Life is larger than all Arts, Sciences, Religions, Philosophies, trade, techs, States... through times and places.

Monday, 21 April 2008



by Remigius de Souza

THE HABITAT OF MAN has taken several forms through time and places. Villages, towns, cities, squatters, slums, suburban colonies, tribal settlements, metropolis, shelters in cold mountain regions, oasis, igloos shelters in boats at lakeside, riverside, seaside, shelter under bridges, squatters on river banks which get washed off again and again...

Natural habitat is not house alone to live – work –grow – learn... but it also includes its neighbourhood, land and water, landscape and air, the other inhabitants of its surroundings – insects – birds – animals – plants, the day and the night, changing seasons, and the five Elements – Earth, Water, Light (and Heat), Air and Space that we are composed of – praised by Vedas.

With all advances of science at hand, natural habitat instead of harnessing its qualities and life has come under several assaults. At the turn of the last century with scientific inventions, man believed that he obtained the key to the Mystery of Nature. Scientific inventions were employed for mass production and industrialization. Industrialization was not limited to textiles alone; it moved in every possible direction - weapons of warfare, education, agriculture and food, medicine and pesticides, insecticides, water management, housing, communications, transport, entertainment etc. It employed every possible raw material: air, land, stone, water, hill, trees, minerals, animals, industrial waste and industrial by-products. Yet every new scientific invention proved previous invention inadequate. The Mystery of Nature continued to deepen.

The present (20th) century has shown that industrialization has assaulted not only nature and natural resources but also human resources preserved through centuries by tribal and other societies throughout the world without exception – without restraint – the process, which started in the earlier century or two. The last such assault was on Tibetan society. This had preserved through centuries a unique form of living in harmony with nature on a religious (Dharma) base. The natural conditions too are unique here. The assault on Tibetan society was a result of industrialization as much as Marxism; Existentialism etc. were by-products of industrialization. Assault on natural resources was as much a result of industrialization as metropolitan cities are its by-products.

On the one side, industry supported by science goes on degenerating the life of man, animal and plants – all living beings – by polluting economy, ecology, environment, regional and social balance, and exploiting natural resources. And on the other side it goes on developing new medicines, pesticides, insecticides, water supply systems etc to save and serve life, developing so-called lifesaving drugs and machinery to save life which has made not only natural living impossible but even natural dying impossible, the sole purpose of which is profit-making – business. The sole purpose of industry is profit-making out of everything under the sun possible for a person, or a group of persons called a company or a corporation or even a state, tentacles of which reach far beyond social, regional, religious, national frontiers – even beyond global frontiers.

The resources of the globe are being employed – capitalized – for preservation of industry to produce and multiply – for which new disciplines are being invented such as management, specializations etc. to “reduce time, increase speed and more work (output)” to “produce more”. This required streamlined operations – division of labour – standardization – automation – specialization – regimentation – centralization.

Amongst human settlements, city form in the shape of metropolis in the present time is an assault on natural habitat, which could be compared with the effect of nuclear explosion but without Bang. The effect is not instantaneous. In spite of all the advances at hand in technology, communications, transport and sciences, the city – the symbol of feudal power –
has continued to grow. The city in the form of metropolis is not only an assault on nature but also an assault on man himself, and is the enemy of democracy. City form is no more valid except as a means to serve the vested interest of a person or a group of persons in power – enormous centralization of power – whether the city is in the West or the East. The larger the city, the larger are its evils, hazards, crimes, wastes, chaos; the larger are its capacity to exploit; the larger its capacity to pollute and to destroy nature through its tentacles. There is no better comment on this phenomenon than the movie "Modern Times", made by Charlie Chaplin decades ago.

In India we still crave for such a "progress" which is misplaced, outdated, obsolete and at times criminal. The Indian village was unmindful of its exploitation for a century and half or two, and still retains some of its qualities. The progress and development that caused the exploitation was not its own choice. In commercial terms, the Indian village is called the "untapped rural market" of India. The rural population is migrating at a massive rate at the very step – at the feet of the "market seeker" – not just to the city of Bombay but to every town and city in the country. The villager who was a farmer with dignity is now being reduced to a market commodity. His settlement in the city is identified by the term "slum", meaning that it is illegal, unauthorized, and if the town is small, the slum is not identified in the Census Survey of India.

