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Engaged Citizens, Responsive Cities


By 2030, it is estimated, more than half of India’s population will be living in cities. Rapid urbanisation has lead to strain on civic services, in particular sanitation demands. Keeping India’s cities clean cannot be merely the responsibility of municipalities. It is critical that all residents of a city and their civil society associations actively engage in this endeavour. It places a responsibility on civil society to learn to demand their rights, to be heard and be included in the planning and monitoring of civic services.

Civil society in urban India is largely fragmented, weak and often working at cross-purposes. The divides along class, caste, gender, age and conflicting interests make them ineffective in exacting accountability from public institutions. The capacity of the urban poor in particular to engage with municipalities to ensure effective service delivery is extremely weak. The largely unorganised urban poor have remained vulnerable due to lack of organisational leadership and intermediation capacities, and lack of access to information and resources to become active and independent agents of change. The approach of “development through people’s participation” is not very widely utilised by municipalities in India. Middle class India does not appreciate the contribution of the urban poor; rather they see them as the main cause for the unsanitary conditions in cities. Market and traders’ associations, though interested in “clean cities”, are apathetic to actively working with multiple stakeholders to engage with municipalities and hold them accountable. Most importantly, front-line sanitation workers, who are mostly from the lower (scheduled) castes and are usually women, are not valued for their contribution in keeping the city clean.

PRIA has begun a four-year long intervention to Strengthen Civil Society of the Urban Poor to Participate in Planning and Monitoring of Sanitation Services. The proposed project across 3 cities in India (Ajmer in Rajasthan, Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh, and Muzaffarpur in Bihar) primarily aims to strengthen civil society of the urban poor through capacity building activities to enable them to become active citizens, and use the new skills learnt to participate in the planning (at city level) and monitoring (at the ward level) of sanitation services. The principles of adult learning/experiential learning and participatory methodology will underpin PRIA’s capacity building interventions. Capacitated urban poor civil society will be better able to amplify their voice and engage with municipalities after the authorities have been sensitised to listen and connect.

Sensitised institutions and capacitated civil society, along with a diverse set of other stakeholders (RWAs, traders’ associations, business associations) will be enabled to come together to prepare a city-wide inclusive sanitation plan.
Sanitation workers are key to keeping a city’s roads clean, in garbage collection and disposal, and cleaning public toilets. By empowering front-line women sanitation workers to value their contribution and enhancing dignity in the work they do will provide a substantial boost to the efforts to keep India’s cities clean.

Advocacy at the state government level will help in creating a more open and conducive environment to supporting participatory planning at the city level. Policy and practice oriented documents and their dissemination will aid learning across cities and institutions.

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