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Home >> NPOs >> SOCIETY FOR THE PROMOTION OF AREA RESOURCE CENTRES (SPARC)
SOCIETY FOR THE PROMOTION OF AREA RESOURCE CENTRES (SPARC)

P O Box- 9389 , Bhulbha Desai Road ,

Mumbai- 400026, Maharashtra

Tel: 022-2836743

Email: admin@sparc.vsnl.com  

Focus: To provide non-formal education, participation and sensitization of poor people with special focus on pavement dwellers and women  

Overview

SPARC was registered in 1984 by its founders - social workers, researchers, students, doctors and other professionals who wished to participate in the creation of an institution which would explore new forms of partnerships with the poor in their quest for equity and social justice.
The acronym SPARC stands for "Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centres". It attempts to fulfill a vision of our beliefs, strategies and roles. We believe that the poor must be organized, and in order to sustain this, it is they who need to develop skills. Hence it becomes essential to create a physical, emotional and social space for people to pool their human resources and facilitate learning.

An Area Resource Centre (ARC) is the term which we have coined to describe that space. An Area Resource Centre is a space defined by the community. It may or may not begin with a physical space but it begins to be created out of the psychological space that the community creates for itself. In doing so it redefines its internal arrangements and they learn a new way of talking to the outside world. It begins by the community deciding that they need to commit themselves to working together on the issues that are important to them. These usually include issues concerning shelter and infrastructure. We, at SPARC would attempt to create, strengthen and develop such ARCs.  

Programmes  

Crisis credit and women  

The alliance assists communities to establish savings groups which form the basis of community participation and ensure that women participate centrally in the process of change. Women are particularly attracted to this activity and soon find that it transforms their relationships with each other, with their family and the community as a whole. Community members soon find that the communication channels developed through the savings organization becomes a vital channel linking the whole settlement. Because women control these channels, this means that they become centrally involved in the community development process.

One of the needs which women have is to constantly seek sources of credit for themselves to meet with day-to-day crisis. Given the lack of resource availability in their lives, they either borrow from each other, or else fall into the hands of exploitative elements. Mahila Milan felt that this was one area in which they would collectively create a system for themselves. The genesis of the savings scheme lay in the housing training process, in which women analysed both the immediate and the long term monetary needs. While they were putting money aside in the bank for their shelter requirements, they made a part not to withdraw from this amount. Instead, they created another pool, which would serve their day-to-day loan requirements.

The actual process was indeed very simple : Every settlement identified one woman per 10-15 households, who assumed the responsibility of visiting them to undertake all monetary transactions - deposits, loans and repayments, both for the housing savings in the bank as well as the Mahila Milan Crisis Credit Scheme. Each of these representatives was part of a Committee, which was in charge of loan disbursements.  

Each group developed its own rules of lending and repayment. The crucial factor was that money could be given out at any time, since it was handled entirely by the women of the community. As with many program outcomes, Mahila Milan started this in Byculla. But, as they visited other settlements, many groups in Bombay and other cities in India adopted the scheme as something which addressed their needs. Although the actual amounts may be modest, this scheme has a strategic value in that it not only fulfils basic community needs, but also trains women to handle transactions and negotiations. This is visible to the entire community and has affected the equation between the men and women. In any instances, the records of loan repayments maintained by the community has become the basis on which women apply to banks and financial institutions for further loans.  

HOUSING FINANCE AND THE POOR :

Poor people do not usually get money from Institutions to construct houses, and their organisations never aspire to demand this. As more and more federation members are seeking land tenure, understanding the areas of house construction and managing other forms of credit, they have gained the confidence to seek Institutional arrangements. Their strength lies in the fact that they are able to collectively stand guarantee for loans made to individual co-operatives. This started in a very small way when an individual co-operative got access to land and then approached institutional finance sources with the backing of the federation.  

This process, stretching over a decade, has taught Mahila Milan the following:  

That they must have their own credit and savings so that they can eventually pay for housing.

That house designs should meet the needs of the poorest of the poor.  

