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Guest Lecture Report: Land and Marginalities &

Urban Land Issues

-Safal Verma

Understanding what is Urban Environmental Problems?
The various definations which define this are:
o Localized environmental health problems such as inadequate household water and
sanitation and indoor air pollution.
o City-regional environmental problems such as ambient air pollution, inadequate waste
management and pollution of rivers, lakes and coastal areas.
o Extra-urban impacts of urban activities such as ecological disruption and resource
depletion in a citys hinterland, and emissions of acid precursors and greenhouse
o Regional or global environmental burdens that arise from activities outside a citys
boundaries, but which will affect people living in the city
It does not encompass:
o Problems in what are sometimes termed the social, economic or cultural
o Natural hazards that are not caused or made worse by urban activity.
o The environmental impacts of urban activities that are of no concern to humans, either
now or in the future.
This definition also includes:
The table presents a wide range of city-related environmental hazards. Despite their diversity,
all fall within the definition, provided the phrase resulting from urban activities is itself
interpreted broadly. Most are the unintended side-effects of human activity in cities. Some
might more accurately be ascribed to a lack of preventive measures.
If urban environmental problems are defined and pursued too broadly, then almost all urban
development initiatives can be labelled environmental. For example, Einsteins oft-cited
definition of the environment as everything that is not me, could be used to designate
anything from better shopping facilities to better televisions as urban environmental

While there is now widespread agreement that urban environmental issues are important,
there is little coherence in how international agencies and others define the urban
environment and identify its critical problems. This is not just a semantic question, as it is
intimately related to how and where funds are allocated and to who can expect to benefit
from the resulting environmental improvements. Most of the confusion arises from the
qualifier environmental and what it should mean in an urban context.
While both very broad and very narrow usage are common in the literature, when people
complain of environmental problems they are typically referring to damage to the physical
environment, mostly caused by other people, and usually with harmful consequences for
human welfare, either now or in the future. So common sense suggests that urban
environmental problems are threats to present or future human well-being, resulting from
human-induced damage to the physical environment, originating in or borne in urban areas.
The urban environment in international development assistance
1. Responsibility for taking the lead on environmental matters is often assigned to
divisions that are not directly involved in urban development assistance on the
grounds that the environment generally, and natural resources in particular, are
primarily rural concerns. Such divisions are unlikely to have the knowledge or
influence to promote urban environmental issues. Moreover, they have a tendency to
define environment in natural resource management terms, which can easily lead to
ignoring the environmental health issues that are of particular concern to the urban
poor. National and local environmental agencies in recipient countries, the natural
counterparts of environmental staff in development agencies, also tend to define their
role as one of protecting the environment and to view most of the environmental
threats in low-income neighbourhoods as beyond their mandate.
2. Broad definitions are employed to illustrate the importance of environmental
issues but narrower definitions are used to construct environmental indicators, while
still narrower definitions are typically employed to identify environmental programs
and projects. Thus, for example:
it is routinely noted that millions of deaths every year from diarrhoea and respiratory
infections could be prevented by environmental improvements.
Statistics on household access to water and sanitation are only sometimes included
in lists of environmental indicators.
The projects that target such improvements are generally infrastructure projects and
are labelled as such (i.e. they are rarely part of a donor agencys environment
This can easily give the impression that environmental initiatives are responding to a
far broader set of environmental concerns than they actually are, while at the same
time ignoring environmental benefits that can come from non-environmental
3. Operationally, a distinction is often made between two different approaches to
environmental improvement: investing in stand-alone environmental initiatives and
attempting to mainstream environmental concerns into all development activities. It

is generally held that mainstreaming is ultimately more important. However, at least

