street Vendors Act 2014 and the full protection of Street Vendors and their livelihoods.
  • We demand restoration and effective implementation of the Building and Other Construction Workers Act (BoCW Act) for Construction Workers, with efficient functioning of welfare boards, and focus on welfare, using funds for construction workers without diversions.
  • We demand Domestic workers, Scheme Workers etc should be brought under the ambit of minimum wage laws everywhere. For their social security, distinct tripartite boards based on comprehensive national laws must be introduced to regulate their employment and working conditions.
  • We demand the holistic implementation of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) 2016 Guidelines and protect the right to work for waste pickers. Waste collectors should be given official recognition and legal access to waste should be ensured.
  • We demand that Sanitation Workers be formalised as regular employees of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs). There must be effective implementation of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
  • We demand that Home-based workers (HBWs) be given identity cards and fair wage determination based on work type and skill levels, alongside state-level minimum wage implementation.
  • We demand a legislation for Platform based Workers, ensuring their social protection, recognition as workers and not partners, minimum wages – rates, and ensure an end to the exploitation through app-based companies.
  • We also call for de-criminalisation of sex work and upholding the legal and human rights and dignity of sex workers, dialogue with their unions and implementation of orders of the Supreme Court.
  • Work sheds or common workplaces in bastis with facilities like toilets and creches are crucial for a supportive work environment for women workers.
  • We demand effective implementation of existing worker acts, continuation of state level worker boards and propose city-wide food programmes, healthcare for workers, and education for migrant workers’ children.
  • We demand government-provided affordable housing along with employer provided housing and common centres for work and leisure. Worker-friendly urban spaces with amenities like toilets and resting areas are needed, along with gender equality in the workforce. The goal is to create a dignified, liveable, and respectful environment for all workers.

Addressing specific concerns of those marginalised within cities due to caste, class, religious or gender-based oppression:

  • Marginalised populations, including the urban poor, migrant workers, women, elderly, children as well as Dalits, Adivasis, NT-DNT people, persons living with disabilities, homeless, and transgender individuals, muslims and other religious minorities, linguistic minorities face different forms of discrimination.
  • Systemic oppression based on caste, gender, religion, class, and other exploitative social structures is evident in urban spaces where these communities live and work.
  • The manifesto calls for an Anti-Discrimination Framework for Housing, Livelihoods, and Living in Urban Areas, aiming to reimagine cities for social inclusion. While there are some anti-discrimination laws, none specifically address urban spatial divisions and discrimination.
  • The manifesto proposes inclusion parameters and frameworks for social inclusion in cities, including policies for gender, anti-caste, religious divide, the elderly, and the disabled.
  • We demand a 15% allocation of municipal budgets for developing these areas and bringing their services and standards on par with other areas in the city.

Dealing with the deepening climate crisis and its impact on urban working people ensuring their inclusion in city climate action policies:

  • Cities frequently find themselves excluded from climate action planning and preparation, with a policy blind spot in many Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and a lack of representation in debates about climate justice and loss and damage funds.
  • The urban poor and marginal communities are forced to suffer daily loss and damage, particularly within the informal sector, during extreme climate events such as high heat and rain. Documenting, categorising, and quantifying these impacts is vital for integrating the losses into climate action policies.
  • Preserving green spaces, water bodies, green cover, mangroves, rivers and urban commons is crucial for maintaining biodiversity, fostering resilience against climate change, and enhancing the overall quality of urban life.
  • Strict implementation of all environmental laws for addressing the increasing air, water, noise pollution across cities.

Review of unsustainable mega infrastructure projects; need for decentralised urban planning

  • Cities are investing in large infrastructure projects, but these are ecologically & financially unsustainable, and do not benefit large numbers of common people.. There’s a need for universal, affordable public amenities, with a priority in poor areas.
  • Urban development should focus on Housing for All, Basic Needs fulfilment, Affordable PublicTransportation, Housing for Migrant Workers, Rental Housing, and Sustainable Waste Management. This redefinition should aim for inclusive cities meeting all residents’ needs.
  • Overhauling urban planning policies is crucial, shifting towards green, blue, and public good infrastructures. This includes space for informal settlements, urban commons, and public green-blue networks.
  • Planning must anticipate climate impacts. Pending reforms in urban planning offer an opportunity for change.

