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Comparative study of Guwahati, Ahmedabad

By Sivasish Thakur

GUWAHATI, Jan 3 - A comparative study of underdeveloped belts in the hearts of the cities of Guwahati and Ahmedabad has shown how the state contributes to creating a structural violence of deprivations with regard to housing, basic services, citizenship rights, etc.

The study � �Does Urban Planning Create or Mitigate Conflicts and Violence in Indian Cities? Findings from Ahmedabad and Guwahati� � conducted by the Centre for Urban Equity, CEPT University, Ahmedabad, has found many similarities in the perpetuation of underdevelopment in the two areas of the two different states.

�Some of our case studies within the two cities � Bombay Hotel area in Ahmedabad and hill settlements in Guwahati � represent this type of local informal actors-led or people-led housing developments without basic services access and formal status of their housing. They are prone to evictions any time the state wants to redevelop the area.

In Guwahati, the instrumental state has stepped in to assist capture of the hill settlements� land for real estate interest or reportedly for ecological protection. These settlements, therefore, suffer from structural violence in the form of deprivations and insecurity in their day-to-day life and occasional physical violence in the form of eviction drives,� the report noted.

Noting that the idea of �urban� was on the upsurge and so was the zeal to make cities that are visually appealing and functionally productive, the report found that the urban constituency had become more vocal than before and was being wooed by the political class more than before.

The outcome, it says, is national governments (Centre�s) pre-eminent focus and funding of urban development projects since mid-2000 and the economically-advanced states projecting their cities as their brand ambassadors, upcoming Amravathi city for Andhra Pradesh, Ahmedabad and her urban projects such as the BRTS, Riverfront, etc., for Gujarat, and so on.

This thrust also resulted, for the first time, in major urban development programmes being introduced in the mission mode by the previous Central Government under the name Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), both discontinued now. The present government has launched the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation & Transformation (AMRUT), Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana � Housing for All (Urban) (PMAY) and Smart Cities Mission.

The study chose Ahmedabad, the brand ambassador of the Gujarat development model and Guwahati, the gateway to the Northeast and also a city located in a state that is a site of ethnic conflicts and conflicts with immigrants from Bangladesh.

�Their specific dynamics have influenced the way urban development programmes have been implemented, conflicts ensuing on account of the same and tipping of some of the conflicts into occasional physical violence in the form of eviction drives,� it said.

It added that in Guwahati, the hill settlements had been evicted many times and people had experienced violence from the state. The residents are mostly the tribal communities, who have been mobilized by an organisation named Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) for land rights. Their movement has faced state repression and violence and there have been instances of counter violence from the hill residents. The most recent incident was in February 2014 when during a protest demonstration, a hill settler died through self-immolation.

�The state�s neglect in supporting the poor to realize their rights and exclusions has led to informal settlements� residents making claims for survival rights or claims over their �life space� in a subtle manner of organising for demanding water rights, approaching local politicians for such claims, making demands before elections and so on. There are local actors, often NGOs and local leaders and CBOs, as in the case of Bombay Hotel area in Ahmedabad as well as hill settlements in Guwahati, that assist residents to organise for issues and stake claims,� it said.

The report noted three types of conflicts in the case of the street vendors� market in Guwahati � (a) of the vendors with the local State in the form of evictions, (b) of the vendors with the non-state actors to whom the state has outsourced management of the markets and (c) among the vendors for vending space.

�NGO and local Welfare Association (WA) intervention mitigated the conflict with the state by organising the evicted street vendors into a new informal market elsewhere in the city. But then, the state has once again clamped down and evicted the vendors from this market which was part of our study, namely Ulubari market,� it observed.

The attempt often is to expand the rights but only in certain situations, such as in the KMSS movement in the hill settlements, it turns into a political movement, which can in turn lead to occasional counter-violence when the state remains unresponsive to its concerns and demands.

�In the informal settlements like Bombay Hotel, there is near absence of the welfare state. Instead, informal non-state actors step in. They draw their power from their links with the local state apparatus and politicians. They have provided land for housing and water solely for their own profit and they govern these activities through threat of violence and occasional violence,� it said.

Even �welfare� interventions for rehabilitation of evicted people are subverted from the beginning by the local state. The rehabilitation in Ahmedabad in general and the BSUP housing in Vatvain particular was so badly planned and managed that the Vatvasites are now replete with various crimes including gender violence, illicit and illegal activities, and actors engaging in them.

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