The perfect is the enemy of the good!

Ahmedabad - Gujarat, India
Creative Commons License photo credit: Emmanuel Dyan

Recently I had an opportunity to participate in two engaging dialogues. One, a presentation by Patricia Clarke Annez on her paper- Ahmedabad – Building a Liveable City for all and the second, ‘Dreams and Planning’ delivered by architect and urban and regional planner Prof. Edgar F. N. Ribeiro, and Prof. A. G. Krishna Menon as the discussant.

It was insightful and made one ponder on how ‘centrally sponsored’ mission schemes that still appear extremely top-down in nature, even if ‘implementation’ shall be carried off by the State, can be relevant in the Indian context.

Patricia shared her study that evolved from the Slum Networking Programme of the 90s in Ahmedabad. Her key hypothesis was there is no ‘choice’ but to offer a decent dignified place to live for all – including slum dwellers. This implies that to grant the slum dwellers the dignity of life, which they have a right to, it is essential to invest in these slums- irrespective and independent of central sponsored schemes. Investment in these slums that is required is basic neighborhood infrastructure. Cities cannot ‘wait’ for providing ‘housing for all’. In all practical terms, development will always race over the supply. Therefore, slums tend to be the hard reality of all developing economies.  She cited a case example of SNP in Ahmedabad which was able to upgrade few of its slums, where even community contributed 10% of the total amount towards this upgradation. This programme has now come to a halt due to the strong luring forces of mission schemes such as JnNURM and Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY).

The second discussion was about Dreams and Planning, the dream of a planner/ political leader/ bureaucrat/ artist/ a visionary all translated into a ‘planning’ document. Prof Ribeiro took us down to the memory lane of ‘Planning of Delhi’- the Master Plan of 1962. The vision of Mr. Nehru and Ford Foundation translated into first ‘Land Use Plan’ of India.

Prof Menon, critiqued this process of dreaming –  given the constraints and the context that Indian cities are subjected to, shouldn’t there be an ‘Indian way of dreaming’, rather than translating an idea of a Parisian / European city down on the geography of an Indian City. A country which is predominantly ‘poor’, a country which has ‘archaic democracy’, a country which is glorified by its heterogeneity, a country where community is known to be ‘argumentative’ and where consensus is not a black and white reality– needs its own ‘Mechanism of Dreaming’.

Are the centrally sponsored schemes, with ‘one size fits all’ approach ignoring the realities of Indian context? Cities where tenure problems shall take years to resolve, where the debate on central /state/private land prolongs, a growth rate that will always supersede the infrastructure supply, governance which lacks accountability and transparency – are these cities ready for a ‘Slum Free’ India, or are these cities just calling for a ‘Right to Dignity’, without ‘waiting’ for the perfect to happen. As Patricia quoted ‘People can find perfect, when they get the good!’

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