Development towards an Egalitarian city

The creations and the creators

We often talk about social equity and development towards an egalitarian city, but often the aspirations of a metropolis curbs the life of communities at the bottom of the pyramid. This is quite evident in the case of an Ahmedabad Slum ‘GulBai Tekra’ or commonly known as Hollywood.

People of GulBai Tekra make a living by making PoP sculptures for different Hindu festivals. A stroll along the alleys presents a creative picture of different gods in making, but a little deeper plunge reveals a different reality. Many slums have been affected by the Sabarmati River Front Development, but this one is very different. To keep the river clean the government have banned creation of bigger sculptures (because usually these sculptures are immersed in water after the festival). The effort and time spent on making a small sculpture or a bigger one is almost the same, but the bigger one use to fetch more money than the smaller ones. Well a small legislation has changed their lives, now they work more than before to earn lesser!

Clearly it is common sense that these sculptures does not pollute as much as the industries in Ahmedabad, a walk along the ‘Narol-Naroda road’ is threatening to lungs, the city is highly polluted, but still very less is being done towards the major polluters.

Well more than a livelihood issue, this has other impacts. Now the police come to their slum and check for bigger sculptures, and obviously they get harassed.

This constant fear of the authorities and the unending race to earn daily bread makes them highly vulnerable to be politically exploited. Actually these situations make them form a strong community bonding and thus they are transformed from individual voters to a vote bank.

Lot get said, furthermore get imagined, but nothing gets done. Their point of first contact the corporator or the councillor have no incentive to perform!

Political awareness and activism at a grass root level is necessary to bring in any change and develop a sense of equity in a city. Local politicians – the ward councillors are never competent enough in most of the urban areas, if so then none of the grand schemes that the central and state government keeps envisaging will ever come true.

When British started election at municipal levels, then it was the entry point for politicians, thus a level of competence was automatically required to discuss municipal issues. I guess the departure from this happened in 1920s when great politicians moved from local to national level – Nehru moved out of Allahabad, Sardar Patel moved out of Ahmedabad and Bose moved out of Calcutta municipalities. The immediate focus on national movements diluted the municipal issues, and ever since municipal elections are fought on diluted urban issues; e.g last municipal election in Delhi was dealing with terrorism … well when security is out of the purview of the municipality!

Cities need to get stronger self-government, well even though the 74th constitutional amendments paved the road for it, but it is hardly seen anywhere.

The visit was done along with
…..Harini Shah – an architect who runs her own practice in Ahmedabad.
…..Kenny P Joy – an architect, urban designer and a regional planner
Along with help from
…..Chintan Kansara – an architect who runs his own practice in Delhi
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