There are several offshoots of "development" which influence /affect villages. Some of them are the education system, government organisations (GOs) and non-government organizations (NGOs). The numbers of non-government organizations have increased over the last two or three decades. Earlier there were missionaries who came to India. All these have noble intentions for the welfare of the village and to pamper their own sense of superiority. Their orientations are urban (or western / westernized). Their roots are urban. All these (perhaps with some exceptions) fail to see and learn from Indian village; instead they try to inject urban concepts imported from the West. Some exhibited occasionally (like Jawaharlal Nehru) by wearing the turban or traditional shawl and dance with the villagers to camouflage the real difference. In reality GOs and NGOs survive at the cost of the village. India still has the opportunity with 5.6 lakhs villages to save natural habitat and reverse the process of its destructions.

(This paper was presented at the "Conference on Natural Living" hosted by Prakrati – an NGO – at Bordi in Maharashtra, and published by the "FOURTH WORLD REVIEW", Number Forty Nine in 1992.)
PS: After about two decades I feel this note, unfortunately, is still valid, by worsening the environmental conditions on the Earth and its Sphere.

© Remigius de Souza., all rights reserved.

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Saturday, 19 April 2008

Slums and the Web of Development - 2

Slums, cities and the web of development - 2

by Remigius de Souza

Draconian law: Land Acquisition Act (1894)

Under this draconian law – the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 – made by the British several million people have been displaced and marginalised. After Independence this act has been revised or modified less number of time than the Constitution of India: What makes it so powerful? Is it because of JUSTICE or is it a weapon for the present rulers or the ruling minority?

Double standards by the Rulers

Under certain town planning acts the land holdings are reconstituted within city limits, for example by declaring town-planning schemes. Twenty-five years ago Vadodara City took care of all, particularly the small landholders that they do not loose their land while acquiring land for public and social services for paltry sum of compensation. However this facility of reconstitution of land at regional level is not applied while acquiring land for various private or public projects. The rulers – legislators, administration, policymakers, and planners obviously follow double standards while dealing with the land in urban areas and the land in rural areas.

Why then it should not be possible to reconstitute the land holdings at the regional level while acquiring land for the development projects from where the people are displaced, or where the land is acquired by paying cash compensations, and perhaps a promise of jobs in future, while creating the “ghettos of development” in the rural areas? What is the value of cash compensation in the spiralling inflation and falling rupee value? Instead the local people affected by the development projects are treated as second-class citizens. Is the administrative machinery ready and prepared to work hard for this job?

What is the basis of cash compensation for the acquired land? Is it the current land price in the locality? Is it based on the comparison with land value in the cities and metropolitan cities? The cities depend on the resources of the regions – at times from remote and distant areas for their sustenance. Is the compensation based on the future inflated land value when the project becomes operative? Is it based on the disparity of living standards of the urban elite and rural poor?

Disparity of living standards and consumption

Perhaps the disparity is the criteria in the literacy level and consumption level of both — those who acquire the land with the help of instrument of law and those from whom the land is taken — is a measure of cash compensation?

Or is it based on the justice that the people that depended on the very land for five thousand, or more, years, generation after generation, and will be deprived of the very resource – the land – for the posterity?

Until now they had depended on the soil for their sustenance while feudal lords, kings and rulers – Ashoka or Aurangzeb – came and vanished. In what way the life of the people around the “Ghettos of Development” in the name of common good, has improved in the areas of education and schooling, job and vocations, economic conditions, and services – post, transport, water supply, health…?

Is it possible to remove slums from the cities and towns in India, to some extent? Yes, if the people are given a fair deal in the development projects, out side of urban area, in the cases of public and private sector projects, including the areas brought under urbanization such as New Bombay built by CIDCO (City and Industrial Development Corporation) in Maharashtra State.

