Recognise economic contribution of urban poor, urge experts

New Delhi, June 21 (IANS) The economic contribution of the urban poor is not often recognised, opined experts at a two-day meeting here, noting that better facilities should be provided to the urban power, and municipalities granted powers to deal with poverty.

The meeting on "Urban Poverty: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities" saw a gathering of people studying the issue come together in the national capital Friday.

Participants drew attention to the fact that a large percentage of the city population belonged to low income groups, and their needs could not be ignored.

Rajesh Tandon, president, Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), said people belonging to low income groups including rickshaw pullers, vendors, hawkers and daily wage labourers were "considered a burden on the city rather than equal citizens."

"Better urban governance is necessary for empowering the urban poor and improving their opportunities and security. Policies addressing income and affordability, sanitation and health should be well structured and monitored," he said.

Tandon said 40 percent of urban poor stay outside slums and the rate of inward migration was higher in smaller cities than in metropolitan ones.

"The contribution of the urban poor to the GDP is about 25 percent, but resources allocated to them are not even two percent," he said.

Tandon also commented on the limited powers granted to municipalities: "They have not been empowered economically. There is need to think nationally on the way to empower municipalities," he said.

Tandon said the poor had not been made real stakeholders in schemes such as Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and Basic Services to Urban Poor.

"Local level mechanisms for designing projects is not there," he said.

The recommendations of the consultation, Tandon said, will be sent to the Planning Commission and state governments.

Sheela Patel of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC) said efforts were being made to evolve a coalition of federations of urban poor.

She said there cannot be a uniform solution to problems of the urban poor, and it had to be city-specific.

Aromar Revi of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) said the rate of migration to cities could increase if there was collapse of agriculture.

He pointed to other situations that could offer insights, saying that India's rate of urbanisation was slower that in some Latin American countries.

As per census estimates, India's urban population has grown from 290 million in 2001 to 377 million in 2011. According to estimates by an expert committee on urban infrastructure and services, the contribution of urban areas is expected to rise to 75 percent of GDP by 2030.

The urban population was 28 percent in 2001 and was expected to rise to 41 percent by 2031.

The two-day consultation was organised to discuss issues of urbanisation, and brought together stakeholders dealing with the management of cities and with issues of urban poverty.

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