Be careful what you advertise #BJP #Haryana #Assemblypolls #land #realestate

Poll season is about the strangest of radio ads. While driving to work this morning, I was surprised to hear a BJP ad for the Haryana Assembly elections that directly addressed the issue of State-sponsored land grab by developers. In the ad, a Haryanvi farmer talks about how the government has used the ruse of wrongly declaring fertile lands to be infertile to hand land over to developers, thus disenfranchising farmers and leaving them out of the development process. Another ad in the same campaign talks about the challenges farmers face to access water for irrigation. Clearly, BJP is aggressively wooing the rural voter in Haryana. Which is all well and good.

800px-Green_farms_of_Jats_in_HaryanaWhat intrigues me is the implication that the BJP, if elected, will NOT develop agricultural land if it is fertile! Is that even possible for a State that seems to have put most of its eggs into the urbanization basket over the past few years? Leveraging its border with Delhi seems to be an important objective for the State from its recent planning documents.

Of course, Haryana has had a Congress government and these policies could, in theory, change if a new government were to come to power. But, as a colleague cynically quipped, if the BJP were to rule then the land taken from the farmer might go to a Reliance instead of DLF, with nothing really changing for the farmer!

We see a general disillusionment with agriculture across India and a decline of the farm sector, but in Haryana, farming is culturally ingrained. Land and farming are a very strong part of the identity of the Haryanvi people. I’m no expert, but perhaps the State has the opportunity to re-focus on the agri sector, for which it needs to think about compact, transit-oriented, well-planned cities instead of the sprawling, poorly conceived urban stretches we see when we drive around the State.

Assembly of Informal Urban Workers – Lok Sabha Elections 2014

ramblinginthecity:

And this, interestingly, flies in the face of my previous post and highlights that the rhetoric is totally different from actual policies and schemes implemented on ground!

Originally posted on Terra Urban तेरा अर्बन:

Informal sector and informal settlers are country’s largest vote bank but unfortunately their issues and problems largely remain politically and administratively neglected. In Delhi Assembly Elections, PRIA and FIUPW made sincere effort to highlight their issues and got assurance from major political parties to consider issues in their party manifesto. No doubt some of political parties had included issues in their respective manifesto. In the light of upcoming Lok Sabha elections, once again PRIA and FIUPW have collectively made an attempt to highlight the key issues of the urban informal workforce and raise some critical demands for their betterment in the form of an election manifestoMain points of manifesto have been given below-

Identity, Equality and Social Security for Urban Poor

Urbanization has become a common feature of Indian society. Speedily changing situation of urban area is the matter of concern and attention.

As per 2011 Census[1];

  • Urban…

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National Hawkers Federation’s Demonstration at Jantar Mantar – 7 Feb 2014

ramblinginthecity:

Need to complete the process and get people their rights!

Originally posted on Intercultural Resources:

hawkers3hawkers1hawkers2

National Hawkers Federation’s  Demonstration at Jantar Mantar, to Pass Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill, 2012 in Rajya Sabha.

 The Hawkers and vendors from Delhi, belonging to the National Hawkers Federation gathered at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi on 7th February,  2014  for a strong protest demonstration to pass the Street Vendors bill in the Rajya Sabha. The meeting was attended by several leaders from political parties and trade unions. 

National Hawkers Federation (NHF) is the largest Federation of different hawkers’ and street-vendors’ unions, organizations and associations. currently 800 independent unions, organizations and associations along with 11 Central Trade Unions and affiliated hawker unions constitute the National Hawker Federation. We are presently active in 25 States and 1 Union Territory of India.

On September 6, 2013 the Lok Sabha passed the historic Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill, 2012 …

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Informed and inspired by the SSA Workshop on Urban Poverty in Mumbai

Of the 40-odd people who attended this workshop on the 11th of December in Mumbai, most came in not knowing what to expect. Urban poverty is a term that confuses and confounds many, even among those of us who work in the development sector. Lina Sonne from Intellecap, which brings out the Searchlight South Asia newsletter for the Rockefeller Foundation and had organized the event, pointed out that there is still an overwhelming focus on rural poverty and a need to move away from thinking of urban poverty as a problem that stems from a failure to address rural issues. Urbanization is clearly a force by itself, the urban poor face issues that are distinct and overwhelming, and there needs to be a focus on resolving these if cities are to truly be the engines of economic growth that India is pinning its hopes on.