Take one of many aspects – the compensation for acquired land particularly in the rural area. It is not only the owners of the land acquired but also entire affected population of village/s or region must be entitled to receive compensation.

Land Acquisition, Compensation and Rehabilitation

Customarily the compensation and rehabilitation is decided on the basis of degree of consumption and access and power to devour the resources in comparison with urban elite and not on the basis of sustenance. The direct benefit due to the acquisition for development must reach to the people on equitable basis. As is it is questionable whether the benefits of direct taxes reach them.

The nature and value of compensation and rehabilitation should be worked on the basis of and in the proportion of the total cost of the project, whether the land is acquired for a public or private project. The total cost should include:

1. The cost of planning, administration, acquisition and arbitration processes from inception to completion stage: e.g. salaries, stationary, establishment, transport, consultancy, services such as legal, technical, management, planning etc.

2. The investment incurred in the development, construction and establishment of infrastructure:

A. civil works, road, rail, buildings, machinery etc, and

B. Services.

3. Annual compensation in the proportion of annual expenditure, but not of profit (loss) irrespective of subsidies and tax concessions, during the years of operations / life of a project.

The basis for rehabilitation should be to provide land for farming, housing, local institutions such as schools, colleges, training institutions for agro-industries, banking, public transport, and health care faculties. Jus as minimum shelter of 21 sq. m. is recommended / given to a slum dweller in cities. In the same manner a landless labourer in rural areas should be rehabilitated with one acre/hectare of land. All the land should be taken from reconstitution of the entire land holding of the region.

This formula demands corrective measures in the existing structure of laws and applications. But it also demands courage, integrity and transparency on the part of the society.

If such an application is brought into force, with effect from, say, 26-1-1952, Republic Day of India, there shall be massive exodus from the cities to rural areas. PEOPLE shall return to their homesteads that are rotting in the slums, if such an action takes place.

The culture and tradition of the country is essentially agrarian. The resources required for industrialization shall not last forever; neither the borrowed know-how nor imported clever ideas of development may work forever.

Do sciences and/ or applied sciences, have answers to these problems? Partially, perhaps! When a science looses its dimension of ‘people’ it becomes a ‘ghetto of information’ and eventually gets buried. Technology does not build the pyramids any more; its form has changed but the context continues. When centralised power inflates and looses its vision of eternity, it disintegrates.

The Buddha, Jesus, Sena Nhavi, Ravidas, Kabir, Chokhamela, Sri Basaveshwara, Akka Mahadevi and many others born in different times, speak the language of people rather than the monopolised language of the elite, such as Sanskrit, Hebrew, now English. Their words are not drowned in the river of time even in the absence of media agencies and institutional or state support.

To look for the answers to the contemporary problems the real place is the people and not the polytechnics or parliaments or planning agencies or theories. Perhaps it is now time for billion incarnations. The first task is to restore human dignity: Dignity to all living beings: Dignity to Life.

[This is revised and edited version and Second and last part of the article published in the Journal of Indian Institute of Architects, Dec.1996, p23-25]

NOTE: The Land Acquisition Act, 1894 is presently under revision in the Parliament of India. The Parliament had invited suggestion from the citizens by its advertisement sometime ago. After reading the text of the Bill I realised that the Government of India did not take the notice of this article published in 1996 in a journal of the professional body.

I shall post my comments on the Bill in near future.
Remigius de Souza

© Remigius de Souza., all rights reserved.

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Slums and the Web of Development - 1

Slums and the Web of Development - 1

Remigius de Souza

Either housing ‘for’ the slum dwellers or housing ‘by’ the slum dwellers is an important issue. It is important because it is the people’s issue. It is important because its end does not seem to be anywhere in sight. It is important because in spite of so-called development and progress of science and technologies and the expertise in economics, politics, law, health [medicine], administration, management, info-tech, statistics etc. there seems to be no solution yet in sight.

