Social equity and citizen's participation key to safer cities

Besides effective policing, social equity, better health and education facilities, urban planning and citizen’s duties play important role in making cities safer

GN Bureau | October 1, 2013



Governance Now organized safe city conclave on September 30 in the capital, where in experts came together to bring home the point that for greater public safety in urban spaces the strategy has to be multi-pronged. Besides effective policing, according to the experts, social equity, better health and education facilities, urban planning and citizen’s duties play important role in making cities safer.  

Delivering the keynote address, B S Bassi, commissioner, Delhi Police, said that governance is the most important factor for creating a safe city. People can’t be safe unless there is governance deficit. The law and order suffers in its absence.

He noted that the delivery of quality education, health and employment facilities to all is a prerequisite for a safe city. The same applies in rural areas, he said.

Referring to the economic background of people involved in the frequent incidents of chain snatching and money robbery on streets, which constitute 20 to 30 percent of the total crime reported to the police control room on a daily basis, he said, “Where do these people come from? These are people without any livelihood.”

“There might be some who are not poor but want to be rich overnight. But most of the people involved in petty crime come from the deprived class,” he said. 

That is why the resources have to reach to the poor. “Social equity is the key to having a safe city,” he said.

Besides, he said, there is also need for improving the faith of the youth in the system.

Citing example, he said, during protests related to the Lokpal Bill and December 16 gang rape, people who were out on streets in the protest didn’t follow the democratic norms of behaviour.

This type of articulation could degenerate and could harm the rights of others, he said.

He said that there are protests related to prices of sugarcane and clearing of ‘jhuggis’ –most of which happens at the Ram Lila Maidan. These protests are well within the democratic norms though, he said.

Delivering the special address, Amitabh Kant, CEO, Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation, said that policing alone cannot form a safe city. There is an urgent need for planned urbanisation. According to a recent UN study, by 2030, 70 percent of the world’s population will be urbanised. Therefore, it is very important that India does planned urbanization.

Kant said that people will move from rural areas to urban areas. At the current rate, each moment witnesses 30 people moving from a rural area to an urban area. By 2050, he said, 750 million people will be living in cities in the country.

Another factor that enables a safe city is the use of digital technologies. Traditionally the city governance happened in vertical manner: health, education, water supply and power departments worked in silos. However, the introduction of digital technology provided an opportunity for horizontal integration of these departments.

“We call this integrated and collaborative governance in cities as smart cities,” he said.

The third point that Kant highlighted was good governance. “If there is no good governance, you can’t create and manage a safe city.” He pointed out that if you go around legalizing everything that is illegal, it will not create a safe city. The governance must be tough and absolutely rule bound. The rule of law must prevail.

Kant went on to add that in the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor, seven new cities were being planned that will enable India to make a quantum jump in the process of manufacturing.  The CEO pointed out that manufacturing was a logical consequences, whose effects will trickle down to the process of urbanization. But for that to happen, India must grow at the rate of 7-8% and manufacturing itself should grow at the rate of 13-14% or the next three to four decades, he said.

Making a comparison with the countries that have progressed post world War II, Dr Sudhir Krishna, secretary, ministry of urban development, Government of India highlighted the importance of a high rate of urbanization.

“As a country, we have been reluctant organizers from 1997-2007,” commented Dr Krishna. He added that India, as a country had been prevented the process of urbanization, launching all efforts that encouraged people to travel to the villages, from cities. “However we did not analyse how countries that have been progressing and why they have been progressing, It turns out that the countries that have been progressing their urbanization levels are very high.” Dr Krishna said.

Talking about countries which achieved independence in the 1940s, or had a rebirth post the second World War, Dr Krishna added that most of these countries have overtaken us in terms of development indicators.

A correlation has been discovered between per-capita of states and the rate of their urbanization. Citing the example of Bihar, which has an urbanization rate of 55 percent, Dr Krishna said it was also one of the states with the lowest per capita income.  “There is no magic in urbanization. It is the best out of investments. Investment in human beings, investment in natural resources etc,” noted Dr Krishna.  The main magic was a blend of urbanization with the good governance. All those countries which have progressed well, have had a very strong local governance.

Yet India stands at a peculiar position. Governments are getting decimated, we are relying on the central government for grants to fund projects and at the same time there is a compulsion to wait for approvals from the authorities. “This creates disconnect between the rulers and the ruled, which leads to a situation of unsafe cities.”And the solution is to come up with a very different approach at every level.

Dr Krishna pointed out that there is a need to plan out the basic infrastructure. This will create mobility. Mobility will mean that people can spread out more evenly, they will have more choices for employment, therefore reducing the pressure on infrastructure. It will also create a level of equality. Citing the example of public transport, Dr Krishna added that his department was pushing towards mass transportation. The department will financially support 10,000 buses in small and medium towns. The small and medium towns have to be encouraged to grow.

