Saturday, December 26, 2015

MAHILA MILAN NAGAR - A story of Women Empowerment!

In continuation to the last article, I am writing about Mahila Milan Nagar- one of the first projects of SPARC. Mahila Milan Nagar is a cooperative housing society located at Mankhurd, Mumbai. The colony was constructed by pavement dwellers in association with SPARC.

SPARC started associating with them in 1984. Sheela Patel, SPARC founder used to teach  the under privileged kids and this association later continued when she founded SPARC.  One of the first things SPARC did was to make the pavement dwellers visible in the city by getting ration cards. Over time the women of one pavement community learnt how to obtain these cards and demonstrated to other women. Supreme court’s 1985  judgment that Bombay Municipal Corporation could evict pavement dwellers and demolish their houses left these pavement dwellers with not knowing what to do next. People from the pavement started associating with Sheela Patel for a solution. Slowly many people started approaching her and a total from 9 pavements comprising of  over 1500 families started grouping. Initially ration cards were made for all. Then  bank accounts were opened for all in the joint name of wife and husband for each family. 

Another main task was to inculcate the habit of saving in the pavement dwellers. Till now whatever they earned, they used to finish in a day. People were encouraged to  save whatever money was left every day which used to be in  tune of 50 paise, 1 Rs, 2 Rs etc. Once all the families started contributing, the amount started increasing. The dwellers were also given training on how to talk to government officials, how to get things done, what are the alternatives etc. SPARC encouraged women in the slums to associate themselves to form a collective called Mahila Milan. Women were given the confidence that they could also do things which they thought only men does. This motivated them to stand for their rights to get a legal house. In Mahila Milan, for 15 houses, 1 leader was selected and thus a group of 35 was formed in the beginning.

Around this time,  a notice was issued to pavement dwellers that they will be evicted the next day. Before the court judgment, almost all  days, policemen used to come and destroy their houses, leaving their utensils broken, clothes torn and pretty nothing much left.  But this time they decided to resist the police as a group.  For 2 days the Municipality could not do anything, but people themselves dismantled their houses and collected their belongings and thus could save whatever was theirs. This was a big realization for them  that if they stand  together something could happen.

Next they started looking for an alternative land and approached BMC. BMC denied their demands telling there is no vacant land.  So Mahila Milan started identifying vacant lands in Mumbai and its ownership. Finally they decided on Mankhurd which had only one train connectivity that time. The land was owned by MHADA and it took 15 years for the slum dwellers to get the land. The house design was based on dwellers demand and was exhibited for people’s voting. All stages of design and construction was monitored, implemented and designed by the dwellers themselves.

Mahila Milan also started giving loans for the dwellers.  Earlier if they take a loan of Rs 100 from a private lender, an interest of RS 10 was to be paid every month. Mahila Milan started giving loans at an interest of Rs 1 per month and women of the house were made accountable. Mahila Milan has its branches in over 21 Indian cities. They empower women by training, helping them in budgeting, organizing etc. They have started mapping slums, doing socioeconomic surveys, getting ration cards and Adhaar cards etc for slum rehabilitation projects. They have also started their groups in 12 others countries like South America, South Korea, Bangkok, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka etc.  
Mahila Milan is a good example to show what women empowerment could bring to a society. Strengthening, Encouraging and Removing their fears could work miracles at the face of adversity. Its sad to see no such initiative in the SMART city project. Rather than making people smart, focus is on technology! I wonder why there are no slum development or upgradation projects in making the city SMART ??  Are these people still INVISIBLE?......

Anu Kuncheria

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

MUSINGS FROM PRIYADARSHINI KARVE: SMART Pune Plan: Khoda pahad, nikla chooha!

"Khoda Pahad, nikla chooha" was my first reaction when I read the description of the Pune corporation's much awaited SMART City plan. 

Why do I feel disappointed? 

Firstly, the plan is not about development - SMART or otherwise - of Pune city at all, but just of a small part on the outskirts of the city! It was all the more disappointing that the area chosen to be this model of SMARTness is a newly developing area, increasingly populated mostly by people working in IT and other high tech industries, who have sufficient money of their own to equip their neighbourhoods (including the local low income community that provides them with maids, gardeners, and other odd jobbers, as well as small businesses providing various necessary services) with the most fantastic IT enabled services, if they so desire. 

Of course the supporters of the plan will point to the two citywide initiatives that are included. In fact, with a wild hope of finding something worthwhile, I too turned to this part of the plan with great anticipation. 

The two citywide initiatives that have been included are improving mobility, and giving a certain minimum assured water supply 24/7. Both of these are to be achieved with the help of IT enabling. 

Nobody can deny that increasing traffic congestion is becoming a critical issue for Pune city. So, with a lot of hope and curiosity I read the section about improving mobility. Two main action points are talked about - 

1. Increasing the number of people using public transport from the current 15% to 30%: I believe that this can be achieved even now just with improvements in the human management of existing municipal bus service. The IT enabling proposed in the plan will add value, only if first proper management is in place. However, the SMART city plan implies that its going to take IT enabling of buses, and BRT, AND Metro, to achieve this increase. To my mind that is a bit too much effort and expense for too little outcome! 

