Category Archives: Campus Events

Transforming Cities through Social Urbanism: Medellin, Colombia’s Alejandro Echeverri speaks to Lokniti

Lokniti Editors Sanjana Patro and Srilakshmi Nambiar in conversation with Mr. Alejandro Echeverri, on Medellin Colombia’s social urbanism. 

The city of Medellin in Colombia was a drug trafficking hub from the late 1960’s till the early 1990s. A contraband economy, paralysis of justice and a mismanagement of the security apparatus led to a rise in crime and violence, especially in the barrios (neighbourhoods) of the city. These unsafe barrios gave Medellin the tag of the ‘Most dangerous city in the world’. The city’s economy was also grappling with high levels of inequality.

However, things began to change for the better in the 1990’s, with the help of strategic policy intervention called ‘Social Urbanism’. This process included strengthening the state machinery and public services. Special thrust was given to improving public transportation in the city. The metro lines and cable cars provided the much needed  link between the northern hilly areas of the city to the plains. It also focused on active community engagement, along with bringing together academics, the government and experts from various fields.

An architect by training, Mr. Alejandro Echeverri was closely associated with this transformation of Medellin. He has served as the director general of the Urban Development Company from 2004- 2005 and the director of urban projects for the Mayor’s office of Medellin from 2005-2007 under Mayor Sergio Fajardo. He is currently a professor of architecture at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana. Among his many architecture awards, his work with Mayor Fajardo in urban renewal won them both the Curry Stone Prize for Transformative Public Works from Architecture for Humanity in 2009. Their urban renewal projects have been praised not just for revitalizing poor neighborhoods but also for the quality and innovation of the architecture itself.

In this interview with Lokniti, Mr. Alejandro Echeverri shares his experience and answers our questions around the parallels that he sees between India and Colombia and the ideas that India can borrow.

 

Q1. What is social urbanism? How did this concept evolve in the case of Medellin? 

A1. The history of social urbanism is related to planning and urban design in Colombia. It is used to describe the process that happened in Medellin, after the crisis of the 1980’s and 1990’s which was dominated by high levels of inequalities in the barrios or the neighbourhood. The government was exploring policies which would work towards greater social justice to counter the high levels of inequity that was prevalent. In this context, social urbanism grew.

In 2004, the government was looking at methods to combine public policy and strategic implementation, particularly in conflict ridden areas. Issues such as ways to combine urban design, landscape design, with programs focusing on culture, education, and economic activities were also explored. Hence, they started the ‘URBAM Project’, to design and apply public policy in a specific territory. Inclusion was the most important part of the agenda, and leadership came from the government. The experience came from a practical reality and the experience they had initially in the government. Real transformation was achieved as a combination of several improvements like the physical space and lives of the people.

 

Q2. The “ambition to control” drives planning exercises which are centralised or top-down in nature. However, as you pointed out earlier, strategic planning and pragmatic efforts can counter such tendencies. How does this manifest itself in the frame of social urbanism?

A2. Social urbanism is more connected with action and implementation. It is a combination between the improvement of the physical space of the city with an improvement in the quality of the life of the people. It belongs more with the history of the people, their personal experiences, and how the people could be a part of those processes. So this is not a policy that came from far, or a top down approach. Since implementation is very important for any policy, one thing that is strategic is how to coordinate different institutions of the government in the strategic territories that they select.

It is improvement not only in housing, public space, and public transport system in terms of public transformation, they were also trying to improve the quality of education, focus on policies which improve  inclusion and diversity, and improve capacity of children and the people. Thus, it is a holistic approach.

 

Q3. In Colombia the ‘Empresas Públicas de Medellín’ (EPM) is a public utility company providing water, domestic gas and electricity in the city. However, in India we have seen public-private led partnership or private sector sharing space with the public sector. How has Medellin been able to sustain its public sector?

A3.In Colombia and Latin America, in the 1960’s and 1970’s all public services used to belong to the government. But in the 1980’s and 1990’s with the notion that everything has to be privatised, Latin America went through a vast change, where the public services went to private owners.  One of the reasons could be because many of the public services were very inefficient. However, in Medellin since the public sector was extremely efficient, they were never privatised. The main reason can be attributed to people. These public entities had really good managers and they managed to protect the companies from external politics. The public servants had technical capacity to deal with any crisis at hand.