Giving Houses as Curative Measure

For want of effective evaluation, ‘giving’ houses to the slum-dwellers and the rural poor, in spite of so much being done by the state and the philanthropists, it has remained to the level of lip service or as a pampering of merely feudal attitude of the urban elite, and cannot be termed as altruistic as an end in itself. It is merely a postponement of treating the root cause by adapting ‘curative’ measures in fashion that we are so much habituated to modern medical practices.

In dealing with this problem we have to go to the edge of our intelligence and rationale by looking at it from all the sides and from within it. But the intelligence is such a dangerous weapon that it could prove to be a boomerang. The attitude, the mindset has to change from ‘curative’ to ‘care, preventive, and even the corrective' measures. ‘Giving’ houses to the slum dwellers and the house-less is only a ‘curative’ measure devised by the feudal mentality of the rulers.

What would the rulers do if there are many more earthquakes which may affect many more villages and towns? How often the storms and floods have destroyed the houses, besides other property and lives, in the country, and to what extent? What has happened to the ‘Bhopal Gas Tragedy’ victims? How these and such other events have influenced the planning and action?

In what way these have affected our attitudes? Do these problems belong merely to the ‘compartment’ of disaster management? Or do these problems end up in enquiry commission or tribunal, one more act, another department or one more ministry…?

In spite of planning and development the slums are on rise. They are not only in the metropolitan cities, but also in the small towns and along the transit lines.

It is not impossible to deal with the problem of slums. But when the question of sharing the resources, equity, standards, energy, prices of farm and forest products etc. are taken up, the urban elite, it may be proved, are following double standards and turn out to be fundamentalist to claim that the development is for common good. Hence the slums had been termed as illegal settlements. It is worth a study how metropolitan and large cities and mega-industries devour the resources of the land more than their due share…

The slums are increasing in the direct proportion to the development.

Most cities and towns in India have prepared development plans during last two or three decades – mostly through the government departments. It is possible for city governments i.e. municipalities, to acquire land, to freeze the land use and municipalize the city lands for the purpose other than roads, gardens, commercial and city centres. For example, Vadodara (Baroda) city notified and reserved certain areas of land for the public housing (for future use) some thirty years ago (in 1960s).

If Vadodara City can do it, then other cities too can find indigenous ways to deal with their problems. It is possible to freeze the land use of vacant plots as well as areas of dilapidated buildings, which could be used for rehabilitation of the slum dwellers, for redevelopment and revitalisation of the area. This could be brought about by collective creativity rather than by formulae and standards. This is possible when all citizens, not merely the vested interests groups, are aware of the planning process. This is possible by creating a public forum.

Twenty years ago Vadodara City rehabilitated 2000 families of slum dwellers whose hut were washed off in the flash flood of River Vishwamitri. They were given houses in five different safe places in the city. This was possible for two reasons: (1) there was will on the part of people of the city, and (2) the land was made available. However, today the slums in Baroda City have increased manifold.

Are the slums emerging as a new form of human habitat all over India and elsewhere while the humanity is on the threshold of 21st century? People use the phrase “21st century” as a magic wand. But the miracle is not coming off. The slums in the Indian cities have now become an ever-expanding phenomenon, which seems to have no end in future.

Slums are a result of territorial war

Slums are a result of territorial war and an invasion by the powers and the vested interest, which is slow, silent and unseen resulting from a division where the powerful have opted for machine-energy to human potential. Perhaps the planners in their future development plans may have to paint grey areas for slums in addition to other land-use zones in their city plans? No one wants to leave one’s home and land, kin and community and live in the rotten environment of slums in the cities.

In Bombay, for example, during the World War II in the past and recent times during ‘the Textile Mill workers’ Strike’ and the riots many people left the city, even though temporarily. Exodus took place from Goa during the times of Inquisition at the time of Portuguese rule, and during the partition of IndiaPakistan from both the countries. It has been recognised that movement is associated with survival from proto-historic times for humans and other species. The slums are the result of desperate struggle for survival by the silent majority.

Who are these people in the slums?

They could be riot-affected, famine-affected, war-affected, development-affected, economy affected besides other causes; the landless labourers, farmers, peasants, forest-dwellers, artisans etc. among them. They do have life-supporting skills and education that have been turned redundant or are not recognised by the authorities in Democratic India in their frenzy for the development of economy, and thereby due to the destruction of social and natural environment that helped them to sustain the past.

