MINISTER FOR URBAN DEVELOPMENT &
POVERTY ALLEVIATION GOVERNMENT OF INDIA
The Twenty-fifth Special Session of the General Assembly for an Overall Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Outcome of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II).
June 6, 2001
Let me, at the outset, convey warm greetings of the Government and people of India to all members of the United Nations family. India and her one billion people are firmly committed to the United Nations Charter and the Habitat Agenda.
2. Mr. President, from the very birth of our Republic, India has recognized that the problem of shelter is the problem of the epoch. "If human welfare is our objective", said India's first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, "it is bound up with the house".
3. India also believes that the world of the 21st century would be an urban world and our well being would depend upon the manner in which the problems of urban politics, urban poverty, urban pollution, urban productivity, urban shortages, urban planning and urban governance are tackled.
4. From time to time, Government of India has been taking various measures for providing shelter to all. Its premier organisation - the Housing and Urban Development Corporation - alone has so far made available 12.6 million dwelling units which have been constructed with its financial assistance of about Rs. 3,68,370 million. In 1998, a comprehensive Housing and Habitat Policy was adopted, keeping in view the provisions of the Habitat-II Agenda. Measures have been taken to involve all stakeholders - public, private and corporate sectors; non-governmental organizations, cooperatives and individuals. A number of fiscal incentives to facilitate larger investment in shelter have been given. These incentives, coupled with legal reforms and transfer of appropriate technology, have made a positive impact. Government have introduced a special programme for providing an additional 2 million houses every year, largely for the weaker sections of society. This is over and above the normal supply of about 2.5 million every year. This is believed to be one of the biggest shelter initiatives in the world.
5. India is happy that the United Nations Commission for Human Settlements launched its global campaign on "Secure Tenure" in Mumbai. In this context, I commend, for your attention, the Narela Rehabilitation Programme in Delhi, where we have developed a new residential neighbourhood for about 10,000 families of the poor who now have secure tenure. Resettlement is either in-situ or by appropriate relocation and it is always coupled with environment improvement and shelter upgradation. India also looks forward to the launch of the global campaign on urban governance in September 2001 in New Delhi.
6. The 73rd and 74th amendments to our Constitution pertaining to democratic decentralization have already attracted international attention. The gains of these amendments have been consolidated. 33 per cent of all local body seats, both in rural and urban areas, are now reserved for women representatives. One third of Mayors and Chairpersons of elected local bodies in India are now women.
7. India believes that throughout history, major cities have acted as spiritual workshops of nations. That is why, in our blueprint for a new urban India, culturally significant cities find a pre-eminent place. We are not interested merely in their civic reconstruction. We are equally interested in their cultural rejuvenation and in equipping them to serve as centers of new awakening in the country.
8. Mr. President, the first International Conference on Habitat was held at Vancouver in 1976. Four years prior to it, the Conference on Environment was held at Stockholm. 15 years later, in 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development presented its blue-print - Our Common Future. In June 1992, the UN Conference in Rio-de-Janeiro created a record in massiveness of its attendance; then came Habitat-II in Istanbul.
9. The many international initiatives so far reflect our concern for the manifold problems facing human settlements as well as our commitment to resolve them. Should we merely confine ourselves to showing concern, declaring our commitment and taking a few new measures here and there? Should we not go a little deeper and look into the factors and forces which are of fundamental importance and have far reaching impact on our fate and future.
10. Today when we are meeting 29 years after Stockholm, 25 years after Vancouver, nearly a decade after Rio and five years after Istanbul, should we not ask ourselves as to what extent the ground level reality has changed for most of the people living in the developing countries, who comprise three-fourth of human race? Is it not true that many more are shelter-less now, inhabiting stinking slums, drinking polluted water, inhaling poisonous air, unemployed or under-employed and are exposed to new scourges like AIDS? Should we not look into the deeper implications of the fact that during all these years, while we have been passing resolutions and observing `days' and `decades', there have emerged, on the one side, a group of nations, who, though small in number, are highly prosperous, technologically advanced, less populated but excessively consumerist, and on the other, there remain another group of nations, much larger in number, who are poor, technologically weak and populous, with a sizeable section of their people living in sub-human conditions.
11. Clearly, the overall scene is marked by deeper disparities than before. The global order, as it is presently operating, has placed the developing countries in such a disadvantageous position that they can neither break the vicious circle caused by the economic backwardness of their past nor attain new capacities to compete with the developed countries. With most of the resources vesting in the developed countries and almost intractable problems of vast magnitude and complexity remaining in the lap of the developing countries and with the overall system tilted heavily in favour of the developed countries, it seems extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the developing countries to alleviate poverty, attain sustainable development, and provide healthy shelter and habitat. Massive imbalances of the present times, coupled with a system which continues to deepen these imbalances, have made it difficult for developing countries to solve their numerous problems even if they bring necessary will and vision to the task. The external system injures and bleeds them before they can reach a stage wherefrom they can successfully tackle the internal dimensions of their problems. Global fairness is an essential pre-requisite to the removal of debilitating environments. Donor countries had as early as 1970 committed 0.7% of their GNP to their less fortunate brethren and are still struggling to fulfill even 1/3rd of this commitment.
12. India attaches much importance to a comprehensive review of the commitments made at Istanbul. Clearly considerable progress has occurred, but a plethora of gaps and obstacles are evident. The need now is to renew these commitments and reinforce them through practical measures for implementation.
13. A careful balance needs to be struck between obligations and commitments of developed countries on the one hand and the developing countries on the other. The former need to act more earnestly and fulfill their commitments transferring financial and technological resources to the developing world, the latter need to work more energetically on issues such as decentralization, genuine empowerment of local authorities, women, youth, greater openness to the civic society displaying, in general, greater political will for efficient and effective urban governance.
14. To achieve this, we would like to see UNCHS further strengthened as the principal instrument of international cooperation on all Habitat-related matters. This organization should carry forward the process of reform and revitalization. It deserves greater financial resources mainly from the developed world. It should also focus on expanding its role beyond normative work and encompass within it some operational work through field projects in developing countries. Practical development projects, rather than seminars and workshops and academic studies alone, need to be crafted for the benefit of society, particularly the vulnerable sections.
15. As the country holding the Chairmanship of the Nairobi Chapter of G-77 at present, we are deeply conscious of the useful contribution the developing countries have been making for moving forward the Habitat Agenda in general and for strengthening the UNCHS in particular. Within the framework of South-South cooperation, India has shared and is willing to continue sharing appropriate technology, particularly in the field of cost-effective, environment friendly and disaster resistant construction.
16. Let us learn from the past. Let us be more realistic about
the present. And let us show a greater practical wisdom and deeper
humanitarian concern in planning and providing for the future. What Bertrand
Russell said years ago is pertinent even today and I quote "We are
in the middle of a race between human skill as to means and human folly
as to ends. Unless man increases in wisdom as much as in knowledge,
increase in knowledge will be increase in sorrow". It is time that
we make new commitments not only in the shape of declarations but also
in the shape of arrangements that would make these declarations yield results
at the ground level and help in creating healthy, happy and harmonious
Habitats all over the globe. Today may be timely; tomorrow would be too