The workshop was held at the Dutch Design Workspace, which is intimate, well located

The workshop was held at the Dutch Design Workspace, which is intimate, well located

As the first presenter, I struggled a little bit to gauge the mood, the interest areas and the expectations of the audience, which came from diverse backgrounds. Some were here to listen and learn, and there were others with a fire in their belly who were already doing really interesting things on the ground with poor communities as well as corporations that were striving to drive change through more sensitive leadership.

So I decided to focus on mHS’ vision for housing solutions that envisages a portfolio of housing options ranging from dormitories and shelters for the homeless and pavement dwellers, all the way up to ownership housing. The idea is that the urban poor are a heterogeneous bunch, every bit ambitious and enterprising as any other citizen if not more, and they should be able to self-select what sort of housing they want to live in. (Within this portfolio, mHS is currently focused on catalyzing self-construction in informal settlements through providing technical assistance in the form of engineering and architectural services to homeowners). To make this portfolio of housing possible, not only do we need policy changes and involvement from the government, but essentially there is a need to look at urban problems from an interdisciplinary perspective with the goal to make cities more inclusive and provide better opportunities for everyone.

All the sessions and discussion were captured by posters. This one sums up the mHS session

All the sessions and discussion were captured by posters. This one sums up the mHS session

The other presentations were also very interesting and a lot of the content was new to me. Abhishek Bhardwaj from Alternative Realities spoke eloquently about the homeless in Mumbai and his proposal for “housing in continuum” aligns closely with mHS’ vision. Baby Mohite and Vishnu from Swach in Pune presented the pioneering work that an association of 2200 wastepickers has done in association with Pune Municipal Corporation in being able to bring solid waste management to about 4 lakh households in the city.  This happens through door-to-door garbage collection. The wastepickers then segregate the waste, utilizing the ‘wet’ waste to produce manure and biogas and recyclable materials of all sorts are picked out of the ‘dry’ waste. The results are dramatic and the high level of innovation impressive, like the ST Dispo Bag that allows women to dispose sanitary napkins in a distinct bag so wastepickers don’t have to directly handle soiled napkins! They sell about 50,000 bags per month and all because the wastepicker women had conversations with the middle class women in the households they serve and connected on a woman-to-woman level.

I was quite touched by the presentation by young Shweta from Kranti, which is an NGO run by two spunky women to rehabilitate young girls who have grown up in Kamathipura, Mumbai’s red light district. Shweta, one of the ‘girls’, spoke in an endearing pseudo-accent and told us about how her confidence has grown, how she doesn’t care about what society thinks, how she is influencing her sisters to stand up for themselves back home in the red light district and how she wants to change the world. Shweta and other “krantikaris” (revolutionists) are actively involved in teaching and holding workshops with marginalized girls and children across India. Two other presentations discussed initiatives in education (Doorstep School) and health.

Looking at the posters before re-convening to discuss our takeaways from the workshop

Looking at the posters before re-convening to discuss our takeaways from the workshop

The presentations spun off some interesting discussions. One was the conflict between being innovative in addressing urban poverty through grant-funded initiatives and the need to go to scale and impact a larger number. The future of social enterprises was a concern and some felt acutely the need for social entrepreneurs to get real and find sustainable business models. Some exciting sparring happened on that one!

Another takeaway for many of us was the need for more interaction among those working in the development sector among the urban poor. There is considerable convergence in how different grassroots organizations are beginning to think about the huge problem of how to provide better quality of life for urban residents and much can be learned through sharing and collaborations.

Conflicting realities in rural India & the need for inclusive development- Oct 25, 2012

Watching Chakravyuh just after we came back from the village makes me wonder about how much a person’s point of view informs their own reality, how much realities differ from person to person and how confusing it is to unravel these multiple perspectives in an attempt to see things for what they really are. But that’s the thing, reality is not absolute.