in its early stages, mainstreaming tends to define the environmental agenda in terms
of reducing the environmental impacts of development in both urban and rural areas.
4. Pressure from Northern environmentalists has been an important factor in
convincing international development agencies to address environmental issues.
Northern environmentalists are usually more concerned with regional and global
issues involving the natural environment than with local environmental health burdens
faced by the urban poor. Again, this reinforces a tendency to ignore the environmental
threats facing the urban poor although it does put pressure on development agencies to
address global environmental issues.
As international and local interest and capacity to address urban environmental problems
increases, new, more locally-driven environmental strategies are also emerging. Many
cities in Europe and America, and increasingly in Latin America, Asia and Africa are
experimenting with city-wide initiatives to address environmental problems. Bilateral and
even more often multilateral donors have been supporting a number of these initiatives, often
called Local Agenda 21s.
Range of city-related environmental hazards by scale and type

Within house
and its plot



Water-borne, water-washed (or water-scarce),

airborne, food-borne, vector-borne, including some
water-related vectors (e.g. Aedes mosquitoes
breeding in water containers where households lack
reliable piped supplied).


Indoor air pollution from fires, stoves or heaters.

Accidental poisoning from household chemicals.
Occupational exposure for home workers.

Physical hazards

Household accidents burns and scalds, cuts, falls.

Physical hazards from home-based economic
activities. Inadequate protection from rain, extreme


Pathogens in waste water, solid waste (if not

removed from the site), local water bodies. Disease
vectors, e.g. malaria-spreading Anopheles
mosquitoes breeding in standing water or filariasisspreading Culex mosquitoes breeding in blocked
drains, latrines or septic tanks.


Ambient air pollution from fires, stoves....; also

perhaps from burning garbage if there is no regular
garbage collection service. Air and water pollution
and wastes from cottage industries and from motor

Physical hazards

Site-related hazards, e.g. housing on slopes with

risks of landslides; sites regularly flooded, sites at risk
from earthquakes.


Overcrowding/poor ventilation aids transmission of

infectious diseases.


Toxic chemicals, dust......




(This list of examples is not intended to be

City (or
within larger

City-region (or
city periphery)

Links between
city and global

Physical hazards

Dangerous machinery, noise.....


Pathogens in the open water bodies (often from

sewerage); also at municipal dumps; contaminated
water in piped system.


Ambient air pollution (mostly from industry and motor

vehicles; motor vehicles role generally growing);
water pollution; hazardous wastes.

Physical hazards

Traffic hazards. Violence. 'Natural' disasters and their

'unnaturally large' impact because of inadequate
attention to prevention and mitigation.

Citizens access
to land for

Important influence on housing quality directly and

indirectly (e.g. through insecure tenure discouraging
households investing in improved housing, and
discouraging water, electricity and other utilities from
serving them).

Heat island effect

and thermal

Raised temperatures a health risk, especially for

vulnerable groups (e.g. elderly, very young). Air
pollutants may become trapped, increasing their
concentration and the length of peoples exposure to


Soil erosion from poor watershed management or

land development or clearance; deforestation; water
pollution; ecological damage from acid precipitation
and ozone plumes; loss of biodiversity.

Land or water
pollution from
waste dumping

Pollution of land from dumping of conventional

household, industrial and commercial solid wastes
and toxic/hazardous wastes. Leaching of toxic
chemicals from waste dumps into water.
Contaminated industrial sites. Pollution of surface
water and groundwater from sewage and surface

Pre-emption or
loss of resources

Fresh water for city pre-empting its use for

agriculture; expansion of paved area over good
quality agricultural land.

resource use

Fossil fuel use; use of other mineral resources; loss

of biodiversity; loss of non-renewable resources in
urban waste streams.

sink use

Persistent chemicals in urban waste streams;

greenhouse gas emissions, stratospheric ozone
depleting chemicals.

Overuse of 'finite'

Scale of consumption that is incompatible with global

limits for soil, forests, freshwater....

