Cities, Environment, Climate Change & Social Justice

Session Report
Narayani Bhatnagar

Marking the fifth day of such a riveting one-month online certification training course on  Urban Policy and City Planning, an Online International Monsoon School Program organised by the Center for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS) at IMPRI (Impact and Policy Research Institute), New Delhi was inaugurated by Mahek Agarwal, a researcher at IMPRI, who welcomed the speakers and participants to the program with an introduction to the distinguished panellists. The Chair for this session was Dr Rumi Aijaz, Senior Fellow and Head, of Urban Policy Research Initiative, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi.

Mr Aijaz stated that we bear a tremendous deal of responsibility for shaping the environment in which we live.  Previously, there was less population but continued economic expansion, which resulted in minimal carbon emissions. In today’s world, every country’s desire to pursue economic growth is causing significant environmental damage.

It is witnessed in several areas of the country’s economy, including transportation, construction, and the industrial sector.  The need of the hour is to resume those human activities in a responsible manner that does not harm the environment. As a result, people and organisations should work together to protect natural resources and what nature has to give humanity. Human Settlements, Social Security, the Environment, and Welfare were the topics of today’s session. 

The first speaker for the day, is Mr Leo F. Saldanha, Founding Trustee and Coordinator, of Environment Support Group (ESG), Bengaluru. Mr Saldanha began by thanking everyone for hosting him and holding a workshop on the topic of Urban Policy and City Planning. He focused on Cities, Environment, Climate Change, and Social Justice. He started by giving us a map of a suburban Bangalore community and a map of Bangalore’s electronic city, where the working class lives, and urged us to note the intricacies of structured life.

With the recent return of the Congress in Bangalore, they hope to revive and expand the concept of “Brand Bangalore.” The phrase “brand” and “Bengaluru ” are popular among the working class. While cities are planned and organised by three persons, the bulk of the city’s population is excluded from the decision-making process. As a result, the bulk of people live in huge human settlements. The lush and beautiful nature has been ripped away in recent years to make way for settlements, while city streets have become increasingly congested.

This is a major source of concern in the context of climate change. According to IISc research conducted in 2012, Bangalore’s vegetation loss is as follows:

  • In the last 40 years 1005% increase in paved surface
    • 1973 => 68.27%
    • 2012 => 25%
  • Shivjinagar, Chikpet: 
    • 1 tree = 500 people.
  • In 2012: 
    • 0.17 trees per person.
  • Future => 33%, 1 tree per person.
  • IDEAL: 
    • 8 trees per 1 person for a healthy respiratory system.

Mr Saldana’s paper “Screaming for Help” discusses the reason for Bengaluru’s floods and narrows it down to caste and class differences, in addition to the typical economic, structural, and political factors.  Following the independence period, the feudal and higher classes were intertwined into a common society, and they wanted to transform society due to their desire for a luxurious lifestyle. 

He stated that Neil Brenner, Peter Marcuse, and Margit Mayer’s, “Cities for People, Not Profit: Critical Urban Theory and the Right to the City.” provides an excellent framework for developing an urban metropolis, planning, and initiatives. Are today’s cities as sufficient/efficient as cities with rights? 

According to him, most of our cities have become very transactional, and this has worsened since Prime Minister Narendra Modi began to pursue and promote the concept of smart cities, which is based on the Jawaharlal Nehru National and Political Mission. The majority of new infrastructure projects in India are aimed towards the country’s gentrified class. He also stated that all of our cities have become about profit rather than people. 

If farmlands and wetlands are converted into cities and huge settlements, the character of society may be perceived as “problematic,”, particularly for the urban middle and working class, and this has manifested itself in road rage.

Extreme weather occurrences such as floods, heatwaves, and Covid erode social and economic security. We’ve seen a series of disastrous occurrences, and people haven’t recovered from demonetisation; people in cities aren’t being helped by government measures because of the way the environment is changing.

In Northern India, no one accepts responsibility for the flooding that states like Delhi are experiencing, nor for the worrisome string of other calamities that occur.