That they can be trained themselves to construct their own houses, thereby reducing the financial burden and ensuring quality construction.  

That they must learn to articulate their demands in such a way that government officials and professionals, including bankers, can work with them to arrive at solutions.  

That access to resources is a combination of being able to make demands from a position of strength and creating a process which helps people to believe that they can solve their problems.  

The challenge lies in how federations and women can collectively pool their money for the future, so that it becomes a block of money which can stand guarantee to any of their members seeking housing loans. This requires not only regular savings on their part, but also convincing the formal Institutions and governments that this is indeed a viable alternative.  

Enumeration of Households/settlements

Effective settlement planning necessitates having accurate information. Usually it is professionals and outsiders who undertake this, and have a better information base than the communities. However, since the first pavement dweller census undertaken by SPARC in 1985, the value of this has been appreciated by the federations. Today they have a simple questionnaire, which they administer to the households, and create an information base, over which they have control. Surveys are an important tool in educating communities to look at themselves and in creating a capacity for communities to articulate their knowledge of themselves to those with whom they interact. The alliance assists communities in undertaking surveys on various levels: listing of all settlements; household enumeration; and intra-household survey. In all instances questionnaires and other survey methodologies are discussed with communities and people are given an explanation of why data is being gathered. Initially, crude single frequency tables are prepared with communities and families check registers of households. But ultimately a database is created out of the information collected.accurate information is gathered. .They may not know how to write, but they seek accurate answers because they understand how this information will be later used, both for internal problem-solving as well as negotiations with the State

For example, when they found that in one physical structure, a very large extended family lived, or if there are sub-tenants, the women decide how to plan for a future settlement, rather than allowing an outside agency the right to decide eligibility criteria. Conversely, it is they who will make the choice if one person owns more than one physical structure. Similarly when designing a settlement, not only affordability, but also occupation patterns will be considered for the future.  

The most important aspect of the surveying process is to help communities understand how the aggregation of information becomes the basis of choices that policy makers use to decide entitlements. Once communities understand this fact, they can begin to use this information aggregation in their negotiations with state institutions, and begin to understand the importance of it when others come and collect data.  

The alliance also believes that intervention in the data gathering process is important since data gathered for one purpose is often later used as the basis for entitlement allocations by the authorities. By participating in the process of data gathering, communities ensure their inclusion in the entitlement lists and become educated in understanding the role of data surveys and in monitoring such lists. Hence, the ultimate goal of the alliance is to train communities to participate in the data-gathering process, to manage grievance redressal, to negotiate for inclusion and proper entitlements and to become the creators and managers of information about and for their communities.  

The poor and ration cards

For the poor, ration cards do not provide mere access to cheaper food and fuel, but also serve as a means of identification in the city. Every citizen has a right to a ration card, it is only a question of whether it is temporary or permanent. In the past it had been difficult for individual families to understand the bureaucratic procedures involved. However, when groups of women put in a collective application, not only did they find that they obtained ration cards, but it was in the woman's name ! The main stumbling block, namely an address had been overcome, in getting the ration officers to realise that the pavement dwellers were not a transient population. In fact, after five years of a temporary card, the officers were even willing to issue permanent cards.when women visit other cities, this is one of the first procedures that they ask the communities there to follow.

Today the street children have also been granted ration cards by the authorities, since the Mahila Milan women have provided an address, which is a pre-requisite. This has been a major breakthrough for the Sadak Chaap federation.  

Mapping

The alliance also works with communities to build their skills in mapping services, settlements, resources, problems etc. so that they can get a visual fix on their situation, and understand how the present physical situation relates to them. This is part of the qualitative aspects of the surveying and data-gathering process and becomes especially useful in building community skills to deal with physical developmental interventions, where they have to look at maps and drawings prepared for their settlement improvement.  