Government intervention in the form of regulations, infrastructure investments and taxation

has a direct impact on urban land supply and on the demand for land, and therefore on the
price of land and housing.
Impact of regulations and planning practices on supply and demand for urban land
In reviewing or auditing land regulations it is convenient to divide them according to their
impact on markets. Some regulations contribute to a decrease in land supply, other artificially
increase land consumption and therefore demand for land. The double effect of restricting
supply and mandating high land consumption has an evident impact on price.

Government regulations or practices contributing to a decrease in land supply:

1. Urban Land ceiling act
The major effect of the urban land ceiling act has been to freeze large areas of land in legal
disputes. These areas are not available for development or redevelopment. An additional
negative impact of the act was to prevent private developers to assemble land for subsequent
development. The act gave a de facto monopoly on land development to government
developers such as housing boards or Development Authorities.
2. Rent control
The effect of rent control on the supply of new rental stock is obvious and well documented.
However rent control laws have also an effect on land supply and city shape. Rent control
contributes to a decrease in land supply because buildings which are under rent control
cannot be redeveloped or even renovated. Many rent controlled buildings are very old and by
necessity badly maintained, even in some cases, in Mumbai for instance, structurally
unsound. But no redevelopment can occur until the tenants move voluntarily out the building.
Rent control creates the perverse incentive for landlords to see their property deteriorate or
even collapse. Until this happen, development has to bypass the areas under rent control
which constitute a form of frozen land as far as development is concerned.
3. Master plans ignoring real estate demand
Master plans allocate land between various uses and limit the amount of floor space which
can be built on specific parcels, either directly through maximum FSI or indirectly through
setbacks, plot coverage ratio, and maximum number of floors. While these types of control
are not objectionable per se, the parameter used are often arbitrary and have been set without
taking into account the efficiency of city structure or the affordability of different social
groups. Indian urban planners have a tendency to prefer low intensity of development through
low FSI values and to ban commercial development in central area to avoid congestion.
This is the urban version of the regional development philosophy which had been banning
new industries around successful metropolises like Bombay and Surat and had been
subsidizing industrial infrastructure in remote areas like Western Gujarat (next to the desert of
Kutch) and in the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh.
4. High stamp duty
High stamp duties discourage land transactions, and as a consequence reduce the supply of
land on the market. High stamp duty incites to grossly under-declare the real value of land.
This in turn adversely affects the possibility of using land as collateral for construction
financing. In the future, Indian cities will have to move to an ad valorem property tax system.
But setting an ad valorem tax requires a reasonable transparency in land transactions. It could
therefore be said that an unreasonably high stamp duty prevents the modernization of the
property tax system in India.
5. Large institutional land holdings
Government entities or parastatals such as Railways often own large tracts of land in cities.
Because this land cannot be sold on the market to the benefit of the owning institution, it is

often underused, or used in a way incompatible with its real market value. Many of the land
holdings have been inherited from colonial time and are located in downtown areas.
Government entities and parastatals should be required to make a full inventory of their land
holdings and to evaluate them at market value. Government entities and parastatals should be
allowed to sell their land holdings, and retain the proceeds, whenever they feel that the cash
value of land would be more valuable to them than the use of land.
6. Very low property taxes
Very low property taxes and property taxes based on actual rents rather than on land values
create an incentive to hold vacant or underused land, thus decreasing the amount of land on
the market. Introducing an ad valorem property tax would require more open and transparent
land transactions. Of course ad valorem land taxation is incompatible with rent control.
7. Inadequate primary infrastructure
The failure to provide primary infrastructure with a capacity consistent with demand is often
cited as a justification for constraining development intensity, in particular low FSI. It is
important to realize that an adjustment of land use regulation to actual market demand will
also require the provision of primary infrastructure of sufficient capacity. The means to
finance primary infrastructure could come for a better design of the property tax or from the
imposition of impact fees when redeveloping high density areas.