In Chakravyuh, Prakash Jha exposes us to the multiple realities of Naxalism. The State perceives them as terrorists, while they believe they fight for the rights of the tribals. In a situation where the very meaning of the development is conflicting- with tribals rejecting any form of development that devours land and resources and the State believing that industrialization is the only viable form development can take- this is a fight in which it’s hard to even take sides. And that is brought out well in the film.

Back in Jalwara, we got disturbing feedback on local politics and economics and much of it conflicted with our urban perceptions of rural issues. As landowners, our family is finding it tough to find adequate labor to work in the fields. Apparently, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or commonly known as NREGA incentivizes people to not work as they get paid a minimum number of hours whether or not they work. At crunch times, landowners have to request officials to delay NREGA payouts so that they get people to work the fields. Of course, the other point of view is that landowners can pay more than what the NREGA offers which is minimum wage and get around this. In fact, NREGA has been responsible for labor wages shooting up across the nation and in that sense, it has benefited the poor. Analysts have also proven that NREGA creating shortage of labor is simply a myth and that the rural poor would not logically opt to work for lesser wages paid weekly, fortnightly or even monthly by NREGA if better wages were paid daily by employers. I don’t understand the economics of this in detail, but this debate is another confirmation that we need better systems to manage, monitor and deliver subsidies so that people get paid for work they actually do. Plus, the gap between demand for labor and supply of workforce needs to be managed as well in some manner, though ideally the market should take care of this by itself.

Another disturbing piece of news was that the Naxals have tried to cross over from neighboring Madhya Pradesh into the Baran district in Rajasthan, hoping to recruit local tribals like the Sahariyas. Fortunately, these Sahariyas, as one landowner in Jalwara referred to caustically as the ‘tigers’ of Baran district, the hot shots, the guys who get all the resources. A recent editorial by Harsh Mander on this community highlights the fact that malnutrition and death by starvation continue to be a reality today, even though much less than before. Pretty much the only thing that keeps the Naxals out at this point is the special Public Distribution Scheme (PDS) that gives every Sahariya household 35 kgs of wheat a month and keeps them away from starvation. The same article reports, however, that these tribals gets only 10-25 days of work a year instead of the 200 days they are entitled to by the NREGA.

Coming back to Chakravyuh, effective governance in poverty struck areas of this country is critical. We don’t realize it, but as a nation we are very close to being in a situation of complete anarchy. Imagine a life when you will not be able to step out of your home without firearms, your children will lead a life of privilege and constant, unrelenting fear, fear of the poor who will strike back at every opportunity. The disparities are growing and we desperately need to innovate means to make development more inclusive. There is a big job out there. And unless we see inclusive growth as a real objective and not just a fancy word, we’re in trouble indeed!

 

Low-income informal communities offer a window into an astonishing array of home-based work- Sep 25, 2012

Yesterday, we revisited Sundernagari, the site of the project we did last year in which we experienced a fairly intense community involvement process to redesign a slum in-situ. One of the first questions we got asked was if we knew whether the scheme to redevelop the slum would take off. Kokila Ben, the member of the women’s cooperative run by SEWA Bharat and MHT, had been fending questions by community members asking if they should invest in adding floors to their homes. Already, we saw several homes had been added to or were in the process of doing so when we walked through the neighborhood.

The home is a matter of emotion, pride and sustenance for anyone, more so for the poor and especially for this community where most people practice home-based occupations. A mochi community, nearly every home has its male head sewing and repairing shoes, while women support the house by venturing out to sell shoes or, in some cases, working as domestic help in middle income homes nearby.

Kokila ben is an eloquent, down to earth woman who sells the shoes her husband (drunk the day we visited) makes because the cops harass women less than the men!

Shoe designs change with time. In this house, the uppers and soles and other components have been stitched together to create this modern sports shoe

I was struck by how much lower the activity levels seemed as compared to last year. When I asked, a tale of woes and apathy spilled out. Apparently, the Lal Qila market where these people sold their finished products is being disbanded and moved to the defunct Power House near ITO, which will take a while to attract customers. As of now, the shoemakers are selling from their basti and constantly being hounded by the police for what they claim is illegal work. It is clearly hard to make ends meet, and with kerosene halved on their BPL ration cards plus hiked electricity rates, they were tightening the belts for tough times ahead. One mochi brazenly asked us for a loan to grow his business and claimed he could make chappals to our design specifications if we wanted to try him out.

