The courts can’t resolve a crisis of faith: #BRT #Delhi #classwars- July 10, 2012

I’ve wanted to write about the BRT corridor in Delhi for the longest time, but have refrained as I have little technical knowledge on matters of transportation. In that sense, this isn’t really written from a professional perspective, but rather as a citizen. Mihir Sharma’s piece in the Business Standard says it all.

For background’s sake, one stretch of Delhi’s BRT corridor is permitting cars in the bus lanes because of a petition filed in court by an NGO called NyayaBhoomi. The BRT benefits those who use public transport and I view the shutting down of the BRT as a clear indication that upper class car users are being appeased and the needs of the larger public disregarded.

I put this entire episode down to poor governance. How? The lack of governance in India is a huge problem not just because it means poorer quality of life for us citizens, but because it means we no longer have faith in the systems and processes of democracy; we link it to the failure of governance. The article points to the grave error of letting courts decide on issues of governance….”policy of this sort should be decided by governments elected by and accountable to all Indians. There’s an additional reason: if a mistake is made by the executive, it can be swiftly corrected………unintended consequences of court judgments aren’t so easy to fix” and I agree.

Working in the housing space, I know many slum demolitions have been ordered by courts reacting to petitions filed by RWAs. These petitions typically cite hygiene, safety, unclean environs as reasons for why slums should be removed. They are concerned with their specific neighborhood getting ‘cleaned up’. Photographs of overflowing sewers and garbage dumps, even kabaadi (waste recycling) shops located in slums are shown as evidence…..never mind the shop recycles the enormous amount of wastes being generated in middle class homes. The same sort of middle class homes that want the slums out!

The court verdicts, in the case of slum evictions, are not concerned with issues of urban planning, like supply of affordable housing stock that can accommodate displaced slum dwellers or other interstitial urban spaces nearby where the squatters will move to if their slum is demolished, or the impact of the eviction on the livelihoods of slum dwellers, the list goes on. The court looks at the issue almost in isolation; it is not their job to look at the much larger context. However, it is the job of local governments to do so and when issues like housing, transport and basic services get hijacked by vested interests and taken out of the purview of governance and into the courts, it harms the democratic fiber of our cities, dis-empowering us citizens in the long run. I agree, we have no other recourse as of now. And that’s why planning needs to be done using a participative approach and local government need to rise to the challenges of governance on an urgent basis. If we are to control damages in this war.

Yes, it is a war of the classes out there. A war in which the privileged see only their point of view and the poor theirs. One in which we take sides too easily and all those empathetic with the other side are increasingly being regarded as enemies (liberals, NGO types, reds, wierdos). Which is why basic services, transportation, education and health facilities, all the good stuff that keeps us going and that only be delivered by efficient governance is so important. We need to address this crisis of faith (on governance and government) first, so that the war can at least be fought on level ground. Or alternately, and I’m being a desperate romantic here, consensus can be built to accommodate for plurality, diversity and a right to dignified living for all?

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