Name: Karuna Gopal

Bio: Karuna Gopal was one of the members who developed the City Development Strategy of Hyderabad and she was one of the leading contestants of the Lead India Campaign launched by the Times of India. Karuna Gopal is the President of Foundation for Futuristic Cities. FFC is into Urban Advisory Services in the areas of City Visioning, City Branding Institutional Reforms, E- Governance implementation, Stakeholder alignment and Strategic Communication for driving the reform agenda. Prior to urban foray, she was the Founder President of Confluence Consulting , a Strategy Consulting firm with a portfolio of clients ranging from Multinationals to homegrown Indian firms cutting across IT , Telecom , Manufacturing , Biotech/ Informatics, Pharma and Knowledge sectors.Karuna Gopal served on the Public Policy panel of CII and Hyderabad Management Association. Lectures at MDPs targeted at Policy Makers, Corporate Leaders at Indian Institute of Management (IIM - A), Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI) and Centre for Good Governance (CGG). She was a Faculty / Mentor for WBI (World Bank Institute)/ ASCI Urban Management Certification Programme. She has also addressed many a seminar organised by GOI, CII and FICCI.

Posts by karunagopal:

    Can Hyderabad be made livable?

    May 12th, 2010

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    If livable cities give all citizens equal opportunity to lead healthy, comfortable and safe lives, how livable is our Hyderabad ? Here’s a citizen activist’s perspective.

    Doctors prescribe half-an-hour walk everyday, among other things to stay healthy. For those who cannot afford the luxury of a gym, walking to offices is an option. How pedestrian-friendly are our Hyderabad streets? Fast food is fast becoming a pass time for children. How many outdoor choices can we show them in parks, municipal swimming pools and skating rinks? For teenagers who started relying on the Facebook for facing life’s challenges, what are the city avenues for adventure learning and sport facilities?

    The footpath to road ratio is poor in Hyderabad and the walkability index is a mere 0.68, making it one of the worst cities in India for pedestrian friendliness. With 30 lakh vehicles plying, Hyderabad has the highest density of traffic in India. Vehicle to road length ratio is bad, respirable particulate matter (RPM) several notches above the acceptable levels, 50% of the road accident victims are pedestrians and billions of working hours are lost with people stuck in traffic. Captive walkers may not be walking by choice; they have no access to public transport!

    My 65-year-old neighbour became healthy after a neighbourhood park appeared. He walks daily, made friends, does yoga and laughs his way to health. Studies on SROI (Social Return on Investment) show that parks also serve as instruments to forge communal, community bonding, resolve family conflicts, encourage informal official meetings reducing pollution.

    KBR Park that has been put in the league of Central Park of New York and Hyde Park of London is accessible only to Jubilee Hills residents. The rest of the city has not been so lucky. With just 600 parks developed in an inequitable fashion for eight million, citizens are desperately waiting to see parks in the 2,200 open spaces meant for that purpose. Currently, most colonies house fenced open spaces with faded boards declaring GHMC’s ownership!

    My maid who lives in a slum, fed up with contaminated water, disease burden and mounting medical bills asked me how much we pay for water. After quick calculations announced that she is willing to pay at the same rate! She just educated me about opportunity cost and her coping costs, technical term for lack of services and coping mechanisms used by the poor! In fact, all WTP (willingness to pay) studies prove that slums want basic services like water and sanitation and they are willing to pay for those. It is the government that is unwilling to charge!

    With 1,485 slums and more being created, our city has to act fast or Hyderabad while legitimising the illegitimate may well morph into a mammoth slum! Is it just insipid institutions, defunct departments and procedural pains that are responsible for this state of affairs?

    With a build-now, regularize-later culture, jurisdictional schizophrenia making a municipal ward nobody’s baby, multiplicity of agencies, conflicting executive and political interests, lake encroachments, lopsided development, rusted water pipes, gushing sewers, our greater city has to deal with systemic problems to get anywhere near livable status. Those, who expressed concern when Hyderabad became “greater” that it will have greater challenges of integration, providing equitable services and staying accountable to a larger population stand vindicated today! Why, the much hyped up Hi-Tech City has a maze of optic fibre lines, but sadly no sewerage lines!