FEDERATIONS AND HOUSE CONSTRUCTION :

It is always a misnomer that acquisition of land is a pre- requisite to Housing. For poor communities, high costs and substandard material can make the process of house construction a nightmare and divide communities. Mahila Milan felt that whether or not the land was made available, they should develop expertise to understand the quality of material and its procurement. In order to reduce the cost and ensure that everyone understood the dynamics of "pucca" housing, the women would contribute labour. Those who showed a potential for this sort of work would get more involved.

For women, this had many benefits : for one, many of them who had previously earned very little, now received minimum wage. Once the skill was acquired, they would benefit in the job market. The federations and women were trained in the development of pre-fab material. This could be provided initially to their own settlements and later on to others. Since the women were in charge of material management themselves, there was no question of wastage or theft, and correct amounts of cement were used. This also had implications for long-term maintenance.  

Resettlement and Transit  

The Project: Rapid urbanisation in Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) has resulted in tremendous problems of mass movement of goods and people. This unidirectional mass transport system in a north-south direction has created problems of inadequacy and congestion. Since the mass transit systems form the lifelines of the city their improvements through capacity increase, widening, extension of the corridors, removal of obstacles like level crossing and the displacement of slums and squatter settlements all along the railway lines will ensure efficient movement of goods and people, removal of congestion, increase in railway capacity, improved frequency across railway lines thereby bringing about efficiency and improvements in the transit systems. With this objective the Government of Maharashtra (GOM) with financial assistance from the World Bank has proposed to undertake a medium term investment programme called Second Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP II) for bringing about improvements in traffic and transportation situation in MMR.  

The MUTP -II includes a package of projects involving increase in corridors, longer (12 rake) EMUs, station area improvement schemes, removal of level crossings and the resettlement and relocation of the project affected persons and structures all along Central and Western Railway corridors and the Harbour Line. Since the scenario of the mass movement of goods and people is worsening each year, the displacement of slums and squatter settlements away from the railway tracks, removal of level crossing and congestion will provide considerable benefits for the Railways. Since a sustainable transport policy must take into account all sensitive issues like social impacts of the project affected persons and the involuntary resettlements or displacement of people due to implementation of the project, the MUTP- II includes centrally the resettlement and relocation of the PAPs.  

The involvement of SPARC in preparing the Baseline Socio-Economic Survey (BSES) and Resettlement Action Plans (RAPs) for the Project Affected Persons (PAPs) along the railway tracks:  

SPARC has been appointed as the consultant for carrying out the BSES and the RAP for all the project affected persons living along the railway tracks. The MUTP II includes a number of Road and Railway Projects along the three main transport routes which link the northern part of the city to the south. SPARC has been appointed by the MMRDA and the World Bank to carry out 13 rail and 1 road sub-project under the MUTP-II. The number of PAPs who will be displaced and consequently resettled under this project will be about thirteen thousand. SPARC has already submitted the terms of reference (TOR) to MMRDA which is a Project Monitoring and Management Unit for undertaking the BSES and the resettlement and rehabilitation of the PAPs along the rail lines. SPARC and its alliance with Mahila Milan and National Slum Dwellers Federation have been assigned the task of drawing up the RAP and CEMP for the PAPs. SPARC also had the experience and knowledge of working on slum ennumerations as a result of the many such enumerations it has done in the past.  

SPARC had also initiated (prior to this project activity) dialogue with both the state and the railways to explore the relocation options so that these households presently unable to have access to water, sanitation and other basic amenities would be able to live in safer conditions than within 5 to 50 feet from the railway tracks. Since all slums on government land belonging to the Central Government do not get water, sanitation and other basic amenities without the permission of the relevant authority, about 23,000 households 50 feet from the track have no amenities. The Railways have never allowed the Municipal Corporation to provide basic amenities and facilities to the slum dwellers living within 5 to 50 feet from the railway tracks for fear of consolidation of dwellings by them.  

In this particular subproject involving the resettlement and rehabilitation of PAPs along the rail lines, the main stakeholders of the project are the MMRDA which is the Project Management and Monitoring Unit and also the coordinating agency, the Railways are the Project Implementing Agency (PIA), and the BSES and RAP will be conducted by SPARC, in conjunction with NSDF and Mahila Milan.