The Constitutional promise

Article 39 of the Constitution of India:

“The State, shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood; that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to subserve the common good; that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment”

Individuals and organisations conduct course corrections without commercial motivation. individuals without resources battling for their rights because individuals with riches don’t care and buy their way past everything. The following PiLs were identified:

Important Principles Invoked by Judiciary:

  • The right to Life includes the Right to Clean Environment and Livelihood.
  • Polluter Pays Principle.
  • Principle of Intergenerational Equity.
  • The doctrine of Public Trust.
  • Precautionary Principle Principle of Prior and Informed Consent.
  • Principle of Ecocentrism.

Through PIL, the interpretation of the Doctrine of Public Trust can be known to the public: 

Interpretation of the Doctrine of Public Trust:

(1) the property subject to the trust must not only be used for a public purpose but it must be held available for use by the general public;

(2) the property may not be sold, even for fair cash equivalent;

(3) the property must be maintained for particular types of


(i) either traditional uses, or

(ii) some uses particular to that form of resources.

(Joseph L. Sax in “The public Trust Doctrine in Natural Resource Law: Effective Judicial Intervention”, Michigan Law Review, Vol.68 No.3 (Jan. 1970) PP 471-566.)

This was amplified through the Constitutional 74th Amendment (Nagarpalika) Act, 1992.

Constitutional 74th Amendment (Nagarpalika) Act, 1992.


  1. In many States local bodies have become weak and ineffective on account of a variety of reasons, including the failure to hold regular elections, prolonged supersessions and inadequate devolution of powers and functions. As a result, Urban Local Bodies are not able to perform effectively as vibrant democratic units of self-government.
  1. Having regard to these inadequacies, it is considered necessary that provisions relating to +
  2. Urban Local Bodies are incorporated in the Constitution particularly for- 

(i) putting on a firmer footing the relationship between the State Government and the Urban Local Bodies with respect to-

(a) the functions and taxation powers; and

(b) arrangements for revenue sharing;

(ii) Ensuring regular conduct of elections;

(iii) ensuring timely elections in the case of supersession; and Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women.

(iv) providing adequate representation for the weaker sections like Scheduled

Constitutional 74th Amendment (Nagarpalika) Act, 1992

3. Accordingly, it is proposed to add a new part relating to the Urban Local Bodies in the Constitution to provide for- (a) constitution of three types of Municipalities: (i) Nagar Panchayats for areas in transition from a rural area to urban area; (ii) Municipal Councils for smaller urban areas; (iii) Municipal Corporations for larger urban areas.

Be held within a period of six months of its dissolution; (g) devolution by the State Legislature of powers and responsibilities upon the

(f) fixed tenure of 5 years for the Municipality and re-election within six months of end of tenure. If a Municipality is dissolved before expiration of its duration, elections to Municipalities with respect to preparation of plans for economic development and social justice, and for the implementation of development schemes as may be required to enable them to function as institutions of self-government; 

(h) levy of taxes and duties by Municipalities, assigning of such taxes and duties to Municipalities by State Governments and for making grants-in-aid by the State to the Municipalities as may be provided in the State law;

(i) a Finance Commission to review the finances of the Municipalities…

District Planning Committees Article 243 ZD

Prepare Draft Development Plan for each District, keeping in mind:

1) Matters of common interest between the Panchayats and Municipalities including spatial planning, sharing of water and other physical and natural resources, the integrated development of infrastructure and environmental conservation.

2) the extent and type of available resources whether financial or otherwise.

3) consult such institutions and organisations as the Governor may specify.

Constitutional 74th Amendment (Nagarpalika) Act, 1992 Ward Committees 243S. 

Constitution and composition of Wards Committees.

(1) There shall be constituted Wards Committees, consisting of one or more wards, within the territorial area of a Municipality having a population of three lakhs or more.

(2) The Legislature of a State may, by law, make provision with respect to-

(a) the composition and the territorial area of a Wards Committee; 

(b) the manner in which the seats in a Wards Committee shall be filled.

(3) A member of a Municipality representing a ward within the territorial area of the Wards Committee shall be a member of that Committee.

Mr Saldana ended his lecture by discussing the Governance of Commons approach. Plan for the Future (urban space, market, social infrastructure, and employment opportunities), the Use of community resources and intelligence, as well as community-identified goals and objectives for inclusive change.

Acknowledgement: Narayani Bhatnagar is a research intern at IMPRI.

Read more session reports on web policy learning events conducted by IMPRI:

Analysis of State Budget and Public Finance Data



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