Power, Authority and Influence

My apologies for a recap of Anthropology 101, but it is necessary to understand what I mean by the title of this post.  Anthropologists define political organization as the way in which a society handles the distribution of power, to maintain order which will enable the peaceful social and economic functioning of society.  When this power is legitimized on the basis of culture/mores, it becomes traditional authority (as in a Council of Elders); and when it is legitimized through a modern legal-institutional framework, it is termed rational authority. In other words, if I have the power I can make you act in a particular way, whether you want to do so or not, and if I exercise authority over you then you must act in the way outlined, or face social and legal sanctions.  The third element in this triad is influence – a far more subtle ability to make others think and act in a particular way, of their own volition.

I was reminded of these lessons of long ago by the constant harping in the Indian media about the Trump Twitter forays and the ‘War of Thrones’ in State elections in key North Indian States – with a liberal use of words like ‘power’, ‘defeat’, ‘victory’ and ‘demolition’ ad nauseam. The two self-proclaimed greatest democracies on Earth, reducing the hopes and aspirations of over a billion and a half souls  to a tawdry reality show on commercial TV. And this is how it works – in theory:

But how much of this much vaunted ‘power’ is real? Given the quirky electoral systems in both countries, the US Presidential race was won with just 46% of the popular vote; and India’s General Elections of 2014 gave the present government a great number of seats with just 31% of the electoral vote. Since then, Indian State Government elections have become vital to strengthen the government’s hands in the Upper House. This is seen as very important, because the sitting government wishes to tweak the legal-institutional framework to enhance its authority in a way that will enable it to achieve its agenda before the next General Election, in 2019 – just as POTUS can affect the legal process there, by select appointments to the judiciary.

Whenever there is an attempt to put the cart before the horse (assuming authority before legitimizing power) it falls flat – like the Trump travel ban and the hasty amendments to India’s Land Laws. I doubt whether both countries will allow their basic systems of legitimacy to be tweaked quite as easily as the incumbents seem to imagine – there are far too many checks and balances in both Constitutions, too many dissenting voices, too much inbuilt inertia, and rampant multiculturalism – the only safeguard for democracy in a globalised, multipolar world.

However, there is a clear and present danger that until this much coveted legitimate authority materializes, there will be extra-legal efforts to intimidate and coerce, through the rewriting of history, the marginalization of immigrants and minorities, and the quelling of all dissent by questioning the integrity of all those who disagree – like the campus unrest in India and the media war in the US. It is again the bottom 20% in both countries who will bear the brunt of these ambitions.

What is surprising is the convergence of vision between two such disparate leaders – one wants to make America great again, the other wants Development for all – but through the common route of infrastructure! This sector is globally acknowledged as the greatest source of corruption, and has been used in both countries to win elections – taking clientelism and crony capitalism to a new high : support today, profit tomorrow.

In fact the American Society of Civil Engineers has already submitted a wish list by outlining the horrendous costs to the country of deteriorating infrastructure, and the aspiring classes in India too dream of totally unviable and expensive bullet train networks criss-crossing their vast country.

Infrastructure development provides both a carrot and a stick in times of elections: on the one hand, investment in physical infrastructure benefits large companies in the heavy engineering, construction and mining sectors, whose shareholders are among the richest and have the deepest pockets; and on the other hand, it keeps the recalcitrant and minorities in line through coercion – the highly centralized governance in India gives an immense advantage to the party in power at the Centre, and States that choose to go with other parties pay a very heavy price in terms of systematic deprivation of development funds.

The price paid by West Bengal for voting in the Communists for a quarter century was huge – and Kolkata as the consumptive dowager metropolis of India is living proof of this, while Delhi was lavished with beautifying additions at the cost of other cities. Further, it is not only the cities but the rural areas which are impacted adversely if the Central and State Government are political adversaries. The Ministry of Rural Development gets the bulk of Government subsidies and aid, and antagonizing the powers-that-be at the Centre can dry up a river, create a famine, isolate a village, target a community, unleash a deadly epidemic, or devastate an eco-system.

So as they forge new means to maximize the private profits from public investment in infrastructure, both countries will forget their shortcomings – like the world’s largest incarcerated population, child poverty, growing homelessness, deteriorating public schools, crippling student debts and unaffordable healthcare in the US; and the highest incidence of modern slavery, growing malnutrition, child labour, non-existent social security and rampant informalisation of the economy, in India.