2. Increase in non-motorised transport by prioritising walking and bicycling: This is a commendable objective. But I did not find any mention of this in the 'key ideas' - apart from providing pedestrian buttons on traffic lights. I remember using a button like this at a traffic signal in front of Popular Book House on Deccan Gymkhana nearly 30 years ago. Why do we need a Special Purpose Vehicle to make this happen now??

What about the water supply plan? The rationale for selecting this as one of the high priority actions for the entire city is (I quote) "Capitalising on Pune’s water abundance..." Really? And there will continue to be abundant water available, even as the population keeps rising, just because we are going to increase the water reservoir storage capacity by 10%?

So yes, I am feeling hugely let down by this plan as a citizen of Pune. In the meanwhile, my colleagues and I continue with our study project on Sustainably SMART Pune 2030... 

Priyadarshini Karve
Samuchit Enviro Tech

    Samuchit Enviro Tech. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

A model to replicate : SPARC’s work for the invisible..

Recently I got an opportunity to associate with the ngo SPARC in Mumbai that works on housing issues of pavement and slum dwellers. Monali from SPARC explained me about their projects and took me to one of their rehabilitation project. 

What struck me about SPARC is their methodology. They do not look at slums as projects, rather they are more involved in the process. They see it as a community of people with aspirations and dreams, people who want to lead a normal life without fear of eviction. In most of the areas, SPARC's involvement is limited to the initial stages and involved clarifying government regulations, supporting women to identify a successful strategy and giving them the confidence to carry it through. They mobilize people, empower community to address their issues and find solutions.

Some of the unique characteristics of SPARC are: 

Lakshmi and Sakina - Active members of Mahila Milan
 since its inception
* Focus is on ‘process’ and not just projects.

*Women are main actors of change( Mahila Milan is a decentralized network of poor women's collectives that manage credit and savings activities in their communities. It aims to provide a space for women to take on important decision making roles and be recognized for their critical contributions towards improving the lives of their communities. Mahila Milan was initiated in 1986 when 500 women who lived on Mumbai's pavements organized themselves to successfully prevent the demolitions of their homes. Today, Mahila Milan has given out tens of thousands of loans to poor women all across the country and has collected savings worth millions of rupees.)
Pass book - for savings
and loan

*Started credit and savings in slums (Who otherwise spend what
they earn in the same day).

* Empowering the community to handle their issues (Training the 
slums dwellers to approach government, find solutions for their problems, Encouraging the community to carry out their socio-economic surveys, be 
a continuous part of the project)

SPARC s methodology evolved over time and is based on the necessities and is one of its kind model. It can be stated as one of the best practices in the country. Shelter is a basic necessity and organisations who get a slum project must handle it with great care and not merely see it as projects. All corporations must engage organizations like SPARC for community empowering and participatory planning for all slum rehabilitation/ redevelopment schemes. Having such best practices, other cities should also adopt them and not reinvent the wheel! 

For more information, visit the link. 

Anu Kuncheria

PS: Due to word limit, I could not write about Mahila Milan Nagar, first initiative of SPARC which is a model slum rehabilitation project - I intend to write on it next week :-).

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

MUSINGS FROM PRIYADARSHINI KARVE: Let's focus on energy services!

I am currently traveling out of Pune, conducting training workshops on the Cooking Energy Service Decision Support Tool, that I have developed for Ashden India Renewable Energy Collective (AIREC), with funding support from GIZ, New Delhi. This series of workshops is sponsored by CLEAN Energy Network. 

Since I started working on this Tool, I have been fascinated with the possibilities that arise out of moving away from 'technologies' and focusing on 'services'. 

The idea behind this tool is that we need to focus on the service delivered by a cooking energy device in deciding the performance standards. The Tool provides a way of assessing the performance of any cooking energy device based on any technology on the basis of how well they match the performance requirements of users and other stakeholders. This also helps in ascertaining whether a particular cooking energy device is likely to succeed in a particular community/area or not. 

I believe that the same service focused approach can be extended to other energy services too. This might help us move out of our obsession with grid electricity. There are many services that are best delivered with decentralised energy system, and many services that are best delivered without taking recourse to electricity generation. 

DLight A1 lantern
d.light A1 Solar Lantern is now available
with Samuchit Enviro Tech
For example, what is the best way to obtain lighting service in the house today? In my opinion, solar powered LED lights is the best option, in most parts of India, wherever the sun shines most of the year. If there is a provision of charging with the help of an ordinary cell phone charger etc., then even the little uncertainty around availability of sunlight during rains, etc., can be adequately addressed. This is part of the reason why when we at Samuchit Enviro Tech decided to widen our scope from cooking energy devices, the first non-cooking product that we added to our portfolio was solar light! 

Another example is that of water pumping. Electric pumps is just one possibility, one can have pumps running on fossil fuels too. Traditionally wind mills have been very effectively used for water pumping, along with animal and human power. The playpump is a brilliant idea that is catching on in Africa. Here children play on a merry-go-round, and the mechanical motion of the device pumps water up into a tank! Check this for more details! 

I am sure that if start thinking from the service perspective, and come up with practical alternatives to grid power wherever possible, we will find that the actual grid-based electricity generation capacity that we need is much lower than what has been estimated. This approach will also by default put us on a path of low carbon development, fulfilling our obligation to reduce climate change impacts. 

Priyadarshini Karve
Samuchit Enviro Tech

    Samuchit Enviro Tech.