Government regulations or practices contributing to an artificial increase in land

8. Land subdivision regulations
Land subdivision regulations tend to over-design roads right of ways, open space and other
land reserves. This practice results in an increase in the consumption of land compared to
what would be necessary. Many of the right of ways reserved are never used for circulation.
9. Minimum plot size
Minimum plot sizes are often set at different value for state development agencies and for the
private sector. This practice results in excluding the private sector from the supply of plots
and housing for a large segment of the population. Minimum plot sizes should be adjusted to
reflect land values and the affordability of various socio economic groups and the same
standards should be available for both the private and public sector.

Most vulnerable marginalized groups in almost every society can be summarized as below:
1. Women Under different economic conditions, and under the influence of specific historical, cultural,
legal and religious factors, marginalization is one of the manifestations of gender inequality.
In other words, women may be excluded from certain jobs and occupations, incorporated into
certain others, and marginalized in others. In general they are always marginalized relative to
men, in every country and culture. Women (or, men) dont present a homogeneous category

where members have common interests, abilities, or practices. Women belonging to lower
classes, lower castes, illiterate, and the poorest region have different levels of marginalization
than their better off counterparts.
2. People with disabilities People with disabilities have had to battle against centuries of biased assumptions, harmful
stereotypes, and irrational fears. The stigmatization of disability resulted in the social and
economic marginalization of generations with disabilities, and, like many other oppressed
minorities, this has left people with disabilities in a severe state of impoverishment for
centuries. The proportion of disabled population in India is about 21.9 million. The
percentage of disabled population to the total population is about 2.13 per cent. There are
interstate and interregional differences in the disabled population. The disabled face various
types of barriers while seeking access to health and health services. Among those who are
disabled women, children and aged are more vulnerable and need attention.
3. Schedule Castes (Dalits) The caste system is a strict hierarchical social system based on underlying notions of purity
and pollution. Brahmins are on the top of the hierarchy and Shudras or Dalits constitute the
bottom of the hierarchy. The marginalization of Dalits influences all spheres of their life,
violating basic human rights such as civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. A
major proportion ofthe lower castes and Dalits are still dependent on others for their
livelihood. Dalits does not refer to a caste, but suggests a group who are in a state of
oppression, social disability and who are helpless and poor. Literacy rates among Dalits are
very low. Caste based marginalization is one of the most serious human rights issues in the
world today, adversely affecting more than 260 million people mostly reside in India. Castebased discrimination entails social and economic exclusion, segregation in housing, denial
and restrictions of access to public and private services and employment, and enforcement of
certain types of jobs on Dalits, resulting in a system of modern day slavery or bonded labour.
However, in recent years due to affirmative action and legal protection, the intensity of caste
based marginalization is reducing.
4. Scheduled Tribes
The Scheduled Tribes like the Scheduled Castes face structural discrimination within the
Indian society. Unlike the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes are a product of
marginalization based on ethnicity. In India, the Scheduled Tribes population is around 84.3
million and is considered to be socially and economically disadvantaged. Their percentages in
the population and numbers however vary from State to State. They are mainly landless with
little control over resources such as land, forest and water. They constitute a large proportion
of agricultural laborers, casual laborers, plantation laborers, industrial laborers etc. This has
resulted in poverty among them, low levels of education, poor health and reduced access to
healthcare services. They belong to the poorest strata of the society and have severe health
5. Elderly or Aged People
Ageing is an inevitable and inexorable process in life. In India, the population of the elderly
is growing rapidly and is emerging as a serious area of concern for the government and the