Rajkumar is confident of being able to make chappals of any design you want! He works 12 hours each day to support a family of seven, who all live in a home that measures some 12 sq metres

Walking around the basti, we saw some other very interesting occupations. A wizened old lady was sticking pins into tiny pieces of plastic, apparently a component that goes inside a bicycle horn. Another woman was putting together two small bits of plastic to fashion a whistle. These little components would then be fitted by someone else into the colorful plastic cover that we associate with the whistle! Other home-based occupations we ave noticed in these slums are buffalo rearing, which makes for an interesting though messy situation, metal fabrication to make things like birdcages and rat traps, jewelry making out of beads and sequins, embroidery and needlework, stitching and carpentry. Quite an array, isn’t it?

The old lady bent over her horn components!

The whistle makers

The home is a matter of pride. And how! This home is in the adjoining settlement colony next to the slum we worked in

Indian communities have such a strong traditional of skilled handwork and handmade items of all kinds. The level of finish may vary but these people take pride in what they do. Most of these are non polluting, take very little energy and gives livelihood to scores of people. Certainly the city would not be able to provide employment to all these people if they stopped doing what they do. Yet, we place such little economic value on these tasks, and our legal system declares many of these home-based activities to be illegal, subjecting these poor people to the misery of harassment and corruption. It sees to me rather unfair and I wish I knew how to help these communities with better linkages to the supply chain, some means to reduce exploitation and increase market value through design inputs, branding and skill enhancement.

Spare a thought for those who work through weekends to make ours fun! August 31, 2012

Every Friday, I am struck by the number of people sharing their joy of the anticipated weekend with the world. On Twitter and Facebook, elated office goers heave sighs of relief and announce their weekend plans. It’s a virtual war out there, a subtle but keen competition for who will have the best weekend.

How about all those scores of people, though, who work through the weekend. It occurred to me today, that a privileged lot actually get the weekend off. A whole bunch of people work through Saturdays and Sundays providing services, manning retail stores and salons, movie theaters and car parks. When do they spend time with their children, with their families? When do they shop, eat out, relax?

Being married to a pilot, weekends are an interesting concept in our house as well. The kids follow a strictly weekday-weekend routine thanks to school and my life sort of loops around that. Rahul’s availability on a weekend has always been a luxury though. There have been times when he has been out on several weekends in a row and cooling his heels at home on a weekday, when the rest of us have no time for him. When he is in, we’re all happy to plan something special or just chill at home! Because I do not work full time, weekends do not need to be cluttered with chores like shopping. I manage to finish all those at some point during the week so we have clear weekends to enjoy. But, I digress.

I’m amazed that our mindsets are so set on this weekday-weekend pattern despite the fact that many people in a modern economy work on very different schedules. It is one of those things most of us do not really dwell on and that also feeds off the fact that Indian cities are very diverse. People from varying income groups, classes and backgrounds co-exist and therefore, many of these aspects get evened out because expectations differ hugely.

For many of the people I observe who are the worker bees that fuel businesses in retail and entertainment, a day off is a luxury. These are the hard working masses that really hold our cities afloat. With varying levels of education, their assets are things like skills acquired on the job, temperament, the ability to do repetitive tasks, take orders, etc. In conversations with a cross section of people like shop attendants, security guards, waiters, chefs, ticket checkers, those who man cash counters at superstores, etc I am amazed at how satisfied they are with their lot. They are happy to have a job, to earn a decent living and be treated with dignity. A day off here and there is good for them and they seem to make the most of this day. The guy who cuts my hair, for instance, takes Tuesdays off to visit a Hanuman Mandir somewhere near ISBT and his faith is a matter of great satisfaction for him. Of course, their lives may be difficult, they may not always be treated well and jobs may come and go. But the weekend and the crazy premium we attach to it is absent from their lives. They are hugely aware of how important it is for ‘us’ though, their customers who set the cash registers ringing starting Friday night up until Sunday night! I guess we could call it a symbiotic relationship!

