On 13th February, 2023, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi in collaboration with ActionAid Association India arranged a book launch followed by lecture series under the title “India’s G20 Presidency & the Urban Agenda for the Developing Countries”. The event was held in Indian International Centre (IIC) Annex, New Delhi. The event began with the book inauguration session, under the honorary presence of Mr Sitaram Yechury, former Rajya Sabha member and General Secretary, CPI (M), accompanied by Mr Sandeep Chachra, executive director, ActionAid Association India.
The book launched was “Cities in Transition”, written by Mr Tikender Singh Panwar, former Deputy Mayor, Shimla and a Senior Fellow at IMPRI. Beginning with brief remarks on his book, Mr Panwar outlined the basic subject matter and the purpose behind writing the book, which he considers as a by-product of his experience as a Deputy Mayor for 5 years and then working in New Delhi.
Mr Panwar draws our attention towards rethinking the very role of cities, the process of urbanization and the continuous change that is taking place in the cities as we transition from a closed economy to a liberalized economy in the decade of the 1990s. He brilliantly uses the Marxian terminology of use value and exchange value to depict the gradual commodifying of common goods of society like health, education, water etc. by large multi-national companies in the cities and identifies their shifting from finance capital to utilities.
He also refers to the 74th Constitutional Amendment of 1992 and how today’s cities and the concept of Smart Cities actually contradict the visions of the amendment. His remarks were followed by the address by Mr Sitaram Yechury, who drew our attention to the very ideological base upon which today’s metropolitan cities are located, the modern neoliberal framework of governance. He recognized the existing class divide in contemporary Indian cities, expressed through the gated communities on one side and the long stretch of slums on the other side. He finds the cause behind such a situation in the growing usurpation of public goods like health, electricity, education etc. by big private businesses. Mr Yechury considers such a phenomenon as “antithetical” to the very idea of cities, which is based upon inclusivity and accommodations.
By the end, Mr Yechury speaks normatively on the further democratization of Indian cities and societies, through ideas of ‘people’s planning’ and demand for urban commons and bringing the role of the state back along with close popular participation via decentralization process. The lectures were then followed by a brief questions & answers session, where Mr Yechury entertained queries from different scholars and interested audiences. One such attendee commented on the loss of several gram panchayats in Delhi due to growing urbanization and the loss of lands by farmers as they are absorbed by the cities. In response to this, Mr Yechury talked of greater integration of those communities into the decision-making process within the cities and municipalities, providing the power and facilities ward-wise and giving them special treatment under the present Delhi municipal authorities.