“The RTTC is a ‘right’ to struggle for maintaining critical social solidarities. And, accordingly, such a right presupposes the respect for freedom of speech and expression, advocacy and dissent, movement and assembly, or the popular capacity to struggle to attain these. In sum, the moral RTTC assumes legal duties of respect for the conventionally called civil and political human rights.”[1]

-Professor Upendra Baxi

The background

The Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements was adopted by heads of States of Governments and the official delegations of countries assembled at the United Nation’s Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) in Istanbul, Turkey from 3rd to 14th June 1996. It endorsed “the universal goals of ensuring adequate shelter for all and making human settlements safer, healthier and more reliable, equitable, sustainable and productive”.

There were two major themes at that conference: adequate shelter for all and ‘sustainable human settlement development’ in an urbanising unit. The conference recognised with a sense of urgency the continuing deterioration of conditions and shelter of human settlements. It reaffirmed its commitment to better the standards of living ‘in larger freedom of all human right.’

The conference also reaffirmed the commitment to “the full and progressive realization of the right to adequate housing as provided for in international instruments” and to that end sought the active participation of public, private and non-governmental partners at all levels ‘to ensure legal security of tenure, protection from discrimination and equal access to affordable, adequate housing for all persons and their families.’

Two decades later, a ‘New Urban Agenda’ was unanimously adopted at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador on 20 October 2016. In December 2016, during the 68th plenary session of the 71st General Assembly, all United Nations Member States endorsed the New Urban Agenda and committed to work together towards a paradigm shift in the way cities are planned, built, and managed.

Preceding the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, a Habitat III Policy Unit ‘Right to the City, and Cities for All’, consisting of experts from Member States, was formed to provide inputs into formulation of the Agenda. The aforesaid policy paper defined the RTTC as under:

“10. The right to the city is…defined as the right of all inhabitants present and future, to occupy, use and produce just, inclusive and sustainable cities, defined as a common good essential to the quality of life. The right to the city further implies responsibilities on governments and people to claim, defend, and promote this right.”

The policy paper also sets out a non-exhaustive list of components that ensure the ‘city as a common good’:

(a) a city free of discrimination;

(b) a city of inclusive citizenship;

(c) a city with enhanced political participation in all aspects of urban planning;

(d) a city ensuring equitable access for all to shelter, goods and services;

(e) a city with quality public spaces for enhancing social interaction;

(f) a city of gender equality;

(g) a city with cultural diversity;

(h) a city with inclusive economies; and,

(i) a city respecting urban-rural linkages, biodiversity and natural habitats.

The aforementioned components of the ‘city as a common good’ have been ultimately incorporated in the New Urban Agenda as a ‘shared vision’ for ‘the equal use and enjoyment of cities and human settlements, seeking to promote inclusivity and ensure that all inhabitants, of present and future generations, without discrimination of any kind are able to inhabit and produce just, safe, healthy, accessible, affordable, resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements to foster prosperity and quality of life for all.’

Formulated thus, what the New Urban Agenda has acknowledged is a RTTC.

The RTTC acknowledges that those living in JJ clusters in jhuggis/slums continue to contribute to the social and economic life of a city.

[1] Upendra Baxi, ―A Philosophical Reading of the RTTC‖ in Urban Policies and the Right to the City in India: Rights, Responsibilities and Citizenship, UNESCO, 2011, 17.

Another viewpoint is that ‘The right to the city is not to be viewed as a legalistic right, but as an articulation to consolidate the demand, within city spaces, for the realization of multiple human rights already recognized internationally.’ Miloon Kothari ―The Constitutional and International Framework‖, Urban Policies and the Right to the City in India: Rights, Responsibilities and Citizenship, UNESCO, 2011,12.