RAP (Resettlement Action Plan) for the 5th and 6th Lines between Kurla and Thane (Part-I):

Since a sustainable transport policy must take into account the aspects of the adverse social impacts of the projects on the project affected persons along with the improvements of traffic and transportation situation, (carried out through the extension of corridors, laying of additional lines etc.) the Resettlement Action Plan becomes essential as it will ensure a safe and smooth relocation by protecting and restoring the livelihood of Project Affected Persons (PAPs) beyond the pre-project level and mitigating the risks as far as possible.  

This Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) and Community Environment Management Plan (CEMP) has been prepared in accordance with the Resettlement & Rehabilitation policy of the Government of Maharashtra and involves the relocation of 914 families living along the railway tracks between Kurla and Thane on the Central Railway. The Resettlement & Rehabilitation Policy takes into account a number of sensitive issues like payment of compensation dues for loss of structures to certain categories of PAPs, payment on account of increased distance and time taken to travel to workplace arising due to displacement, payment on account of loss of livelihood, special income generation and economic rehabilitation package for vulnerable categories of PAPs, and setting up of different committees for grievance redressal, maintenance and financial issues. It also spells out clearly the legal and monetary compensation due to different categories of PAPs and to commercial establishments.  

This RAP AND CEMP for Kurla-Thane Part-I involving the shift of 914 households to a temporary transit at Kanjurmarg is a retrofit and unconventional RAP in the sense that the project has already been implemented even as discussions between the World Bank and the Government of Maharashtra were underway. This RAP documents the experience of resettlement and rehabilitation. The main stakeholders of this project are the MMRDA which is the Project Management and Monitoring Unit, the Railways which is the implementing agency, Housing and Urban Development Departments of the Government of Maharashtra, the Slum Rehabilitation Authority which co-ordinated the resettlement, and the Municipal Corporation of Greater Bombay which provided the basic amenities and facilities to the slum dwellers. Society for the Promotion of Area Resources Centre (SPARC) and its alliance the RSDF and NSDF have been appointed by the MMRDA as a single source for preparing this RAP because of their work among the slum dwellers along the railway tracks.  

This is a two stage resettlement and rehabilitation project, where the first phase would involve the shift into transit accomodation and the second phase will involve the move into permanent dwellings once they are underway. The BSES was completed in May 1997, and Government Resolution for land acquisition was issued on March 28th 1998. Land acquisition and identification for this project had involved the communities who identified a vacant plot of land adjoining the railway station which was conveniently located on the Central Railway and accessible from all parts of the city and within a distance of 1-2 k.m. from the previous site. The identified plot is CTS No. 120 of revenue village Hariyali of Mumbai Suburban District admeasuring about 2.28 hectares, the reservation of which was changed from a District Commercial Centre and allotted for this project through a Government Resolution.  

The community has been involved at every stage of the project right from data gathering to land identification, to house designing, allotment and final shifting. The land will be finally transferred to the co-operative societie+s of slum dwellers as and when they will be registered. The Municipal Corporation provided the infrastructure and the site was developed by SPARC. Following the baseline survey, the slumdwellers organised themselves into 27 housing co-operative societies, visited the site, selected a date for shifting and planned how they would organise their move. On the appointed date, they were handed the keys, took their belongings and moved to the relocation site. This transition was smooth and did not involve any municipal or police officials or create any law and order problem. The dates on which the major events took place are recounted below. On the 4th of August there was a meeting with the Tehsildar to finalise the draft of the allotment letter This draft was finalised on 30th July. Allotment slips were issued to 70 families on the 27th of July 1998. Communities requested that the shifting be done on the 31st as it was an auspicious day. On the 30th of July all families visited the Kanjurmarg site, cleaned their homes and made preparation for the next day.

