Learning from Nashik – Workshop Report

The fourth and final workshop in our city workshop series was held in Nashik, Maharashtra from 30-31 May 2016. The workshop was organised by a local NGO – Moolbhoot Hakka Andolan (MHA) with the support of Shilpa Dahake (PhD student in IISER, Mohali). The workshop was organised under several themes relevant to Nashik – Smart city, housing and urban space, water and waste management, cultural heritage and education and health issue. These were organised over a day and half of intense workshops that included locally elected representatives, municipal officials, planners, architects, business, journalists, and several representatives of grassroots organisations.

DAY #1

The day started with an introduction to the project and reports from the previous city workshops. The first session was on Nashik’s transformation into a smart city as part of the national 100 smart cities programme. Mr Praveen Gedam, Commissioner of Nashik Municipal Corporation elaborated on Nashik’s urban vision and plans for its future. He highlighted that Nashik has experienced exponential growth in the last 5 years and was now at a crossroads since it had grown to about 1.7 million in population. It had also achieved phenomenal growth in manufacturing but not in service sectors but still enjoyed the advantages of a Tier II city. It has specific challenges which had to do with the absence of a strong decision making authority at the city level. To overcome these challenges it was necessary to develop Nashik into a smart city. He ended by outlining the structure of the smart city delivery through the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) which he claimed will garner more trust from investors and ensure timely delivery. Mr Gurmeet Bagga, Deputy Mayor of Nashik disagreed with Mr Gedam in his talk which followed immediately afterwards. He noted that the Nashik municipal councillors resisted the SPV since it took away their powers of local self-governance provided in the 74th Indian Constitutional Amendment. He argued that the SPV has been introduced because ‘The City’ is mistrusted in the national 100 smart cities programme. While the earlier national urban renewal programme (JNNURM) gave control to corporations to take decisions on projects the SPV will reduce democracy. He made the analogy ‘You are giving us sweets when we have diabetes’ referring to the small monetary benefits of the smart cities package provided by the federal state. He was followed by Dr Himanshu Burte, from Tata Institute of Social Sciencecs who argued that smart city was the ‘modus operandi’ for the federal state.

The second session focussed on Housing and urban space. The first speaker was Mr Bakir Zafar, architect who discussed current housing policies and initiatives in Nashik. Outlining the impact of the decision of the federal government to abolish India’s Planning Commission and replace this with ‘Niti Aayog’ Mr Zafar argued that this was anything but ‘smart’. Presenting maps of the city development zones and the absence of slum mapping therein Mr Zafar highlighting the disjuncture between planning and reality of the city. His talk was followed by Mr Naresh Bhadakwade, eco-housing expert who outlined the different initiatives to reduce energy consumption in buildings. This was followed a talk by Mr Manohar Pagare, president of Nashik’s slum dwellers association, who outlined the daily struggles around housing and infrastructure faced by slum residents.

Session 3 after lunch focussed on issues of water and waste management.  Advocate Vasudha Karad outlined the contestations over distribution of water in Nashik city. While water, waste etc are mandatory issues she highlighted that water supply does not take into account the half a million floating population in Nashik who often live in slums. But this population is extremely important to Nashik since they directly contribute to the industrialisation and prosperity of the city. This talk was followed by Shrikant Nagrekar, director of NGO Nirmal Gram Vikas Kendra who outlined the challenges with waste disposal in and around Nashik. He argued that waste management was decentralised which increased the marginalisation of those outside formal provisions. This was followed by a talk from Tanaji Jaybhave, who outlined the specific experiences of the Compost project.

The final session of the day on Nashik’s cultural heritage included presentations on its historic Kumbh mela, its holy river Godavari and wildlife preservation. Dr Aditi Deo from IISER, Pune discussed Nashik’s alternative future around two seemingly opposing streams – the rise of the Sula winery and branding of Nashik as the wine region of India, the continued relevance of nashik as a religious city through the historic Kumbh Mela. This was followed by Rajesh Pandit from NGO Godavari Gatarikaran Virodhi Manch who outlined the various challenges in protecting its historical Godavari River as a natural and cultural heritage. Mr Pandit stressed that Nashik and identity associated with the Kumbh mela would not exist without the Godavari, yet despite several High Court judgments, the state and citizens had both failed in their duties to protect it. He said that the ‘culture of Nashik is linked to the Godavari and if you change this relationship, Nashik cannot be smart.’ He outlined several awareness campaigns that they run with schools and wider publics as well as using the courts as a tool to direct solutions.

The first day ended with animated discussions about the future of urban basic services and natural resources in Nashik and its relationship with its projected urban future. With the strong presence of civil society groups as participants it was clear that current business as usual and the smart city proposals did not cater for the experiences and needs of socially marginalised groups.

DAY #2

 The second day started with a focus on health and education in Nashik. The first speaker Mr Santosh Yadav from the NGO, Lok Nirnay Samajik Sanstha discussed their work in Nashik’s Phile Nagar with victims of domestic violence. He highlighted in particular the challenges facing pregnant women in accessing healthcare services through state hospitals. He argued that while there are several private hospitals, the provision of women’s welfare facilities in public hospitals was crucial to empowering women. There are however no proposals for urban health in Nashik’s smart city proposals. However, people’s participation will play an important role in Nashik’s urban futures and women cannot be left behind in this future. Following this Mr Milind Wagh outlined the challenges of education in Nashik. He argued that education should be publicly funded with an allocation of a minimum of 5% GDP. In Nashik, Mr Wagh argued, private investors are often interested in the land occupied by a public funded school. So there are cases the council sees to it that standards fall, it is starved of funds, and then finally sold off for capital investment. In this way many municipal schools were acquired by a well-known private education company in Nashik. In terms of higher education Mr Wagh argued that most universities in Maharashtra charge a ‘capitation fee’ which is unaffordable to poorer sections of population. While there has been an increase in professional/technical colleges, proportion of humanities and basic sciences streams have gone down. Mr Wagh ended with stressing the importance to adhere to the principles of Right to Education Act, because health and education is critical to progressive planning for urban futures.

The one and half days of workshop were stimulating lively and animated at several times. The key issues that emerged from the workshop was that there is a high disjuncture between the aims of the smart city proposals and the actually existing needs and demands from Nashik’s urban citizens, particularly those historically, culturally and legally disenfranchised. We discussed ways in which the smart city rhetoric could be used to forward these claims from the grassroots or whether there was a need for an alternative rhetoric and practice that would articulate citizens’ needs more appropriately. We concluded that Nashik is unique in the strong presence and activism of civil society groups which produced spaces and visions of hope for a progressive urban future.

By Ayona Datta

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IMAGES COURTESY OF AYONA DATTA
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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