 

Q4. What ideas or recommendations would you give for having the same model in India?

A4.There is no ideal model. However, Medellin could help like an example if you could understand how things and processes happen, and each case has different realities and singularities. Both countries share a lot of things- problems and opportunities. We have to understand how to work simultaneously to solve both formal and informal problems, and thus it is necessary to put intelligence into practice. This intelligence should have the capacity to innovate and give rise to the belief that problems can be solved.

Both countries have high levels of inequalities, there is a high process of migration, and they settle mainly in the periphery of the city, as a result of which informal rings appear. There is a need to have greater proximity with reality. Colombia has very fragile politics and there is a high complexity of things. Additionally, in the case of Colombia, they had the case of violence. These complexities permit us to innovate in a lot of things. We can reframe the concept of planning and give this concept more proximity to reality, and thus combine planning and action.

A lot can be learnt through pilot projects, which then can be implemented at the national level if required. It is necessary to engage the community at each point. Moreover, citizens participate in these things if they find spaces to collaborate and to develop dialogues and some processes. It is necessary to take impartial decisions and to improve the politics, as such a system will help to  sustain innovation.

(Sanjana Patro and Srilakshmi Nambiar are  2017-19 participants of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. They can be reached at sanjanapatro@nls.ac.in and srilakshminambiar@nls.ac.in respectively)

 

Lecture on Labour Bondage in India by Professor Jan Breman

Apoorva S and Srilakshmi Nambiar

Jan Breman delivering his lecture at NLSIU.

Professor Jan Breman, an eminent Dutch Sociology Professor delivered a lecture on ‘Labour Bondage in India – the Sustained State of Denial’ at National Law School of India University on 12th August, 2017.

He started the lecture by saying that there is a global crisis for mankind at large. Since 1991, India is experiencing jobless growth, where the informal sector is absorbing about ninety percent of the population. Dr Breman narrated the experiences from his field work in Ahmedabad in 1962, which has lasted over five decades. The findings are presented in his book ‘On Pauperism in Present and Past’. He stressed that whatever progress the people at the bottom of the society have made, is a result of the democratic institutions and egalitarian vision of the Constitution which India held at the time of Independence.

The Rule of Law has not been observed in the society due to the capitalist path of development in recent times. He strongly says that it is used to abuse labour, which is an outcome of inequality. The abandonment of development paradigm to growth paradigm is unsustainable leading to a starker inequality than ever before. The promise of ‘Garibi Hatao’ and equality has not been kept up and social benefits such as Public Distribution System often do not reach targeted beneficiaries.

Talking about Gujarat, Dr Breman argued that the Special Economic Zones (SEZ’s) in Gujarat are fenced off from the public. It is easier for SEZ’s to not follow rules, and exploit the rights of labourers. He is critical of a society in which the privileged middle classes and higher classes benefit from this mode of production. The idea of sharing the fruits of economic growth amongst everyone is absent. He added that the scarcity of employment is worldwide; however, it is graver in India than the Global North. This is rooted in India’s history of colonial exploitation which has made the economy more agrarian than ever before.  

According to Dr Breman, agrarian crisis is more encompassing than death. Landowners are no longer interested in agriculture and labour desperately wants to get out of it because of low remuneration. This explains a spurt in informal sector employment, where unskilled labourers face exploitation and low wages. Dr Breman spoke about the phenomena of footloose labor and the dangerous tendency of predatory capitalism in India. He explains that India has two types of migration, one which is migrating to countries like USA and Europe, for secure jobs. The other migrating to the Middle East from Kerala, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, the nature of whose employment is informal and contractual. Further, the change in technology in India causing accelerated mechanisation and robotisation has replaced labor by capital in a rapid way. This has lead to more casual employment with low security and dignity of labor.

Indicating how the the present political regime has totally commodified labor, Dr Breman says the development paradigm in India has failed.

(Apoorva and Srilakshmi are participants of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. They can be reached at apoorvas@nls.ac.in and srilakshminambiar@nls.ac.in respectively)

Lecture on Social Policy by Professor Robert Walker

Public Policy Occasional Lecture Series on Social Policy by Professor Robert Walker

SOUMYA GUPTA

Robert Walker, a Professor Emeritus and Emeritus Fellow of Green Templeton College visited the National Law School India University for a special guest lecture on ‘Research Methodologies and Social Policy’. He shared his experiences carrying out scientific research for governmental and private bodies.