The current rate of urbanization, 32% is actually not that high. We should be aiming at 82%. This qill reduce the pressure on the infrastructure. If people start migrating to the cities, this will also increase the land holdings. Land holdings have been decreasing over the years, in 1971, the average was 3 hectres. This has come down to 1.1 hectres today. Two thirds of the land holdings are less than one hectre, and most of these are dry lands. People cannot survive on that, Dr Krishna. This situation, in turn leads to increase in crime in villages.

“The solution lies in making cities a better place to live in, more equitable to live in, and to allow people to migrate to the cities, with a better quality of life, with higher incomes and better facilities.

Vikas Aggarwal, chief technology officer, Microsoft highlighted the challenges that a structure faces , as it existence is threatened by the rapid urbanization that is taking place. Technology at some level impacts cities.

The biggest challenge, with the current slowdown, is the challenge of meeting the evolving needs of the citizens.   There is a clustering of verticals like education, health etc. Each of these verticals has a sub building block, for which technology has a solution.

However, Vikas Aggarwal added that the real technology innovation lies in how we integrate these verticals together. The challenge was to note how we use the data collected from the various sources. Whether the data was actually being used or just being stored.

The company (Microsoft) has started adopting people first approach. It is engaging people, business and the government in a dialogue, in a real time communication mode, in which the company analyzes the needs required within the city. “How do we use technology to transform the operations and deliver what we have discovered,” said Aggarwal.

The solution to this was to create horizontal solutions so that intelligent dashboarding can be done, added the chief technology officer.

Safety is not a stand alone matter. Safe city comes from a city that is well planned, a city that offers equal opportunities. The law enforcement was one of the elements, but one that required attention. Aggarwal added that post 9/11, Microsoft has created solutions that connects various components together, solutions that create a dialogue between multiple agencies. These solutions range from mere surveillance to a nine member alert force. The company collects data from multiple sources and chalks out a solution using predictive analysis.

Rakesh Asthana, Commissioner of Police, Surat said that public participation and policing played a key role in implementing safe city project in the city. “The city is the diamond cutting hub of the world and it is also a textile hub. After the bomb blasts in 2007 we decided to use technology to ensure safety. We installed CCTV cameras in various important public locations. The response to these cameras has been good,” he said. Government created a trust which is called the Traffic Educational Trust with the Police Commissioner as the head. “We have collected 12 crore by meeting people and motivating them for the project,” he said.

People from various walks of life were requested to provide their inputs. The tenders were evaluated as per World Bank norms. The work order was issued in August 2012. It was ready by December 2012 and was launched on 18th January 2013, he said.

Presently cameras have been deployed at 23 locations. The plan is to scale it to 1,500 cameras and finally to 5000 cameras at 500 locations.

“The project has resulted in a decrease in the crime rate by 15-20 per cent,” he said.

Former Justice R S Sodhi said that the judiciary is not present to impose impediments in the life of the citizens. It only interprets the law and what is admissible in the court is a question of law.

“What is a safe city? Is a safe city a surveillance city or a police state? Does it work on exclusion? Safety of a city is no more related to being unsafe from outsiders. It is about your personal safety and today you have to participate for your safety. The average policeman does not have any powers and he can only help in quickening the process of law,” he said.

He added that when law is slow and delivers late, it is dangerous to society. Merely blaming people is not enough; intolerance in society is increasing which is the most unsafe thing you can do to your city and its safety. You have to accept that people have rights. Safe citizenry is equal to a safe city.

“For a safe city we need to have infrastructure, management and governance in a city. We should discourage knee jerk emotions as we can't twist laws in our favour to satisfy our emotions for a day. Citizens have rights and duties and people have to understand their duties,” he said.

Prof. Anand Kumar, Jawaharlal Nehru University said, “Since the time I have come to stay in Delhi and have seen a changing character of Delhi due to many influences. Four points of consensus come out of this observation: a) the police centred idea of governance of a city is not a good idea. b) More of the same in the context of urbanisation should be discouraged. In the past years, the land mafia has gained in power and importance. c) People's needs have multiplied and d) Development authorities have failed to serve the needs of the people.”

He added that cities are a part of an urban-rural nexus as free movement between villages and cities is possible in India and people come here for better opportunities. These present the following contradictions: there is development deficit in different cities. Cities are zones of modernisation but in villages and rural areas the dominant caste democracy is followed therefore they offer better forms of citizenship.

In the cities, he said, we need to understand safety according to gender and community perspective as a city is differently safe for a man and a woman and communities. “We need to understand it from a class perspective for example in Delhi, South Delhi is very different from Seelampur where even the police has to negotiate with the Basti DadaRam who is all pervasive,” he said.

The need of the hour is to move to a citizen centric perspective about safety from a police centric perspective.

K P Maheshwari, IG, CRPF said that the safety of the city is a combined effort and cannot be one person's initiative. Situation can be solved by customising solutions for every person and institution. “We need to also under the psycho-behavioural aspects of people. We need to take care of the marginalised segments of the society,” he said.

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