Delightful moment: Photo op with the Sohna Road squatter potters- Aug 6, 2012

There is a small community of potters on Sohna Road. We pass them nearly every day and I finf myself wondering about their life every now and then. They live in tent-like structures. Charpais (single beds made of bamboo and coir weaving) lie in front of these shelters. Their wares are displayed on the floor right there and their entire lives are led right in front of a million people who pass by in an assortment of vehicles that range from  jugaads (carts with a motor strapped onto it literally), tractors and bicycles to Audis, BMWs and Ferraris. No kidding! This row of squatter potters (I like the ring of that) is located strategically at an important junction. Policemen sit right there plaguing regular folks, buses stop there, people pedal their wares…it’s the regular desi mela. Through several rounds of digging to lay sewerage pipes and now the latest round to put the electric cables underground, this little row has somehow held onto their space.

Yesterday, as we drove by the nth time, I remembered Aadyaa had to take a small pot to school with her. Krishna is her absolute favorite person (that he doesn;t actually exist in flesh and blood completely eludes her; she has asked me many many times to take her to Dwarka to meet him and Balram and Yashoda maiyya!). There has been much activity at school building up to Krishna’s birthday (janmasthani) this Friday and decorating the pot of buttermilk is something she is looking forward to.

So there we were, choosing a matka (pot). The gypsy lady suggested a buy a slightly larger, better quality one and then I mentioned its for the kid to paint on in school. The lady’s face lit up. “Radha banogi kya?”, she asked Aadyaa. Will you be Radha, Krishna’s love? And Aadyaa nodded, smiling brightly. I loved the shared moment between these two. For that instant, the tremendous disparities between rich and poor, educated and illiterate, fortunate and unfortunate, secure and insecure, were eliminated as they shared a common joyful thought. I wondered at the spontaneity and simplicity that we see in children and in the poor, who despite all their troubles, have an attitude of forthrightness devoid of suspicion.

We were soon brought back to earth when an older lady sitting on the charpai interrupted with a request for Aadyaa’s old clothes for her granddaughter. The child’s mother is apparently in hospital with dengue fever, I was told in a by-the-way sort of tone, perhaps to put me in a sympathy mode. Still, I detected no whining in her tone, just a simple request made with a smiling face. I found myself saying I’d do my best and then, I called in the kids for a picture. Here they all are, smiling into the camera as if they had not a care in the world!

Check out the grins and the jewelry on the old lady!

And they all joined in!

 

Street vendors add to the landscape of urban memories, identity- July 16, 2012

Street vendors, or hawkers as we also call them, are such an integral part of our lives in Indian cities. I just finished reading a book by Musharraf Ali Farooqi, a delicious little novella named ‘Between Clay and Dust’. The story revolves around a pahalwan and a tawaif who share a beautiful platonic relationship that eventually surpasses all others in their lives, even blood ties. Set immediately post Partition, I found it fascinating that Gohar Jan’s source of news about the city was mostly through peddlars of wares and services like the bangle seller, the trinket lady, etc.

I remember the iconic Farooq Sheikh, Deepti Naval starrer ‘Chashme Baddoor’ from my childhood. Naval sold Chamko detergent powder door-to-door. I associated the film with a few visits to Delhi during my childhood when residential areas in South Delhi had a certain quiet buzz about them and vendors of many daily necessities, including fruits and vegetables, peddled their wares from door to door on a rudimentary wooden pushcart (redi). Coming from Mumbai, which had already become a big city where you went to the commodity and it rarely came to you, all this seemed fascinating.

From the two years I spent as an infant, I have very vague memories of the guys who walked through the streets with the bear (bhaloo) and the monkeys (madari with his bandars) to entertain us kids. We discussed this  at lunch on Sunday and between mum, Rahul and me, we added more variety to that list- the knife sharpening guy, the utensil repairing guy, in an earlier time there were people who would come and coat brass vessels with aluminum so they could be used for cooking purposes.

