At a time that land in urban centres, especially in the big metropolitan cities, is at a premium, a Working Group of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) has suggested that, as far as possible, slum dwellers should be resettled at the spot where they are currently living, rather than displacing them, so that they continue to remain close to their places of work. NAC sources said the Working Group stressed that re-location and “displacement of slum dwellers should be the exception rather than the rule,” and that there should be an emphasis on social housing as a policy to prevent the future growth of urban slums.
Friday's meeting, which discussed a slew of issues largely relating to urban poverty, minorities and Dalits, also saw Ms. Gandhi back at the helm of affairs. The NAC did not meet either in August or September as she was away in the United States, undergoing medical treatment – and though she was back in September, she clearly needed to focus her energies to resolving the crises both in the government and country.
The countrywide campaign against corruption also had its echo at the NAC meeting when Aruna Roy, convenor of the Working Group on Transparency, Accountability and Governance updated the Council on issues relating to setting up a pre-legislative mechanism so that the instances like the current controversy over the framing of the Lokpal Bill can be avoided in the future.
The Working Group (WG) on Urban Poverty, headed by Harsh Mander, wants the Rajiv Awaas Yojana — the scheme to make urban India free of slums — to be amended so that it becomes difficult to displace slum dwellers: it has suggested that if the government wants to re-locate slum dwellers, it will have to cite reasons, and those being displaced will have the right to appeal against such an order. The WG would also like, the NAC sources said, to include the homeless, those “precariously housed” and domestic workers in the government's social housing schemes. Civic amenities for such housing should also be clearly indicated in fresh guidelines. The current guidelines for the Rajiv Aawas Yojana say that re-location should be the last resort, but these rules, the sources said, “tend to be interpreted casually at the State level.”
Another NAC Working Group on social protection, also headed by Mr. Mander, suggested the total abolition of child labour to bring it in line with the Right to Education (RTE) which mandates that all children between the ages of six and 14 should be educated. The sources pointed out that currently there was a contradiction between the Child Labour Act and the RTE as the former only bans child labour in hazardous occupations. The WG on Friday pressed for total abolition of child labour, whether in hazardous or non-hazardous occupations to ensure that all children between six and 14 have the opportunity to be educated.
The Working Groups on minority affairs and Dalit issues, both headed by Farah Naqvi, made suggestions for better targeting of funds for these two sections, with special reference to the 12th Plan. For instance, currently, funds have been set aside for 90 minority concentration districts — but often the benefits do not actually reach the minorities. So a suggestion has been made to make the unit smaller — instead of districts, it could be hamlets or settlements. There is also a proposal for universalisation of scholarships for minorities — so that all applications for pre and post-matric scholarships, for instance, are not turned away. The WG simultaneously suggested that the Sub-Plan for Scheduled Castes be restructured to make it more effective, and prevent its misuse as happened during the Commonwealth Games, when funds for the SCs found their way into other heads.
A.K. Shivakumar updated the Council on the progress made so far by the Working Group on Social Security for Unorganised Workers which he heads.
The Secretary of the Union Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation Ministry briefed the NAC on the action taken by the Ministry on the Council's recommendations on enacting a Central law for street vendors. At its meeting on May 25, the NAC suggested a Central law with a view to preserving existing employment and livelihoods through street vending, and providing opportunities for the future growth of employment in the cities, while protecting the interests of the consumers, pedestrians and traffic. It also recommended that the principles of natural markets should be incorporated in the law.
The NAC agreed that the draft recommendations of the Working Groups on all the subjects discussed on Friday will be placed on the NAC website as draft recommendations to solicit comments from the public, before they are finalised. The next NAC meeting is scheduled to be held on November 29.