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.