It is of course possible to rehabilitate the people within their homestead instead of displacing them. It is possible to rehabilitate the people who are marginalized due to natural calamity or human intervention. It is possible to rehabilitate them with dignity. But the government fails to take concrete and appropriate measures in time.

[This revised and edited version and First Part of the article Published in the Journal of Indian Institute of Architects, Dec.1996, p23-25]

© Remigius de Souza., all rights reserved.

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Monday, 7 April 2008

The Other World: Other India

The Other World: Other India
by Remigius de Souza

(A workshop on “Working and Living in Cities” was jointly organised by Max Muller Bhavan, Bombay, Urban Design Research Institute, Bombay and Habitat Forum, Berlin on 25-26 November 1994 at Convocation Hall of Bombay University, Bombay.)

MANY SCHOLARS, architects, planners etc. from Bombay / India and abroad attended the workshop. About 100 participants were students. The workshop characteristically displayed specialisation typical of modern urban elite society.

The focus was on Bombay and New Bombay with reference to the prospects of globalisation of Bombay, the highly populated megalopolis, the trends of shifting population, slums, land, housing, trade, transport etc. In the end there seemed to be no conclusive outcome of the workshop. Yet there could be some conclusions and observations, thanks to the clarity offered by the resource persons and the lively discussions.

FOR A RURAL MIGRANT the workshop could have been a revelation. The experts in the highly specialised branches of learning [education] were present. Perhaps the numbers of participants were less than the number of specialised branches, sub-branches, sub-sub-branches in different disciplines which seemed most identical to the caste system prevailing in India. He/she would have felt himself/herself to be a ‘neo-Shudra’ in the august gathering of ‘neo-Brahmins’. Education and Science have yet to become globalise (or universal?). The workshop seemed to have forgotten this fact in spite of boost to Information Technology. Here everyone was concerned about globalisation of Bombay – a political entity.

The workshop certainly helped to understand a very small fraction of what global economy is: that the Dollar, Pound, Yen, Mark have higher exchange value than Indian Rupee. And the economic disparity and imbalance in the regions, between North and South, West and East, Urban India and Rural India, First World India and Third World India… Where does the propagation of such disparities and imbalance begin? The question of affordability and relevance remains hanging in the development programmes in India. It is futile to compare Bombay on the basis of its size of population with cities elsewhere, particularly from the developed countries.

One, therefore, cannot think of an issue connected to a city by isolating it from the region and the People. It is also fashionable to use phrases like ‘integrated development’, ‘holistic approach’, ‘public participation’ etc. these do not work at a global level. Neither one could ignore disparities in spite of the best intentions.

AT ONE TIME during the workshop, the planners washed of their hands for the ills of planning, which were pointed by the participants for some supposed undesirable elements creeping in the plans/cities. They clarified that these elements were imposed, forced upon from outside (?), or by external (?) pressure (indirectly hinting at the vested interests through the politicians). This indeed was a real life situation revealed in the workshop. It is reminiscent of the trial of Jesus of Nazareth some two thousand years ago, when Pilate had washed off his hands. His godfather, Caesar was then in Rome. Where are the godfathers of the planners?

AT THE END OF TWENTIETH CENTURY, a large number of people of India were sentenced to carry the cross of displacement, in the name of common good, in the name of development, through legitimate process of legislation under democracy, or due to riots, floods, famine, unemployment to reach a final destination of rotten environment of slums in the cities, or within the city are moving out of the city core to the peripheral area.

It is an accepted fact from the pre-historic times that the movement of people is primarily connected with survival. Scholars and planners were concerned about providing better housing to the slum-dwellers while the poor kept on pouring in the big and small cities and towns. The experts have been concerned about congestion in the city. But the question of decentralisation of power remains unresolved. Could it ever be resolved when the centralised power is the very foundation of a city?

