No Solution Yet for Urban Poverty at Smart Kochi
KOCHI: Despite all the hype over the future ‘Smart City’, Kochi - a ‘Metro-in-the-making’ - hides an invisible population. They are the landless and the homeless who are living a life of their own on the fringes, away from the glitz and glamour and vanities of the city. The city also has a sizeable population of the elderly that waits for old-age pension and more than 4,600 homes without toilets.
Here are some plain facts: The number of the landless and homeless in the city is 8,684. City dwellers without homes alone number 1,700. Piped water has not reached 4,600 homes. In the absence of toilets at home, people of 14 colonies use public toilets.
The official data may not reflect the magnitude of urban poverty in the city, but it certainly helps uncover the real problems that are often glossed over in the glare of multi-million projects that are often projected as indicators of development. Despite state-level programmes, local initiatives and Centrally-sponsored schemes, urban poor remain the same. The grim details also invite the attention of the planners and demands urban policy experts to sit up and worry on why these hugely-funded projects have proved futile.
“It is a sad fact that poverty lurks behind the glitter of the city,” says A B Sabu, the Welfare Standing Committee chairman of the City Corporation. “Despite our attempts to eradicate poverty through various programmes, poverty is still on the rise,” he adds.
One of the major initiatives to provide sustenance to the urban poor is under the National Urban Livelihoods Mission (NULM), a Centrally-sponsored scheme implemented with the Kudumbashree Mission as nodal agency. There are around 2,200 neighbourhood groups (NHG) and 74 area development societies and Community Development Societies under the mission. The mission has set aside Rs 13 crore for the current fiscal, the Welfare Standing Committee chairman says. “We have also decided to take measures to strengthen the NHGs and ADSs and to speed up programmes planned under the mission,” he says.
At present, the financial aid for building houses for the urban poor is Rs 1.2 lakh. The City Corporation is pinning hopes on a possible hike in the government aid to Rs 2 lakh, which would give a boost to the housing scheme. For people in abject poverty and those who have no place to rest, the Corporation is planning to build four modern shelters for the urban homeless. Each shelter will cost Rs 1.25 crore.
The number of elders waiting for old age pension is also going up in the city, which points to another disturbing indicator - that the number of aging population that stares at poverty and seeks government support is on the rise. Nearly 13,000 are beneficiaries of old-age pension in the city and more than 4,000 applications are pending.
As the government has brought down the age limit to be eligible for old age pension from 65 to 60, the number of applicants has increased. Now, more than 4,000 applications are pending. We have given instructions to the revenue officials concerned and ICDS employees to verify the pending applications for the old-age pension and to give report within two weeks, says Sabu.
The disturbing statistics and the reality on the ground call for a thorough introspection of the development priorities. It also proves that urban poverty alleviation projects and initiatives to improve the living conditions of the poor have failed to address the real problems.