UCD: Getting Closer to the People

Making an assessment of the problems of cities in India, the Report of the National Commission on Urbanization cites the following reasons:
  1. Their failure to grasp the nature and dimensions of the economic crisis that grip them and to respond to its challenge in a planned, positive manner;
  2. Their loss of conflict-resolving instruments that lay traditionally in their social institutions and arrangements;
  3. The collapse of urban leadership, both among the people and in formal institutions of city administrations of development planning which has lowered the quality of decision-making and forward planning, resulting in loss of direction and deterioration in quality of living, nature of development and delivery services;
  4. The cities' failure to respond to the challenge of urban poverty.

It is this crisis that gives the theme of people's/citizen's participation an entirely new dimension. Participation in the context of present-day urban reality is no longer a "liberal ideal, but a compelling necessity..."

Further impetus to this view was given by the National Housing Policy which, among other recommendations, called for enabling municipal bodies to utilize skills and resources of individuals, groups, agencies, and institutions in planning, execution and monitoring of development activities. Participatory and consultative procedures were to be adhered (which were prescribed by law but neglected or circumvented in practice) by cultivating attitudes and evolving tools and methodologies within responsible/concerned planning and implementing agencies. Prominent roles were also assigned to NGOs in the development process capacitating them to play watch-dog, facilitator, promotional, educational, advocacy and innovative roles and to activate citizen's participation in the urban development field in general, and the city in particular.

One of the most tangible results of these policy affirmations has been the setting up of Urban Community Development Cells (UCD), which have their origins in the rural community development programmes started in 1952. In 1958, the first pilot project in UCD was initiated in New Delhi under the Urban Basic Services programme of the UNICEF. By 1980, due to the stimulus of the National Housing Policy, about 20 cities had established UCD cells, including the four major metros.

UCD is designed to function as a part of the local government and is viewed as a link between the people and the municipal corporation. The staff is given the scope to develop activities according to the felt needs of the people and is mandated to cover activities not normally covered by the local body. The aim is to create, in problematic urban areas, stronger communities with their own leaders who could plan, finance and carry out self-help projects. To bring this out, local voluntary organizations are strengthened and community-level agencies/committees are established. The project activities are guided by the assumption that any neighbourhood, no matter how poor, can do something to improve itself by its own efforts; and that any approach for outside help should be resorted to only after it has exhausted it's own resources fully. UCDs are primarily staffed by social workers and other professionals. Its projects are not necessarily funded or sanctioned by the municipal authority, but every effort is made to integrate them into existing programmes of the city.

Some of the typical projects handled are in the areas of health care, environmental sanitation, education, enrolment in schools, employment generation, cultural activities, sports activities, etc. All these activities are undertaken with a 50 percent contribution from the slum people.

Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org
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