On the 30th of July in preparation for the arrival of the PAPs a tanker of drinking water was arranged. On the 31st July 35 families moved to their new houses. Each family moved their belongings in a tempo. Once they put their belongings in a tempo they locked their old houses and handed over the keys to SPARC/NSDF team. On arrival to Kanjurmarg, their allotment slip and key to the new houses were given The land after being cleared by the 7th of August when all 914 families shifted were handed over to the Railways. The different Committees like the Maintenance Committes, the Financial Committee and Grievance Committee and Committee to redress police matters have been set up at Kanjurmarg which are handling their respective issues of availability of basic amenities and facilities and redressal of grievances when they crop up. The Chief Executive Officer of the SRA also heard the grievances of the community representatives in weekly meetings. The very fact that the slum dwellers have moved voluntarily and are now at a safe and secure distance of 50 ft, from the tracks with access to basic amenities and facilities establishes the success of the project and one which can be replicated in future resettlement projects in urban areas.  

Salient Features

SOME FACTS AND FIGURES

Over 88% of the commuters in Mumbai travel by suburban trains or BEST buses

Mumbai?s Suburban Rail System carrier about 61 lakhs passengers per day

About 4,500 passengers travel in a 9-car rake during peak hours, as against its rated carrying capacity of only 1,700.  

MUTP – A MULTI-MODAL PROJECT

*Partners in MUTP-Govt of Maharashtra (GOM)

- Indian Railways (IR)

- Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corpn. (MCGB)

- Brihan Mumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST)  

Govt of Maharashtra sharing 50% cost of the Rail Component

Loan assistance of around Rs. 2300 crores from the World Bank  

PROJECT BENEFITS

Rail projects

Increase in capacity by about 35%

Higher frequency of train services during peak hours

Reduction in journey time

Improvement in the flow of passengers and vehicles in and selected stations  

Non-rail projects

Reduction in traffic congestion, increase in vehicular speeds and reduction in delays

Increased carrying capacity for bus users

Safe and smooth flow of vehicular and pedestrain traffic

Minimising delays and accidents

Improved environment through reduction in air pollution  

PROJECT COMPONENTS AND COSTS OF PHASE – I

Component Project Cost

Affected (Rs. In Families crores)

 

A. Roads and traffic component

1.Jogeshwari-Vikhroli link road 890 102

2.Santacruz-Chembur link road2171 154

3.ROB at Jogeshwari (South) 901 65

4.ROB at Jogeshwari (North) 514 44

5.ROB at Vikhroli 173 28

6.Buses - 120

7.Pedestrain subways and bridges - 30

8.Area Traffic Control - 65

9.Station Area Traffic Improvement Scheme (SATIS) - 30

10.Other traffic management schemes - 35

11.Dadar-Mahim one-way system - 5

12.Environment-air quality monitoring - 25

13.Technical assistance,studies, training - 50

Sub-total: Roads & traffic component 4649 753  

B. Rail component

1.5th line between Santacruz and Borivli 515 158

2.5th and 6th lines between Kurla and Thane2131 399

3.Borivli-Bhayandar additional pair of lines 501 229

4.Bhayandar-Virar additional pair of lines - 348

5. Optimisation on Western Railway (including 12-Car

Rakes on through lines) 622 365

6. Optimisation on Central Railway (including 12-

Car rakes on through lines)2879 444

7.Optimisation on Harbour line7831 259

8.DC/AC conversion - 400

9.EMU coach remanufacturing - 450

10.Boundary walls & track machines - 12

11. Technical assistance, studies and preparation

Of Phase-II - 43  

Sub-total : Rail component144793107

Grand total : All components191283860  

RESETTLEMENT AND REHABILITATION (R&R) OF PROJECT AFFECTED PERSONS  

19,128 households/structures affected by MUTP (Roads and traffic component – 4,649 households/structures; rail component 14,479 households/structures)

Rehabilitation to be done as per the provisions of R&R Policy for MUTP formulated by Govt. of Maharashtra and endorsed by the Indian Railways.

Each eligible project affected person to get a tenement of 225 sq.ft. free of cost

Transit accommodation of 120 sq.ft In case urgent shifting is required with all basic amenities

Rehabilitation with active involvement of NGOs and participation of the community.  