The Supreme Court has recently reminded the people that they have ‘Right to Live with Dignity’. Does this have any bearing to planning at any level in any area: physical, economic, development…? Dignity is a tall word, but who is to exercise this right; the planners or the government or the people? Who is accountable: people, planners or powers? Theoretically the three are not supposed to be separate.

DURING THE DISCUSSION, an often-heard statement was quoted: “Look at the major part of the revenue of this country that is contributed by the city of Bombay…” It seemed the professionals present were not aware of the aspect of Energy, or perhaps ignored it. Typically almost everyone, anyone speaks of economy, prices, speculation, inflation, revenue etc. Revenue essentially is understood as currency. What is the value of currency anyway?

But no scholar or expert has ever told us about how much of the resources of the country are daily consumed by the city of Bombay, besides other cities? No statistician has ever told us about how much of the contributed revenue to the country was ‘ploughed back’ under different garbs by the city of Bombay? Leave aside the parallel economy that may exist, created by, or have a share in creating it, apart from the scams, extortion etc. by the city of Bombay, the financial centre of the country? Why then Bombay has to borrow from World Bank etc. for the basic needs of the city: water, shelter, sanitation and roads?

BUT THE QUESTION that remains untouched is Energy, and the price of energy consumed by the metropolis. How much energy would it consume when Bombay turns out to be a Global City – the pride of nation, and at whose cost?

The millions in the villages and forests had rarely seen currency. They still hardly see it. They know of the Energy – man energy, bull energy, sun energy, wind energy, tree energy… They worshiped it in blind (sic) faith. They knew of this million-year-old ‘currency’ named ‘Energy’ and they worshiped it in various forms. These people are named backward, ignorant, superstitious, uneducated, illiterate, uncivilised… And here in the city the learned of the West and the East with backing of science, technology and dollars etc. endlessly talk, talk, talk of numbers, economy, revenue… under the portals of Bombay University.

It is an obsolete and outdated thought/concept to talk of city planning or any physical planning, in terms of economy by ignoring Energy and Entropy in the growing threat to environment and ecology. How long the planners will continue to ignore entropy caused by their creative work?

The highly specialised (or compartmentalised?) scholarly views tend to drop the news of the people, and we miss the holistic approach and finally fail to resolve any of the issues in planning, accept some piecemeal adjustments for personal gratification.

Bombay therefore has to live on the externally supplied lifesaving drugs, while diagnosis fail, the curative measures fail, because these are at cross-purpose with people. The issue of slums is several times larger than the riots though its impact is not felt. The root cause is elsewhere.

In the city of Nagpur, on the eve of workshop, on 23rd November 1994, there occurred tragic death of 113 tribal persons – not merely numbers – on the threshold of the State Assembly of Government of Maharashtra, when it was in session. No one cared, or dared, to mention it at the workshop, leave aside protest, or observe two-minute-silence in respect to the dead. As if it was an alien world!

And there are host of such events: Bhopal Gas Tragedy; one and half lakh textile workers rendered jobless in Bombay; 107 martyrs of Sanyukta Maharashtra Movement in Bombay; Due to Thal-Vaishet Development project several farmers were shot dead across the creek near Bombay on the mainland… To a specialist these events belong to a different department or compartment. But in the process of development planning these cannot be isolated; these are vital links.

The scholars may write great number of discourses in volumes. The planners may design great complexes for the corporate society. But how could such professionals ever plan a city for the People without noticing the news of the people? It was a desperate lot gathered at the most appropriate place: the Convocation Hall of Bombay University.

IN CONCLUSION I have a wishful thinking that some day some clever brain will hijack this note and a Workshop on Energy would materialise, and thousands of Dollars etc. shall be spent for talk – talk – talk. The people, however, may continue to live with their woes while planners and scholars pamper their inflated ego. But even if the paper used for this note is recycled, it will be a great achievement.

The workshop was certainly a thought-provoking event. Many more such workshops are welcome – but with wider audience. ■

(This article was published in the Journal of Indian Institute of Architects, Bombay, Vol. 60, No 01, January 1995, P. 35-36)
Remigius de Souza
© Remigius de Souza., all rights reserved.

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