Professor Walker has worked with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP) in the past, and has contributed to the field of Social Policy since April 2006. He also formerly taught at the University of Nottingham. In addition, he has served extensively as a Research Affiliate at the National Poverty Centre, University of Michigan and also as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He was a Member of the statutory UK Social Security Advisory Committee for 10 years until 2012 and chaired the Academic Advisory Committee during the design and launch of the ESRC UK Household Longitudinal Study. He is currently a member of the Expert Advisory Group for the evaluation of Universal Credit. His career is an inspiration to many researchers and students to conduct high quality research for informing the political process and improving policy. He undertakes research relevant to the development of welfare policies in Britain and other countries, and engages in dialogue with policymakers who support research to bring about positive change. His particular research interests include poverty, social exclusion, children’s aspirations and employment instability.

In his lecture at NLSIU, he began by saying, “Do not believe all that I say,” ushering the urge in students to be curious, question things and accept ideas after rigorous research. He talked about the controversial Brexit policy, the use of cash transfers within the anti-poverty policy domain, and the differences in research methods between the Global North and Global South over the past decade. He shared insights on the new strategy to anti-poverty efforts in the Global South, which reflect a contemporary neo-liberal agenda and have seen success in Latin America. A comparative, qualitative study led by Prof. Walker moved across five settings – two in the Global North (Norway, the UK) and three in the South (China, India, and South Korea). Prof. Walker went on to share some real-life obstacles and probable solutions to qualitative and quantitative research problems.

While talking about a range of interesting and efficiency-related aspects of a welfare state, it was also discussed how the nature of an organization which initiates the research matters a lot. The session however, was rightly aimed at showcasing how a ‘productive’ or ‘efficient’ research is to be carried out and what tools are available to a researcher. (A productive research is the one which carries adequate evidences and supports the analysis, on which a policy can be devised or a law can be enacted.)

He cited examples from his research paper, which reflected targeted policy analysis and interviewed recipients in the settings under investigation. Specific focus is placed on the potential for measures to shame or heighten the dignity of recipients. He wanted to convey how claimants who are already vulnerable may undermine the efficacy of the measure offered.

The discussion revolved around topics from incentivizing research participation to dealing with bureaucracy in a government initiated public policy research. One of the MPP students also went on to ask, “Should a researcher keep his emotions, first hand-experiences at bay or can he use his policy approach paper to give a certain direction for the desired policy.” A debate emerged as it is seen that most of the time a policy paper or research survey does not result in the construction of a policy as recommended. In the end, a researcher has a limited say in the making of a policy which can have a significant impact on public welfare.

(Soumya Gupta is pursuing the Master’s Programme in Public Policy at National Law School of India University and is in the 2017-2019 batch. She can be reached at soumyagupta@nls.ac.in)

 

A recap of Regulatory Governance Workshops

MPP 2016-18

 

In the third trimester, MPP participants were divided into six groups, each of which explored the regulatory landscape and challenges in a particular sector. The six sectors chosen were Electricity, Water, Banking, Health, Higher Education and Media. Students analysed regulatory institutions, policy instruments and their implementation and the roles politics and business played in creating the regulatory regimes. They further examined conversations around whether the state was too activist and stifling free enterprise or retreating from its responsibilities. Each group led a half-day workshop in which external facilitators were invited to discuss their experiences working in the sector and outline the most pressing policy challenges that exist today. This format for the course was novel and highly engaging and the class is deeply grateful to the CSSEIP and course facilitator, Pradeep Ramavath.

Electricity Workshop

In the first workshop, participants examined regulatory challenges in the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity along with Mr. M.R. Srinivasa Murthy, IAS (Retd) Chairman, Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC). They outlined the central and state agencies with a role to play and discussed the growing role of private players. Due to the natural monopoly and moral hazards at work, national policies can only go so far towards managing a central power grid. For his part, Mr. Murthy emphasized the Government objective of 24×7 power supply and looked into our current installed capacity, with a special turn towards utilizing ‘stranded capacity’. Moreover, access to electricity can be highly inequitable between regions depending on installed capacity and also what the dominant source is (i.e. during times of drought, areas that rely on hydropower experience load shedding). Given the financial difficulties faced by DISCOMS, the participants also discussed the UDAY scheme and how it has begun to revitalize the power sector value chain. Participants focused on international agreements to develop cleaner and more environment friendly energy sources, the Draft National Renewable Energy Act 2015 and two regulatory instruments in India to promote renewable energy – Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) and Renewable Power Obligations (RPOs). They concluded by highlighting the legal status and market position for RECs and RPOs as well as what can be done to make them more competitive.