PROJECT IMPLEMENTATION  

*Overall monitoring and co-ordination by the Project Management/Monitoring Unit (PMU) in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA)

Implementation of rehabilitation work for both rail and non-rail projects to be done by the PMU

Indian Railways and Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation (MRVC) to implement the rail projects

PWD to implement the road projects

MCGB to impelemnt road – over –bridges (ROBs), Area Traffic Control (ATC), Subways and SATIS

BEST to procure buses  

Working on Toilets

In October '00, the alliance begins to work on sanitation in Bombay , Pune and Bangalore .  

Bombay :

In Bombay , after the Chikhalwadi toilet has been constructed, there were many changes made in the tendering process by the BMC and World Bank as part of their project. In Aug., '00 the tender was opened, and almost all the parties who submitted their bids came about 15 -25 minutes last as it was one of the most wet and rainy day. These bids were not accepted and after a review, the tender was opened again in late September 00.  

Why did we agree to bid for this project when we have steadfastly stated that NGOs and communities should not do this? Many reasons. Firstly, both the World Bank and BMC while wanting the alliance to participate cant seem to make the shift at the moment. Instead they have studies this process very carefully and have changed the tendering process to give NGOs a greater equal playing field. That is what they say. So both to honour that attitude and interest in exploring our process, we agree to participate in the bidding.

Secondly we want to work in partnership with the BMC and the World Bank to demonstrate that even such changes will not be the way to open the project to the other NGOs. We believe that due to our past experience which itself is very unusual among NGOs, we have been able to undertake the activities to make a bid? Even there we are facing huge problems. We have had to pay a tender deposit of 16,00.000 This is not an amount that any NGO can have or whose board will agree to undertake to put it there unless it is critical to the activities and the NGO is comfortable about this.  

Thirdly, it has been a strategy of the alliance to explore a compromise so that the process becomes a learning experience for all stakeholders. In the larger interest of getting sanitation allocated resources utilised, we believe that a stand off policy will only make matters worse. Instead when you work together it helps to explore what works and what does not within a project. So as things stand today, we have agreed to construct toilets in three wards for works which are 9.8 crores.  

Pune

In Pune, there are 33 toilet blocks that have been completed. These were opened with much festivity in September in a Sandaas Mela in Pune, and now the next phase to discuss the next round of construction has begun. In the last year, the toilet construction in Pune has been a very valuable lesson in how the federation scaling up process occurs. The process in a nutshell is like this. First the available leaders in the communities in that city get a back up team from the NSDF and Mahila Milan from another city which has done such work ( in this case it was Bombay ). Architects and engineers with whom the more experienced team has prepared a range of standard NSDF Mahila Milan toilet designs assist the team.  

What are the standard features of the alliance process as demonstrated by Pune? There are several aspects.:  

Firstly, lets start with the design. They include separate entrances and toilets for men and women, lots of storage for water, access to electricity and bathing and washing, a community room and other collective usage space on or around the toilet built into the costs of the toilet.

The Children's toilet as an additional arrangement.  

Secondly, the knowledge building and collective process. The team however uneven it may be works together and begins to locate places to construct toilet blocks, and begins to engage the community especially the women in the process. Often the blocks are in areas the alliance may not have worked in before. In which case they come and visit the areas and toilet blocks constructed by the community in that or another city. They examine the skills and capacities of the local groups to participate in the process and encourage whatever involvement is possible. They are involved in the discussions with the municipality and however uncomfortable the others are the process seeks to walk the core groups of that city through the whole process.  

Thirdly comes the technical and managerial process. The first three to five toilets are often the most difficult to construct and take the longest time, many mistakes are made, and much learning occurs. Here the drawings and blue prints are done explained to people, often they don't make sense initially, but over time the links are made very quickly. The permission for construction, acceptance of submissions by the municipality - all these are huge stumbling block. These are often seen as weaknesses by others initially and often form the basis why many projects get abandoned. But in the alliance they are the steep learning curve of the local and support group to both teach and learn, as well as to challenges the existing process in how it operates.  

