In the western Indian state of Gujarat, where Ahmedabad is located, the urban poverty rate declined from 28% in 1993-94 to 10% in 2011-12. Trade unions, such as the Self-employed Women’s Association, founded in Ahmedabad in 1972, have played a key role in organising and empowering informal workers. By 2001 Ahmedabad was already above both state and national urban averages in the coverage of drinking water, and progress has continued. The municipal government has introduced specific programmes to improve access to public utilities – water, sanitation and electricity – for slum dwellers irrespective of tenure status. Additionally, the city stands out for its ‘smart growth’ through proactive planning for urban expansion, enabling a compact urban area while allotting spaces to house poor families.
This has been enabled by various efforts that have strengthened municipal governance and finances, allowing the local government to invest in infrastructure across the city. Moreover, civil society organisations have played a critical role in mobilising poor communities, and the municipality has welcomed collaboration.
However, gaps have
remained and relations between communities and the government have
become strained in recent years. Significant sections of the population
continue to lack access to good quality services, and Ahmedabad has
evolved into a city segmented by class, caste and religion. Further,
across much of urban India there has been a shift in the conception of
development from inclusive growth to the creation of ‘global cities’
marked by capital-intensive projects. As a result, dialogue has
decreased, becoming increasingly confrontational, and the availability
of public funds has diverted focus away from flexible local programmes
built on a collaborative model of development. While urbanisation has
been recognised as key to India’s future, the experience of Ahmedabad
provides key lessons – both positive and cautionary – relevant to
urbanisation both nationally and globally.