As one drives past the city center in Pune, a slum appears on the side. It is home to millions of rickshaw pullers, house maids, and seasonal small vendors among other marginalized segments of the society. On a stretch of the many narrow dusty lanes, a carpenter assembles furniture, an old man sleeps on the ground, a mother stirs some dal and, a few steps away from her, a child defecates in the open. Congested and unhygienic, this place can only make one wonder why such a situation is still a reality in the 7th largest economy of the world. This is the very question Ashoka Fellow Pratima Joshi asked herself a decade ago, and her insight has been a game-changer ever since. “It is not about merely distributing services in slums, it is about how and why you do it.” This has been Pratima’s motto ever since she decided to tackle the issues one of India’s most vulnerable groups – slum dwellers.
With a background in architecture and urban planning, Pratima Joshi returned to Pune to notice an immense gap in the delivery of basic services in slums, from sanitation to proper ventilation, electricity and water. Resources and efforts, whether from the government or from non-profits, were undoubtedly scarce, and at the same time, there was a striking lack of intelligent data on the situation on the ground – what kind of services were needed, where and to what extent. For instance, 8 to 10 families, each comprised of 4-5 members, shared a single toilet. Worse, 50% of the facilities were ill-maintained. Open defecation and contaminated water were still a pressing problem, and families were not using communal government facilities despite the authorities’ efforts.
But Pratima was not one to overlook this situation. In 1993, she started Shelter Associates to bridge this information gap and prevent decision makers from being divorced of the ground realities.
Using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology and later collaborating with Google Maps, Pratima created a spatially-organized slum database and used it to push both the government and non-profits to adequately cater to the infrastructure and utility service needs of the Pune slums.
One such instance is Shelter Associates effectively relocating slum dwellers living in flood prone areas or living on land reserved for other use, by moving them to alternate sites of their choice through effective stakeholder participation.
Today, alongside pushing for projects, Shelter Associates also works on the policy level, particularly on the urban planning and utility service policies. Pratima says that oftentimes, she finds herself dealing with sanitation policies that are based on little and/or no investigation of the field, are often not representative of all slum dwellers or are not specific enough to design targeted and efficient solutions. This is precisely where Shelter Associates comes in, bringing extensive data to better design policies that could go beyond the theory level and serve the design of fruitful projects.
One such project that Pratima considers a priority is sanitation provision. This is in part why Shelter Associates has dedicated the past two years mainly to a sanitation project aligned with the government goal of providing one toilet for each family, helping around 3500 households thus far. While this has started in Pune, similar work has already started in cities of Sangli, Pimpri Chinchwad and Kolhapur. Shelter Associates is working to scale it to Maharashtra and other states in the near future.
Shelter Associates’ work is particularly inspiring because it believes in involving all stakeholders equally. According to Pratima, “policy makers, project managers, NGOs and beneficiaries often worked in silos in the past. However, today, they are all working within the same framework, in touch with the same reality.” Shelter Associates has been central in that shift, as it provides extensive intelligent data, while the government provides administrative and sometimes financial support, various corporate bodies provide funding, non-profits support carrying the projects, and more importantly, slum dwellers themselves are empowered to ask for their own rights. For instance, few women that Pratima has worked with are now requesting proper sanitation facilities to potential grooms, which is slowly but surely shifting the mindset around sanitation in their communities, and driving change from within the target group.
Looking ahead, Shelter Associates is exploring the possibility of engaging in the housing sector for the poor, a move that aligns with the organization’s extensive experience in this field and would also support the government goals in the region. In the meantime, channeling the spirit of “Everyone a Changemaker”, Pratima says, “the larger Indian society could be involved in breaking the silence about the issues faced by slum dwellers by demanding adequate data before implementing projects and empathizing with slum dwellers as integral, rather than marginalized, members of the Indian society.”
Contact details: http://shelter-associates.org/
This article has been written by Fatima Ezzahra Daif, Summer Intern at Ashoka India.
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