Monday, July 15, 2024

Two trending public issues: City redevelopment plans & reservation


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By Ubahunlang Dkhar Tmar

The recent news report on the government’s re-development plan generates a sense of unease that provokes certain reasoning. Before I elucidate my thoughts, I have added few relevant lines as reported in The Shillong Times June 30, 2023) that caught my attention –
“The proposed redevelopment in Barik aims to create an iconic space that promotes heritage, enriches tourists’ experiences, and provides a social gathering place for· residents.”
Based on the above news report, the following are questions welling in my mind:
1. How do we “promote heritage”, when first we have to dismantle Heritage?
Since heritage is a priceless inheritance and historically important, Heritage requires continuity with less interference and actually requires maintenance/protection, in the parlance of sensitive Architectural/Archaeological/Anthropological undertakings.
In the context of buildings and spaces there is also the aspect of embedded Aesthetics attached from the past. Whose aesthetics will we dress and address now? What I have observed is that our government (including past governments) have very low IQ on aesthetics faculty and sensibilities.
2. “Iconic Space that promotes heritage” in this context, this is a subjective view point, a planner’s general assumptions. What are the ingredients and contents of this iconic space? Who will decide and interpret on what is heritage?
3. Enriches tourist experiences” The word Tourist is also a collective term that embraces differences, not similarities. Every single tourist has different tastes, sense of style, food habits, viewpoints etc. How do we cater to these variables? Tourism as an industry in different parts of the developed world have adopted paradigm shifts in their policies. They have developed their own ‘unique selling points’ (USP) based on their unique and peculiar geographical endowments.
4. “Social gathering places for residents” Most cities (European especially) have public spaces which have historical importance too. Many highly urbanised nations in their urban planning have also created public spaces (family, children, general public) for their citizens and most of these spaces are also centres of public expressions either art, music and even site for protest/political gathering (like the public square).
We first have to understand what is a public space; its political, philosophical, legal and historical connotations, since most of our public spaces in this city are used for commercial purposes. Again, what happens to the site/place of recent hunger strike near secretariat? Isn’t that a public space? Recently the Government has tried to barricade that area by putting barriers to discourage civil protests which is actually a Constitutional provision. Can political gatherings also enhance socialization? Will social gatherings encourage politicization of space? One has to understand the socio-political dynamics and mechanisms and the psychology of space, the science of proximity and evolutionary organising principles.
On the Church Relocation: The plan to relocate the iconic English Service Church is such an abhorrent idea that no sane, educated individual would even think about it. This obsession with ‘beautification’ is a superficial and shallow understanding of, ‘What it is to be a city?’ This is the same thing that the Scholar Jane Jacobs an Urban Theorist talks about in her book “The Life and Death of Great American Cities”. We must understand that a city is a sociological-commercial organism that only its citizens can beautify and support its growth and maintain flexibility and stability. There is no place for ‘Le Corbusier’ style of Architecture and Urban Planning in Shillong. No amount of space creation will eradicate the spatial (space) problems we face.
A Paradox: A Smart city requires smart citizens and smart planners. And nowhere in the world will you find a smart city. I have only heard of efficient cities. If you change and tweak the definition and content of “smart city”, you will find smart cities everywhere.
A thought on the Reservation et al
On social media there has been a lot discussion on the present Reservation issue. There are those who stress on the criteria of ‘backwardness’ ‘deprivation’ as a condition for reservation among Scheduled Tribes but not on the size of population, I think this will not stand, since it leads to the sub-categorization of Schedule Tribes on the basis of the yardstick of backwardness, deprivation.
The moment you address backwardness and deprivation, you have to take into account the measurement/criteria of ‘relative backwardness’ within a tribe. We know that among any group of Schedule Tribes there are creamy layers with high disposable income and easy access to resources and there are those who are deprives/ backward. There are also regions within the territory of a Schedules Tribe, which are backward and under-developed if we use the yardstick of development.
If we bring the criteria of backwardness, deprivation index for Reservation we are opening a Pandora’s box. One of the probabilities is of income tax being levied or a system in the line of Public Distribution System being worked out. If backwardness and deprivation will be the criteria for Reservations, this will lead to the sub-categorization of the term Scheduled Tribe. If that is the case, the issue of sub-categorization of the Scheduled Tribes has to go to the Parliament before any policy of sub-categorization of such Scheduled Tribe is initiated in the States.
If we use the criteria of ‘Backwardness and Deprivation,’ we must also understand that population size is also a factor of backwardness. A large population that depends on small amount of resources (allocation) will result in some section of that population being deprived thereby intensifying backwardness. We know about this when we look into the dynamic relationship between population and resources. We must therefore ask and interrogate what are the causes of backwardness, despite the large amount of central schemes/funds which have been disbursed in the State. Where have all the resources gone? What about the capital assets and resources? Who controls and exploits them?
Reservation is not the cause of backwardness or underdevelopment; it is also not the only solution to backwardness. As a State we need to address the efficient use of resources/endowments and rigorous intensive investment in capacity building. Creating locales of reasonable self-reliant economies must be the trajectory. To address these, we don’t need any arm-chair, paper based, PowerPoint aficionado consultants that have no depth on the dynamics of locational, historical, ecological, geographical, psychological, sociological, economic and political peculiarities and extremities (outlying extreme variables)
The wisdom lies with the people and their geographical surroundings. They just need an honest, on the field, helping hand to guide them. Development is an affair of daily interaction with the object and subject we wish to mould and sustain ourselves. We learn about this from small advanced nations with limited resources.
After all, development is also a social process not only a political-economic one.


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