It pains me to see this breed disappear. Not just because they imbued a certain flavor to our cities, but because it signals the arrival of a use-and-throw culture in which we have no place for repair re-use. I feel this is criminal. While the world is waking up to the benefits if re-use, we Indians who had a natural talent for this are giving away the advantage by blindly adopting a consumerist culture that exhibits no conscience at all. Also, the trend signifies our paranoia of letting unknown persons enter our homes. With gated living becoming popular, the breed will disappear entirely.

And yet, street vendors continue to thrive in certain situations because of their flexibility in adapting to demand and the meager resources they need. And nowhere is this more evident than in the omnipresence of street food! What would our public places be without the bhuttawala (guy selling corn cobs roasted right in front of you on hot coals), the chaat wala, the aloo bonda wala, the lassi stalls, the chana kulcha and chowmein stalls, the burger wala, the momo-guy (a relatively new addition)..the list is endless! Outside the posh Galleria market in Gurgaon, where the well heeled shop and splurge, the anda bread guy does brisk business. Outside Gurgaon’s call centers, the paratha stalls mint money and provide excellent service even in the middle of the night, with piping hot tea or cold drinks, whichever you prefer! Outside every glass and steel office building, there are clusters of food vendors, selling hot and freshly cooked meals. This is the real India, never mind the people inside the glass boxes pecking on their grilled sandwiches and pasta, or alternatively gingerly opening a home cooked tiffin while yearning for takeaway Chinese!

It alarms me that municipalities like Delhi and Mumbai have taken a hostile stance towards street vendors. There are plenty of ways they can ensure hygiene without taking these people off the streets. A couple of evocative articles by Prof. Sharit Bhowmik from Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai,  tell a compelling tale of the relationship hawkers have to the city’s economy and make a case for nurturing street vending and providing it a conducive ecosystem.

Evictions and cleansing the streets reek of narrow-mindedness, complete apathy for the urban poor who make a living out of as well as subsist on buying from street vendors as well as a lack of sense of place, to which street vendors contribute in an immeasurable but significant manner. To me, it is critical that professionals and citizens alike talk about the kind of urbanism we aspire to. Without this sort of debate, we will continue to lose our identity to idiotic regulations, till we are left with a bland existence and even the memories of a fuller, finer life are erased.

 

 

Conserve and manage resources like water OR Go hungry! May 15, 2012

The first ever UN Human Development report for Africa released today. And the big discussion was about food security. Amid emotional statements ["History is not destiny, Africans are not fated to starve," - Tegegnework Gettu, UNDP Africa Director], the report present positive case studies as well [Malawi went from food deficit to a 1.3 million tonne surplus in two years, thanks to a massive seed and fertilizer subsidy programme].

However, food security is something we in India need to get very worried about. India has a malnutrition problem that surpasses that of Sub Saharan Africa! One in every three malnutritioned children in the world lives in India, as per UNICEF!

It seems to me we need another Green Revolution in India. Born in the ’70s, I remember the euphoria the nation felt when it was finally able to stop its dependence on imports to feed its citizens and was even able export food grains way back in 1978-79. The main feature of the Green Revolution was to change the practice of agriculture from a one-crop to a two-crop system, thereby stepping up productivity hugely on the same amount of cultivated land. That euphoria still has most Indians thinking we shouldn’t really be worrying about food production, instead focusing on better storage and distribution. And while improvements across the food chain are imperative, production is still a huge issue that has considerable socio-economic consequences, considering the majority of Indians are still dependent on the land for a living!

We get the impression that persistent droughts in India in the winter months and the deluge of rain that follows, thus ruining crops, is some fallout of climate change that we have little short term control over. However, Sunita Narain, in a Business Standard editorial yesterday, attributes the problem largely to poor management of resources like water and land. Water management is ever more urgent, she argues, because climate change has made rainfall unpredictable. Besides the convoluted logic (or lack of it) of the various government schemes that address irrigation, basic actions to recharge groundwater and to increase the efficiency of water usage are not taken. To add to our woes, India’s agricultural land is shrinking owing to the pressure of other uses, not in the least the persistent onslaught of urbanization and industrial growth.

So when I scream at my children to not leave the tap running when they brush their teeth or for leaving food uneaten on their plate (because there are zillion starving kids who really need that morsel of food; however jaded the line, it is the absolute truth!), I’m not entirely unjustified in doing so!