Water Workshop

For the second, the students worked with water activist S Vishwanath from Biome Environmental trust to arrange a field visit to Jakkur Lake. The lake is maintained by a local citizen’s group, Jala Poshan, which took responsibility for maintaining it from the BDA and has adopted an Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM) approach that recognizes diverse values of the lake from economic, ecological, sanitation and public health, recreational, etc. They engage as many stakeholders as possible in identifying its problems, liaising with government agencies and sustaining Jakkur lake as a local asset that recharges ground water. Given the overlapping urban development and public utility mandates exercised by various bodies (such as the BDA, BBMP, BWSSB, Lake Development Authority, etc.), local governance becomes crucial to keep watch and ensure necessary functions are being carried out. During the visit, participants also observed how the lakes in the region are connected in a chain and how effluents and algae that enter into one of them leads to environmental hazards such as the flames in Bellandur Lake. The students then led Vishwanath Sir in a discussion with the class which touched on the tangled bureaucracies that regulate water and sewage, political disputes over water, the conflict between water as a productive resource and as a human right and the technical and economic costs of using water in a sustainable manner.

Banking Workshop

The third workshop focused on reforms in the banking sector and was coordinated by Mr. Mohan Mani. After an orientation on the history of banking laws in India, participants examined the implementation of Basel norms and their role in the post-liberalisation banking scenario. They looked at the divergent goals of private banks and public banks in the context of India’s history of bank nationalisation and reviewed the lack of a clear policy to manage non-performing assets. The group also discussed how the role of a regulator is simultaneously played by the RBI and the Finance Ministry, which has a detrimental impact on the nation’s macroeconomic policies. The presentation was followed by a lecture by Mr. C. H. Venkatachalan, who outlined the major achievements and current demands of the All India Bank Employees Federation (AIBEF). The workshop was also attended by other guests from the Karnataka Pradesh Bank Employees’ Federation.

Health Workshop

In the fourth workshop, the class discussed the state of public and private health and the lack of regulatory body in the health sector. The students worked with Dr. Akhila Vasan and Vijaya Kumar Seethappa from Karnataka Janaarogya Chaluvali, an NGO which fights for health rights, dignity and well-being of all citizens, with a focus on the most disadvantaged and marginalized communities. In the past few years, the NGO has been in direct discussions with the state government of Karnataka and has advocated to the control of unabated privatisation of the health services in the state. The students and the resource persons used a narrative style of presentation, which was filled with discussions, case studies and anecdotes in order to emphasise the detrimental effects of the withdrawal of the state from the health sector in the post-liberalisation era and the subsequent mushrooming of the private health care which, presently, is largely unregulated. The privatisation of health care has also led to increasing cost of access to healthcare which a has led to large portion of the population being excluded from provision of quality healthcare. A few legislations like Karnataka Private Medical Establishments Act 2007, Clinical Establishments Act 2010 and West Bengal Clinical Establishments Act 2017 were analysed and discussed in depth. The scenario of having health services replaced by the health insurance also was discussed in the session.

In continuation to the workshop, students in this group attended a public meeting on proposed amendments to the Karnataka Private Medical Establishments Act, 2007, which helped them better understand the regulatory challenges faced in the health sector.

Higher Education Workshop

In the fifth workshop, regulation within the higher education sector was examined with the help of Prof. Sudha Rao and Dr. Chetan Singhai from NAAC. Higher education is an extremely diverse field which serves a wide range of institutions, courses and students and the sector has been growing steadily in India. Participants argued that norms must be set in place that ensure institutes of higher education have a clear mission, are accountable to their students and adequately prepare them for jobs in their field. The main focus of the workshop was on how quality can and should be assessed in such a context, questioning whether standardisation is a worthwhile goal or it can stifle innovation and progress. They discussed the parallel roles played by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) in measuring quality and closely reviewed how these are subjectively measured through self-assessments and peer team visits. As both the guests, Prof Rao and Prof Singhai work closely with NAAC, they shared their experiences on the campus visits and participating in delegations to observe how other countries assess quality in their higher education sphere. The workshop concluded by studying the politicization of ‘quality’ in India as neither the state nor the market is fully equipped to determine the goals of higher education.