    Governance framework is partly responsible for this state of affairs. Hyderabad, though a metropolis now is still a state’s baby. Despite the 74th constitutional amendment Act, it is not the city but the state that decides the urban infrastructure projects, levies and collects taxes. The state also interferes with the local governments property tax by deciding the tax base, rates and modes of assessment leaving the city government disempowered and financially weak. Though JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission) aims to rectify that, shuttle negotiations with the state have been leading to delays and sub-optimal development of Hyderabad.

    The City Development Plan of Hyderabad (CDP) that accessed the JNNURM funds for the city was sent without the mandatory stakeholder consultations. There is also a community participation law for urban projects just as there is a JNNURM framework for citizen participation. Citizens do not question enough. The government does not share enough. Town hall meetings that are the purest form of democratic governing are missing in our city. Citizens have to participate actively in city development. We must realize that managing cities is not just government business alone. It is ours too.

    We can make Hyderabad a livable city if citizens wear a reformer hat to cleanse institutions, an activist hat to question investment decisions and a partner hat to accelerate equitable development!

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    Inclusive cities and special children

    March 29th, 2010

    Creative Commons License photo credit: runran

    Talking about inclusive cities has become fashionable today. It appears that conclaves and round tables on urban issues cannot be driven without this thematic session finding a niche place in the entire discussion campaign. If social inclusion is all about reducing inequalities between the least advantaged groups and the rest of society by closing the opportunity gap, are all aspects of social exclusion discussed at these forums?

    High apathy

    In India, how many cities have included the so-called “Special” in their development plans? Can any city boast of sign boards, caution notices specially designed for them? They need to be escorted everywhere and protected at every step. When persuaded by a local NGO, the Chennai Municipal Corporation made available special play equipment in a park. No other city proactively took measures to ensure that this group leads their lives without being dehumanised. By not providing facilities, that make them live with dignity aren’t our Indian cities practising social exclusion?

    The WHO estimated that 10 per cent of the world’s population suffers from disabilities. Extending the logic, nearly 100 million in India are disabled. Though the first systematic census in India was taken way back in 1872, India included the disabled only in the 2001 Census! Government apathy apart, lack of awareness about disability, its various manifestations, myths and misconceptions places a bigger burden on the disabled and their kin. Pervasive Developmental Disorder includes Autism, and a good percentage of autistics are savants and geniuses. While Dyslexics and Autistics get labeled as “retarded”, celebrities like Farah Khan go on air and say that movie critics are ‘retarded’ because they did not rate her film high!! We hear the word retarded that is used very loosely even by educated professionals in their speeches. Is it humour or lack of humaneness?

    Capable but confined

    Not many realise that potential national resources are being locked up at homes fearing social ridicule. Research at Oxford speaks of “Genius genes in Autistic children “and other cognitive studies pronounced that geniuses like Einstein, Oscar Wilde, Bill Gates are on the Autistic spectrum. Just as parents confess that they hide the problem, teachers admit that these special children get bullied at schools. Here’s a case of Capable but Denied Potential not translating into performance.

    The London School of Economics, in a recent study, estimated that the U.S. will have an economic burden of $ 410 billion if the mentally challenged are not empowered. India has its own share of economic Cost of Inaction. Collective action by city authorities, schools, the ministry of social justice and corporate groups becomes imperative if we want to have inclusive cities. They can conceive mechanisms, forge viable partnerships and push this agenda of social inclusion forward. The corporate sector is parking its funds in adult literacy, primary education, women and gender related issues; we are yet to see a well-worked out programme in this much neglected area.

    Concentrating on this aspect of inclusion can reduce social tensions created by inequity. The active participation and ownership of the relatives of this marginalised group is critical to drive the growth agenda of the city.

    The Jawaharlal National Urban Renewal Mission is the flagship programme of the Indian government aimed at infusing life into cities. The identified 63 Mission Cities can include this agenda in a small way to inspire faith in the people. Inclusion aside, for the time being, can we at least talk of Tolerant Cities ?

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