National Workshop on ‘Realising the Right to City in India’

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When: April, 16 to 17,  2018, New Delhi
Organisers: Right to the City Campaign in collaboration with Centre for Urban Policy and Governance, TISS and YUVA

This is a closed workshop and is open to only invited participants.

The ‘Right to City’ (RTC) concept introduced by Henri Lefebvre in the 1960s as a praxis has now been formally adopted as part of the ‘New Urban Agenda’ by the UN international Conference on Habitats in 2017. At least a few national constitutions such as those in Brazil, Ecuador and some in Africa have included the term and some of its principles. The formal inclusion of RTC in the urban agenda has not led to either greater clarity on the concept nor has it led to a greater commitment to more inclusive and just cities. In fact, even in countries where the agenda has been instituted in national constitutions, cities remain sites of contestations within an overall ethos of pursuit of capital. Beyond operationalisation, the debate around whether RTC is a moral claim or a justiciable claim, whether it is a set of individual or collective rights, whether RTC comprises of rights in the city or rights to the city; the political processes and the institutional sites for realisation of right to city remain.

According to Jordi Borja, “the development and legitimization of civil rights depend on a threefold process: i) cultural, hegemony of the values that underlie these rights and the act of demonstrating them; ii) social, citizen mobilization to achieve their legalization and iii) the creation of political and institutional mechanisms and procedures that ensure their implementation, to formalize, consolidate and develop policies and thus make them effective”. The RTC needs to be conceptualised and realised at all these levels.

What is the vision/s of a city as conceptualised by RTC? What new dimensions are added to realisation of rights by the notion of city? What claims to the city are various struggles and movements around the country making? For whom? How far or close are these claims from the existing policies/ governance mechanisms? What new moral or strategic strength does the RTC lend to these struggles? These questions are at the heart of the organisation of a National Workshop on ‘Realising the Right to city in India’ in New Delhi on April 16 and 17 2018.

The Indian context is characterised by a scenario in which several aspects of urbanisation and what is happening in the urban are ‘in transition’ and contested. These range from defining the urban to the nature of urban governance and design of institutions to the meaning of justice and inclusion for diverse social groups who contribute to cities in myriad ways but whose contributions remain unrecognised and whose presence in the city is an exercise in indignity. The process of claim making for many groups in the country has largely been made from the frame of human rights at large and very rarely through an urban lens; mobilisation has been at regional and national scales and hardly ever at an urban scale. The last few years have seen enhanced claim making and assertion of toilers and settlers in urban areas of varied scales across the country and moved beyond the restrictive geography of metros. Above all, the turn of the new millennium and the launch of urban policies that espouse ’urbanisation as the growth engine ‘for the country has lent a new intensity and urgency to localised struggles around rights and claims in the city, to the city and to retain an open access the city.

The key question here is ‘what ‘is the city or cityness to which one is laying a claim to? Is there a form, nature of the city that we envisage? How similar or distinct is it from the Indian city of the past, today, or that which is emerging?

The Indian constitution is a highly progressive document that lays down the basis for the realisation of several rights; yet the time when the constitution was imagined was one of a largely rural India and thus it is often unable to effectively support the claims in an emerging urban India where citizenship is itself contested and where claims and welfare are tied to local residency and legality of property rights. The regimes through which the disenfranchised could claim the city are regimes that rested upon ‘humanistic claims’. These regimes are being significantly transformed. The promise of democratic, local governance is far from being realised and governance is being imagined in techno-bureaucratic terms. At the same time, concepts like housing, participation, and empowerment are being significantly redefined.

What then are the paths for realisation of RTC? Do we engage the city as well the particular groups whose claims are being expanded? How? Which spaces lend themselves to such democratisation? Does such engagement require new techniques, tools, resources? The experience of the Indian city is a highly variegated one, differing across scales but also across sectors and themes. Thus, some of the most rapid changes are being experienced in sectors such as housing, transport and infrastructure building. Other sectors are experiencing changes at a different space and realms. The institutions of governance are fragmented, and cultures of governance are experienced as sectorally specific. Claims of groups adversely impacted by processes thus necessarily must be sectorally mediated. This sectoral division creates multiple contradictions and can create lines of conflict among groups of toilers and settlers. Yet alternate ideas of cities also need to have a sectoral specificity, if they are to have some substance. What is the balance of substance and process in realisation of RTC? What is the meaning of RTC within thematics and across them? In short, how can right to city be viewed through the lens of water? Does solid waste offer a distinct conundrum of contestations as opposed to water or housing? Are some dimensions of RTC more critical than others? Which are they?

The National Workshop on ‘Realising the Right to City in India’ is envisaged as a dialogue on RTC across practitioners, activists and academics in cities across India, engaging with questions such as the ones raised above. The Centre for Urban Policy and Governance, TISS has been researching on this theme for the past couple of years, YUVA – the co organisers of this workshop have initiated a RTC campaign with multiple partners in 2015. The understanding derived in the process of research- practice forms a basis for the workshop. The objective is to discuss the way the concept is being operationalised in multiple realms, its utility and how it is being moulded through struggles in varied ‘urban’ sites in India, and its relationship to other concepts such as human rights and citizenship. Besides this ‘reflection’ over practice, we also hope that the shared understanding also contributes to an advance, a networked practice and a sharpening of new tools and ideas across various groups and academics in working towards a ‘progressive, democratic and just city’.

The schedule for the workshop is given below:

Right to the City Workshop

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