Ahead of elections, Gurugram residents unite to voice their demands
A charter of demands recognises the pitfalls of private developer-led urbanisation and calls for development of public goods, amenities and spaces in an area set for elections next month.Updated: Sep 12, 2019 11:04 IST
Over the weekend, some residents of Gurugram shared a charter of demands they had drawn up. This charter carries a list of issues that are crucial to improving the city’s liveability and will be shared with all political parties.
Gurugram is an unusual city – the city is divided into two parts divided by the national highway. One side has the old city which grew organically and resembles several other north Indian cities. On the other side of the highway, the entire area was made up of villages till the 1960s which were slowly bought by land developers and a newer city came up.
This city that came up was primarily buildings–first for residential purposes and then commercial ones. Over the past decade, we have seen several schools, hospitals and retail outlets and malls come up here. This part of the city is further divided into areas where the original owners of the land still live (in urban villages) and the new colonies/apartments where people from outside—from Delhi, other Indian cities and abroad—have moved in, but the basic civic infrastructure in both these parts of the new city still has a long way to go.
A city is not just a set of buildings, it is also a set of institutions, services and governance frameworks. While buildings may have been constructed by private builders, water, sewage, roads, transport, power and other civic infrastructure are public goods that need to be delivered by government agencies. Other arenas that need the government’s attention are security, education and health services.
The Gurugram citizens’ charter engages with all of these issues and provides recommendations from citizens for a road map to address key challenges. The charter clearly recognises the pitfalls of private developer-led urbanization and argues for development of public goods, services, amenities and spaces in the city. This document is not posited as the final word, but the beginning of a dialogue between residents and the political class in an area set for elections next month.
One set of demands addresses the concerns of environmental degradation, air pollution, falling groundwater level and destruction of forest cover. The charter states that the survival of Gurugram is dependent on the survival of the Aravallis. The water table in Gurugram is falling by 2-5 metres per year. The charter has demanded extensive rainwater harvesting, usage of grey water, improved sewage and maintenance of drains across the city.
A second set of demands focuses on basic rights of education and health. While the city is home to many private hospitals and schools, this does not grant the right to either, especially for the economically weaker families and individuals. Access to healthcare and education are fundamental rights that must be provided to each resident. Healthcare for the vulnerable population— maternal and geriatric—should also be a focus.
A third set of demands relates to the urban form which includes better planning and land use, improved urban transport networks and low-cost housing. The charter demands better streets with dedicated spaces for pedestrians and cyclists and promotion of a robust public transport system. Building streets designed for all segments of the population will naturally make them safer for women as well.
Policing is another area which needs strengthening with the charter demanding more data and transparency, better traffic management and increasing the number of women officers, who currently make up only 6% of the force. The entire law and order machinery must be made more robust.
Finally, there are demands to improve governance by strengthening the municipal agencies, building local institutions and promoting accountability.
The upcoming elections are an opportunity for us, residents of the city, to voice our concerns and hold the authorities accountable. Our engagement in the democratic process should not be limited to voting. It should extend to responsible citizenship by collectively engaging with the government to build better neighbourhoods, and thus cities.
(Co-founder and CEO of Safetipin, the author works on issues of women’s safety and rights in cities)