Deconstructing Institutional Barriers to Basic Urban Services in India

in Public Health Infrastructure in Transition
Edited by Sigamani Panneer, N U Khan, and Gurumurthy Ramachandran

The current trajectory of urbanization in India is expected to take its urban population to over 900 million by the year 2050. Natural growth and in-migration from rural hinterlands are the major contributors to this growth. The added needs of these populations, for housing, basic public amenities or healthcare services, have not been adequately addressed by government policies and schemes in place. This chapter explores the foundations of such policies and the institutional structures mandated to provide these basic services, specifically urban sanitation, in order to understand the reasons for the gaps between the needs and provisioning. It finds that there is striking institutional and individual insensitivity towards the urban poor marked by a lack of state political and administrative priority for addressing their sanitation needs. Reasons for this transgress beyond the mere administrative to larger societal factors that play a silent but key role in this apathy. Social hierarchies integral to India’s collective, allow the lack of institutional accountability that translates into such insensitivity, and thereby under-performance with regard to government schemes. The absence of disincentives and lack of definite inter-departmental collaborative mechanisms are other major reasons for the divergence in population needs and services delivered. The chapter concludes that providing voice to the marginalized, sensitization and political will are key steps towards building institutional structures that will bring in greater coordination and accountability and realistically provide the much needed services.