Habitat III and draft New Urban Agenda: The contentious clause

India has opposed the inclusion of ‘Right to the City’ on the ground that its admission would mean that the country would have to adhere to the principle of social justice for all urban inhabitants and not merely the legally-recognised citizens

Written by Shalini Nair | New Delhi | Published: September 3, 2016 1:17 am
right to city, habitat 3, habitat 3 india, india habitat 3, rtc, habitat 3 rtc, rtc habitat 3, united nations habitat 3, un, un habitat 3 india, india housing, india news RTC was the most contentious issue during the series of negotiations in the run-up to the once-in-twenty-year United Nations housing and sustainable urban development conference.

In the run-up to Habitat III, India has opposed the inclusion of the Right to the City in the draft New Urban Agenda that will define the way cities world-wide are shaped over the next two decades. The Right to the City (RTC) recognises equal access to urban life as a basic human right for all including migrants, slum dwellers and the homeless.

RTC was the most contentious issue during the series of negotiations in the run-up to the once-in-twenty-year United Nations housing and sustainable urban development conference. The last of such negotiations were held in Surabaya in Indonesia recently. The draft agenda will be discussed in the next round of informal negotiations between September 7 and 9 in New York and be finalised before or during the Habitat III conference in Quito in October 2016.

The RTC’s deletion from the draft was also a demand put forward by the developed bloc of the USA, Japan and EU countries. It was only on the insistence of Latin American governments and civil society groups that the RTC has been retained in the draft agenda. Countries such as Brazil, which has written the Right to the City into its federal law, Mexico, which has City Charter for the Right to the City as well as Chile, Argentina and Ecuador were the most vociferous supporters of the right. Certain others such as the UAE were in favour of changing the language to “Cities for All” diluting the guarantees that are conferred by the language of a rights-based approach.
Following negotiations, the revised draft agenda’s opening section titled the ‘the Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements’ retains the reference to RTC. It states, “Cities for all is also recognised as the Right to the City in some countries, based on a people-centered vision of cities as places that strive to guarantee a decent and full life for all inhabitants.”

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The term Right to the City has its origin in the writings of French philosopher Henri Lefebvre in his 1968 book Le Droit à la ville. It prioritises collective right over the individual right to urban space. It gives every inhabitant, and not just the legal citizens, the right to not just occupy a pre-existing urban space but also to produce spaces according to their needs.

“RTC gives every occupant, irrespective of their legality, a claim over the city. It requires the State to act on the principles of social justice and provide equal services to each and every resident. Just like the

Right to Education makes it the State’s duty to ensure that every child is in school, acknowledging the RTC means that the State can no longer deny shelter or provision of services such as water to those living in unauthorised slums,” said Chandana Das from the Indian chapter of the Global RTC movement which is involved in the Habitat III process. She added that India has opposed not only RTC but the inclusion of any new rights including the Right to Adequate Housing in the agenda.

India’s opposition to the Right to the City stems from the fact that admitting to such a right would mean that it would have to adhere to the principle of social justice for all urban inhabitants and not merely the legally-recognised citizens.

Das pointed out how in most Indian cities, instead of the State providing shelter and other services as a right to one and all, the most marginalised of urban poor are confined to unauthorised slums that thrive on political patronage.

These are conferred legal status based on random cut-off dates that are advanced by subsequent governments as part of its vote-bank politics. In Mumbai and other cities of Maharashtra, it was extended from 1995 to January 2000 on the eve of last assembly elections, in Delhi the APP government advanced it from 2013 to January 2015.

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Recognising RTC would make it incumbent on city and state government to provide equal access to shelter and basic services to everyone irrespective of their legal status or duration of domicile in the city.

Similarly, civil society groups point out that the resistance from EU countries is a result of the migrant crisis in Europe. EU’s official stated position is that RTC is not an agreed human right recognised by international human rights instruments. India’s position too was that managing migrants and refugees should be left to the individual nations and should not be dictated by the New Urban Agenda.

“EU’s stand is that there is no common legal international understanding of RTC and, hence, they cannot support it. India’s stated position is that it is not appropriate to venture into the articulation of any new right in the agenda,” said Aashish Khullar, from the UN Major Group for Children and Youth, the UN General Assembly-mandated mechanism for engaging children in inter-governmental processes.

He added that besides RTC, the other major sticking point in the run-up to Habitat III is the role of UN Habitat in
monitoring the commitments made by each country. A recent review of the commitments made by all countries during Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996 shows that in the absence of any monitoring mechanism and due to the non-binding nature of the commitments, the overall global Habitat Commitment Index score has increased only 1.49 points. India, on its part, has shown no improvement on its various urban development indices in the last 20 years and lags behind other South Asian countries such as Pakistan and Nepal.

Right to the City: the term and its origin

The term Right to the City has its origin in the writings of French philosopher Henri Lefebvre in his 1968 book Le Droit à la ville. It prioritises collective right over the individual right to urban space. It gives every inhabitant, and not just the legal citizens, the right to not only occupy a pre-existing urban space but also to produce such a space according to their needs. India’s opposition to the Right to the City stems from the fact that admitting to such a right would mean that it would have to adhere to the principle of social justice for all urban inhabitants and not merely the legally-recognised citizens.

The 4-point agenda in India Habitat III National Report

Economic Growth and Productivity

* Fully planned and sustainable human settlements
* High travel speed, above 30 kmph peak time
* Well-distributed business district centres
* Intensive use of technology/innovations
* E-governance
* Smart grid
* Normative norms/self-declaration/ approvals of buildings/ town layouts

Inclusive Development

* Composite living representing socio-economic population dynamics—inclusive development
* Adequate and affordable housing for urban poor and senior citizens

Sustainability and Issues of Climate Change

* 60–90 per cent population to travel by public transport
* Dominant mode of travel does not emit pollution in immediate environment
* Local travel, E-rickshaw, walking, etc. for last mile connectivity
* Street light LED with dimmer, low consumption, almanac micro-processor controlled
* Rainwater harvesting in all roads, streets and buildings
* Barrier-free pedestrian pathways and bicycle-ways
* Natural drainage pattern, climate change, cloud burst
* Waste-water treatment, on-site and re-use in immediate surroundings for gardening, sprinklers for dust control, etc.
* Reclaiming water bodies
* Bringing water use to half from standard use
* Cut down electricity consumption to 50 per cent level than normal use and 50 per cent generation from non conventional sources
* Waste (collection 100 per cent) to electricity
* RCC roads, supported by pipes, integrated with future expansion plans, no digging
* Disaster preparedness

Improving Quality of Life

* 100 per cent sanitation
* Well-developed public facilities
* Easy access to public utilities and services
* High-security streets and buildings by CCTV
* Crime-free society and access to social justice and gender equity
* Full of greenery/ plantation, bamboo and other suitable trees
* Green and barrier-free buildings

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