Transparent and accountable urban governance through a revitalised 74th amendment with grievance redressal mechanisms

  • Currently, decision-making processes often exclude the voices of working people and the urban poor. Precisely why, revitalising the 74th Constitutional Amendment is crucial for deepening decentralisation and ensuring the Right to Participatory Planning. Strengthening decentralised governance through area sabhas and ward sabhas is essential, drawing lessons from effective examples in Chennai, Kerala, and Karnataka.
  • We demand a paradigm shift towards embracing the Right to Participatory Planning, Budgeting, and Decision Making is necessary, allowing the most marginalised to claim their Right to the City.
  • City/urban development plans should be inclusive of and with budget, based on community level plans resolved by basti sabhas. Institutionalising mechanisms for participation, providing adequate time and space for community engagement, and ensuring that all city level projects, plans, schemes undergo a participatory process through regular area and ward sabhas are vital. Establishing local, city-wide, publicly accessible data systems for basic amenities and budgets, along with functional grievance redressal systems, is essential for effective urban governance.

Equitable healthcare, education, transport, nutrition and other rights for urban communities:

  • Ensuring equitable access to healthcare, education, transport, and other rights for urban communities in India requires innovative policies promoting inclusive urban development and empowering marginalised communities.
  • Improving the implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act is crucial, along with providing new opportunities for urban youth and children learning in varied languages, such as urban libraries and Anganwadi centres. Skilling and livelihood centres are also necessary. The New Education Policy promoting privatisation needs to be rolled back.
  • Recognizing the right to public transport is essential, while shifting away from private vehicles to sustainable modes. Policy measures like parking fees and congestion pricing should discourage private vehicle use. Urban transport should be a subject under the 74th Amendment, ensuring walking, cycling, and public transport are central to urban transport policies for equitable and efficient urban transport.
  • Ensuring the right to healthcare and strengthening health infrastructure is needed in cities that requires local community-level clinics and an overhaul of urban health systems that ensure access to urban communities.
  • For addressing the nutritional needs of urban communities, community kitchens, urban farms, along with further broadening of PDS in urban areas is required. PDS/ration should be based on the Right to Food Act 2013, and it should be with 15kg grains, oil and pulses, proportionate other essential items. Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) should not be promoted for PDS.

An end to hate and divisiveness; promoting unity among all urban communities:

  • Urban communities share the experience of marginalisation, yet there are persistent efforts to divide the urban poor and workers, along religious and other lines and target hate, violence against minorities.
  • Programmes and policies that deepen these divisions, leading to the segregation of our cities into ghettos and along communal lines, must cease.
  • Policies that deepen constitutional, secular values should be implemented to foster unity and cohesion in urban areas.
  • Promoting inclusivity and embracing diversity can help build stronger, more resilient urban communities that work together for the common good.

Note: This is republished with minimal editing from a Press Note from the collective, Shehri Rashtriya Andolankari Manch (SHRAM) or the National Forum of Urban Struggles, an important initiative of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM)

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  1. Umang Kumar says:

    This manifesto is surely very impressive. As someone not much in the know of how such manifestos work, my thoughts –

    a) What is the target audience of the manifesto?
    b) What is the plan of distribution of the manifesto and following up?
    c) Is there a minimum charter of expectations or a minimum set of demands that must be fulfilled in time-bound manner?

    Given that most urban spaces in India are not able to ensure the very basics for healthy, productive living, what are the realistic expectations and what might be the procedure to gave those accomplished?

    Included in the manifesto are a range of rights-based and social-practices-based demands: from affordable housing, equitable access to resources, to justice across entrenched social divisions such as caste and gender. So, the demands seem to require fairly short term administrative fixes and much longer term social justice work. Maybe I am just trying to grasp the more focused vision and the hopes that the document encapsulates.

    Best regards and best wishes for this much needed endeavor –

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