What happens in Pune next?

Three things have begin almost simultaneously.  

One, the communities have begun to look at issues of improvements as well as maintenance. Out of their contribution and a fund specially created for this purpose, Mahila Milan in Pune will have the responsibility to manage and maintain the toilets.  

Two, A team from Bombay and Pune have gone to Bangalore and in the first week of October begun to work with the Mahila Milan in Bangalore to start construction of toilets there.  

Third, the next phase of construction has begun in Pune itself. There are 70 new blocks that will be constructed.  

Bangalore  

When Jockin went to Bangalore to be felicitated by the city he found that both the Municipal Corporation and the Slum Board were willing to go into partnership with the alliance to upgrade the 67 slums in the city which need urgent assistance. There are already many such activities that were done by the alliance there but on a much smaller scale. Now that city too will go into partnership with the federation. Here the work in Pune especially the activities done by Mr. Giakwad the Commissioner of Pune have been very appreciated and the Bangalore Municipality has asked him and the federation to share their experience and work together with the Bangalore community and corporation 

SANDAAS ( TOILET) MELA

The alliance of SPARC, MM and NSDF is engaged in extraordinary social experiment which involves toilets.

In the city of Pune there was a major event organised by the alliance. A toilet festival. These two words are rarely used in India in the same breath. In bringing these two words together in a technological, political and social program, the alliance is in the midst of making a revolutionary cultural experiment with many important ramifications.  

To understand why this is a cultural revolution and why toilet festivals are turning the lives of the poor on their heads in the best possible way, it's important to understand that toilets, human defecation, the products of that defecation are at the very heart of the problem of the poor and how they are perceived. In many ways in India as in many other societies where there are many poor people, the poor have been treated somewhat like toilets. The poor themselves have been treated as a blemish. As a source of odors, of filth, of darkness, indeed in some sense of evil itself. In spite of 50 years after India 's independence the sad fact is that the poor remain an area of darkness. Their problems are treated generally as social embarrassments, their proximity is not desired, their needs are taken rarely into account. On the other hand, especially in the cities the poor are seen as the source of the problems of the middle class. They are seen as bringing dirt, disorder, crime, stench and filth in the lives of the middle classes of the city. The poor are treated as not merely non-citizens but as anti-citizens.  

The statistics on toilets in the slums of Bombay are abhorrent as they are in most cities in India . Large numbers of people often 500, 800, a thousand, share a single toilet. For lack of toilets the poor are forced to use the few public facilities that are available, hardly adequate to their needs and failing these to defecate and to urinate literally outside their homes, in open pits, in open sewage and drainage, in alleyways, on streets, in walls, in streams. Thus creating an enormous cycle of hazards, first of all for themselves. The middle class, they are concerned about being concerned about being faced with shitting in their faces. And indeed instead of viewing toilets as a desperate need of India 's urban poor, the middle class see toilets for the poor the way they see poor themselves. As something that does not need to be thought about, or discussed. Something that needs to be tucked away behind the scenes, wished away and only smelt and seen when absolutely necessary.  

The efforts of the alliance to place the issue of toilets in public view constitutes a cultural revolution.  

In Poona recently, under the extraordinary and inspiring leadership of the Municipal Commissioner of Poona, Mr Ratnakar Gaikwad, working closely with the alliance of SPARC, NSDF and MM a festival was organised which involved a triumphant public tour led by the Municipal commissioner, through a series of sights in Pune, where the alliance has worked with poor communities to build new toilets. In many cases these toilets were increased ten, twenty and thirty fold the number of seats, of toilet seats available to these communities. These toilets have been built with substantial amount of community input and with serious community financial investments and most important - with a commitment from the communities to maintain, take care and assure the long term cleanliness and technical viability of these toilets.  