Media Workshop

In the final workshop, participants looked at regulation of the media sector along with Mr. Krishnaprasad (current Member of Press Council of India) and Mr Ravindra Kumar (MD and Editor of “The Statesman”, former President of Indian Newspaper Society). Participants began by highlighting the corporate incentive to get into media, which leads to creation of monopolies by mainstream media businesses. While this is a trend that has been taken to the extreme in the US, the Indian media still has a healthy degree of competition especially including Hindi and regional language media. Students discussed horizontal and vertical ‘cross-media ownership’ through print, online, television and radio as well as DTH and streaming or broadband services and looked at contemporary issues including the influence of TRPs and advertising, role of social media in spreading fake news and political biases of certain journalists. There was particular interest in the social and political role media could play in what is increasingly being described as a “post truth society” and where regulation could induce media houses to be more responsible and where it restricted the freedom of the press. Both Mr. Kumar S and Ms. Anitha spoke about their personal experiences as print journalists in the Kannada press and what inspired them to take up the profession in the first place. The session ended with Mr. Ravindra Kumar joining in via videoconference to add his insights on the contemporary scenario of ‘media divergence’ or segmentation in the market and take questions.

This post was compiled by the NLSIU MPP PR Team comprising of Aastha Maggu, Kalidoss Nanditha, Rohith CH, Smita Mutt and Trisrota Dutta.

Lecture on Accountability Reforms in India by Prashant Bhushan

SATTVIKA ASHOK

Noted activist and lawyer, Prashant Bhushan delivered an engaging lecture on the 9th of April at National Law School of India, University on ‘Accountability reforms through laws, institutions, and social movements’. Mr Bhushan has been closely associated with the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reform and the conceptualisation of the Jan Lokpal as a product of the India Against Corruption movement. According to Mr Bhushan, due to the absence of a strong citizen lobby, public policy in India has been serving vested commercial interests. 

Commenting on the realms of Public Interest Litigation and human rights, Mr Bhushan stressed the need for transparency, accountability and time bound delivery of service in the functioning of government institutions. To ensure so, the importance of grievance redressal by an appellate authority, independent of the government at both the Central and State level is critical. As a result, people’s groups have demanded the reintroduction of the ‘Right of Citizens for Time bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011‘ which had lapsed earlier in the assembly. Mr Bhushan also discussed the existing legal framework under the Right to Information Act, 2005 to access information under the control of public authorities. While the legal provision for seeking information has been revolutionary, proactive disclosure has been largely missing. In addition, the Central Information Commission set up under the RTI Act was perceived to be incompetent where appointments have been based on political considerations without transparency. The Central Vigilance Commission, an apex Indian governmental body created in 1964 to address governmental corruption, reported that corruption complaints against various government departments jumped by a whopping 67 percent in 2016 over the previous year. (India 2017) The CVC that has a supervisory jurisdiction over the Central Bureau of Investigation has been criticised for its lack of effectiveness and investigative machinery. Therefore, Mr Bhushan believed there is a need for strong robust institutions, reforms, and laws to maintain transparency in governance, including the most important institution, the judiciary.  

Prashant Bhushan is also known for his association in the public interest domain with Transparency International, People’s Union for Civil Liberties and his stance the withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir and other areas. When asked what keeps him going, he replied, “when there is a huge injustice, you cannot close your eyes and walk away.” Given the role of media in politics today, where the mainstream media is showing signs of fascism, on asked whether a movement like Indian Against Corruption is possible, while Mr Bhushan agrees that citizen activism is harder, the new media and social media are increasingly able to capture the voice of the public.

References:

India, Press Trust of, ed. 2017. 67% jump in corruption complaints; railways tops: CVC. New Delhi, April 13.

Image source:

Image Reference: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/krishna-remark-prashant-bhushan-apologises-says-unintentionally-hurt-sentiments-of-many/

(Sattvika is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at sattvikaashok@nls.ac.in )