Settlement Improvement Committees in Muzaffarpur Empowered to Participate
Since January 2016, PRIA has been motivating community members of slums in Muzaffarpur, Bihar to form Settlement Improvement Committees (SICs) as a means to come together and demand change from municipal authorities. To date, 7 SICs have been formed within various wards in the city. As a next step, to bring common understanding on sanitation related issues that slum residents face and to orient SICs on their roles and responsibilities, an orientation meeting for 3 SICs – New Durgapuri police line slum from ward no. 47, Bengali tola slum along Bela Road from ward no. 48, and Sant Ravidas Nagar slum from ward no. 49 – was conducted on 10 May 2016 at the Bela Road Community Hall.
SIC members were eager to attend. “Gaiya ko bhoosa khilayenge, magar SIC ki baithak me jaroor jayenge,” they said. They were willing not to take their cattle for grazing on that day, as they felt this meeting was very important for them. Nearly 49 community members from the three slums attended and shared their lived experience of the current status of drainage, toilets, drinking water, etc, in their slums.
Group discussions helped to bring out the following issues related to sanitation:
• Toilets are not available for each family. Community toilets that have been constructed are not usable due to inferior quality of construction.
• Safe drinking water was not available from the government. There is only one tap in each slum. People bring water from other areas or from other houses.
• Drains are non-functional.
• Roads face heavy water logging, especially in the monsoon season.
• People generally dump garbage outside their houses, and there is no garbage collection system. In Sant Ravidas Nagar, there is a garbage bin but it is located far from the slum and so people dump their garbage in open land nearby.
• Electric lines are old and residents fear there may be a serious accident as a result.
The discussions tended to be wide ranging and other issues like BPL cards, Voter ID cards, pension schemes, birth and death certificates, community halls, unemployment, street lights, etc, also came up.
An open discussion facilitated by PRIA staff generated awareness about the roles and responsibilities of SICs in resolving the issues that have been identified by the community, including participating in the planning process to prepare city-level sanitation plans. The community members were surprised to hear this. “We have never been told that we can participate in the planning process,” they remarked. “We want that our plans should be incorporated into the city plans, so that we can also benefit.”
How can they empower themselves to begin participating and engaging with their city? As a first step, the community members resolved to hold a monthly meeting of the SIC and discuss ideas of how they can engage with the municipality to provide safe drinking water and usable toilets for all residents in their slums. They committed together that through this committee they will visit various departments to raise voice on behalf of the residents to demand health centres, primary schools, pucca houses, garbage collection, and tenancy rights in their slums.