These toilets thus have been kick started by Mr Gaikwad, by the municipality and by the Alliance of SPARC, MM and NSDF. But these communities will own these toilets in every sense of the word and it is perfectly clear that they regard these toilets as extraordinary in the quality of their lives in the present and the future.  

In the toilet festivals that the alliance has invented, of which the Poona festival is an excellent example the principle of religious sanctity and the principal of technological progress have been brought together in the most unlikely of sites, the most astonishing of contexts. The toilet. The place that no one was supposed to see, no one liked to smell, no one liked to discuss.  

As the Commissioner accompanied by many local politicians, by members of the alliance and by members of the communities themselves raced in the course of five to six hours to six or seven sites of new toilet constructions, something extraordinary happened! These toilets became converted into respectable parts of the public sphere. In effect they became like temples. Like temples they were considered to be auspicious place, spaces of health, of prosperity, of safety, indeed of sacredness. And this is an extraordinary inversion to occur in an Indian context.  

The Municipal Commissioner Mr Gaikwad moved through these toilets, examining them in close detail. At the ways in which they had been built, the care with which the designs had been made, the attention that had been paid to safety for children's toilets so that the children could sit in comfort in toilet seats made to their scale. Also for adults, the care that had been taken to provide water to make sure that the toilets would be reasonably clean and the structures themselves were airy, painted, bright. In every way, symbols of respectable public life and communal and collective social organisation.  

By his attention to the detail of these toilets, by walking in and through the stalls in which the seats were, by examining how these structures were built Mr Gaikwad accomplished something that the alliance has been striving to do with toilets. That toilets are a vital, central, respectable part of our public lives. They need not be hidden from view, they are assets, they are items the community should be proud of. The commissioner made an explicit analogy between a Sandas or the toilet and the shrine. Jockin, the charismatic leader of the NSDF and recent winner of the Magsaysay award also made eloquent speeches on the word Sandas itself. The fact that it was not a euphemism for toilet. It was a word ordinary people used for toilet. But it was a word now transformed, it was a word now taken out of the domain of filth, of indignity, of exploitation, of ill-health and of darkness. It was a word now that belonged with words like temple, like technology, like change, like community, like progress, like ownership, like pride.  

Jockin, Mr Gaikwad, various other civic leaders used these short festive occasions at every one of these stops to instill in members of the community a powerful sense that this was now part of a new way of life for them and that this was the beginning of an extraordinary social and cultural revolution in which they themselves were respectable members of public political life.  

Another very important aspect of these festivals is that they drew the civic and political leadership of the city into the spaces of the poor, into the material lives of the poor and allowed the poor a new sense of presence, of participation and of empowerment.  

In building these toilets, in having these toilets recognised as important technical initiatives the poor through these toilet festivals were drawn into the space of politics and women in particular were drawn into the public space of acknowledgement, of speech making and indeed of the rituals of power itself.  

While on the one hand it is true that Mr Gaikwad and his colleagues in the city as well as other visitors brought a kind of dignity to the lives of the poor by taking such active and vigorous part in the public celebration of the toilets. But conversely they themselves were drawn into the space of the Sandaas, of the slum, of the poor. And in this way they were drawn into a terrain of politics in which the poor were their hosts and in some sense helped to shape the terms of engagement between formal authorities and informal structures, processes and technologies.  

What is clear is that these toilets are themselves multipliers which will have enormous and measurable effects on public health, local finance and indeed on governance in the areas where the poor in Pune and other cities live.

The toilet festivals take the most lowly of human functions, the most dark and private of infrastrucutral needs and put them at the very center, make them the driver of all sorts of other processes of participation, of governance, of self management and of participation in the public sphere.  

In toilets therefore lie many lessons. But one lesson is that technical and technological revolutions, if properly designed, can be the opening wedge of much broader social, cultural and political revolutions. The toilet festival is an extraordinary ritual, social and public celebration. A modest technological revolution in which the poor play a central part can be the beginning of a wider process of public sphere participation, of changes in the governance and of a radical increase in the dignity and self recognition of the poorest of the poor.