policy planners. According to data on the age of Indias population, in Census 2001, there are
a little over 76.6 million people above 60 years, constituting 7.2 per cent of the population.
The number of people over 60 years in 1991 was 6.8 per cent of the countrys population. The
vulnerability among the elderly is not only due to an increased incidence of illness and
disability, but also due to their economic dependency upon their spouses, children and other
younger family members. According to the 2001 census, 33.1 per cent of the elderly in India
live without their spouses. 6. Children
Children Mortality and morbidity among children are caused and compounded by poverty,
their sex and caste position in society.
All these have consequences on their nutrition intake, access to healthcare, environment and
education. Poverty has a direct impact on the mortality and morbidity among children. In
India, a girl child faces discrimination and differential access to nutritious food and gender
based violence is evident from the falling sex ratio and the use of technologies to eliminate
the girl child. The manifestations of these violations are various, ranging from child labour,
child trafficking, to commercial sexual exploitation and many other forms of violence and
abuse. With an estimated 12.6 million children engaged in hazardous occupations (2001
Census), for instance, India has the largest number of child labourers under the age of 14 in
the world. Among children, there are some groups like street children and children of sex
workers who face additional forms of discrimination. While systematic data and information
on child protection issues are still not always available, evidence suggests that children in
need of special protection belong to communities suffering disadvantage and social exclusion
such as scheduled casts and tribes, and the poor (UNICEF, India).
7. Sexual Minorities
Another group that faces stigma and discrimination are the sexual minorities. Those identified
as gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, kothi and hijra; experience various forms of
discrimination within the society and the health system. Due to the dominance of
heteronomous sexual relations as the only form of normal acceptable relations within the
society, individuals who are identified as having same-sex sexual preferences are ridiculed
and ostracized by their own family and are left with very limited support structures and
networks of community that provide them conditions of care and support. Their needs and
concerns are excluded from the various health policies and programs.
Improved Access to Agricultural LandThe reasons for the high incidences of poverty and deprivation among the marginalized social
groups are to be found in their continuing lack of access to income-earning capital assets
(agricultural land and non-land assets), heavy dependence on wage employment, high
unemployment, low education and other factors.
Therefore, there is a need to focus on policies to improve the ownership of income-earning
capital assets (agriculture land, and non-land assets), employment, human resource & health
situation, and prevention of discrimination to ensure fair participation of the marginalized
community in the private and the public sectors.
Improved Access to CapitalThe poverty level among the SC and ST cultivators is 30% and 40% respectively, which is
much higher compared with non-scheduled cultivators (18%). Similarly, the poverty
incidences of those in business is very high 33% for SC and 41% for ST compared with only

21% among non-scheduled businesses. The viability and productivity of self-employed

households need to be improved by providing adequate capital, information, technology and
access to markets. It is a pity that though the STs do own some land, they lack the relevant
technological inputs to improve the productivity of their agriculture.
Education and Human Resource DevelopmentFirstly, lower literacy/level of education and the continual discrimination of SC/STs in
educational institutions pose a major problem. The government should take a second look at
the Education Policy and develop major programmes for strengthening the public education
system in villages and cities on a much larger scale than today. There is a necessity to
reallocate government resources for education and vocational training. For millions of poor
students located in rural areas, the loan schemes do not work. We should develop an
affordable, uniform and better quality public educational system up to the university level.
Public education system is our strength and needs to be further strengthened. Promotion of
such private education systems that creates inequality and hierarchy should be discouraged.
Food Security ProgramsThe public distribution system should also be revived and strengthened. In distributing Fair
Price Shops in villages, priority should be given to the SC/ST female and male groups, as a
number of studies have pointed out that they are discriminated upon in the Public Distribution
System and in Mid-day Meal schemes.
Public Health SystemThe public health system in rural areas has also been by and large neglected. Therefore, the
primary health system for rural areas and public health system in urban areas must be revived
and more funds should be allocated for the same.
Untouchability and DiscriminationThe practice of untouchability and the large number of atrocities inflicted on Dalits continue
even today mainly because of hidden prejudices and neglect on the part of officials
responsible for the implementation of Special Legislations; i.e. the Protection of Civil Rights
Act (PCRA) and the Prevention of Atrocities Act (POA). The Government should make a
meaningful intervention in this regard so as to mitigate the sufferings of Dalits due to practice
of untouchability and atrocities inflicted upon them and should also treat this matter on a
priority basis to ensure that the officials and the civil society at large are sensitized on this