And the poorest will continue to fall off the grid…

 

Suffer Little Children…

One watches the TV News at one’s own peril these days. The UN Secretary-General asking for over $4 billion for the starving children of Africa; the ragged and emaciated children scavenging for scraps in Yemen; the wounded children of Aleppo and the dead of Gaza… and TV channels vying with one another with more ‘in-depth’ reports about the inhumane juvenile justice system in ‘developed’ countries. Peddling more and more misery in High Definition, but with a polite warning ‘Viewers may find some of the images disturbing.’ Then they move on to more important things, like the Great Twitter Wars of the twenty-first century…

Frankly, activists and development agencies have simply given up on the poorest of the poor. In the face of growing disparities, extremist polities, unprecedented inequality and insatiable greed, what chance do the children of humanity’s lowest quintile have? Branded and damned by an accident of birth. Ironic that millions live and die with their low ascribed status in an era which worships merit and achievement and makes billionaires of tech lords for a single innovation.

UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2016 reflects this growing despair with the same tired pleas for:

  • More accurate Information (They have to beg for this in the age of Information?!)
  • Greater Integration across sectors like education, nutrition, health and housing
  • Innovations that accelerate development for the most disadvantaged
  • Investment to create equitable solutions
  • Involvement of communities, businesses, organizations and citizens around the world who believe that change is possible.

Five I’s to combat the big I – Inequality.

However elegantly alliterative the Report may be, it doesn’t acknowledge one simple fact. The poorest of the poor across the world have not only become marginalized, but are increasingly redundant for the rest of us, our governments and our big businesses. The five I’s listed above will not happen, because it is in nobody’s interest to alleviate the lot of the most disadvantaged – as simple as that.

Just look at each of these in the South Asian context, for instance:

  • India prides itself on developing and implementing the biggest biometric ID programme (Aadhar) for a billion-plus people, and provides the bulk of Information Technology’s foot soldiers across the world. Yet in its deep hinterland, millions of births go unregistered. Why?
  • The Human Development Index was said to be the brainchild of a Pakistani and an Indian, yet neither country has been innovative or effective in integrating child development programmes, and both remain high on the malnutrition and illiteracy indices. Instead, tireless advocates of child rights like Kailash Satyarthi remain unheard and unknown until anointed by the Nobel Prize, when they are famous for a week and return meekly to obscurity, with nobody paying heed to their words anymore. Instead, the Indian Government goes so far as to legitimize child labour in family trades, washing its hands of millions of the most disadvantaged children in the country. Why?
  • As regards investment, no country in this region is willing to step back from an unnecessary arms race, and invest instead in its women and children and their future. Why?
  • And the middle and business classes in the entire South Asian Region are clones of one another – materialistic and self-centred to a fault. So much for their involvement in reaching the poorest of the poor…

The report has its dire warnings too, if the Sustainable Development Goals are not met by 2030:

unicef-sowc-2016


The Report rightly points out:

The arithmetic of equity is relatively simple and it is not a zero-sum game. Everyone should move forward, in rich and poor countries alike. But with greater investment and effort focused on reaching the children and families who have made the least progress, advances in child survival, health and education can be more equally shared to the benefit of all. To realize our global development goals, we must invest first in the children who are furthest behind.”

All we need: political will and a social conscience… and the resources can always be found.

 

WDR 2017: Revisiting Corruption, Capture and Clientelism

It was one of those cold misty mornings that you only get in North India in January, and I was being dropped to the airport at 5 a.m. by the hotel cabbie, and we were  lamenting the state of the world (ALL Indians always lament the state of the world when passing the time with total strangers…). Anyway, it emerged that despite working for a luxury hotel run by what is considered India’s most ethical business group, the driver is paid such a paltry salary that his family just makes it above the poverty line. And this despite being at the hotel’s beck and call 24/7. I am sure his father would have blamed his poverty on bad karma from an earlier life, and as a younger man, this gentleman would have ranted about discrimination (in arguably the world’s most discriminatory and unequal society), but in Modi’s India he blamed it on one single thing – corruption.

There is of course, a growing school of thought which believes that neo-conservative regimes like the current Indian government come to power by promising development, and blaming the preceding governments for holding the country back because of widespread corruption. Come elections, they promise to eradicate corruption through ‘good governance’. Their concept of governance (based on the classic World Bank model) is however, more like corporate governance with all emphasis on efficiency, grand announcements and fast but centralized decision-making, with the citizen-centric governance promoted by UNDP, totally forgotten along with effectiveness, participation, responsiveness, and accountability. Naturally, in this context, the entirely business-centric scales like Transparency International’s to measure corruption, or WEF’s ease of business are given far too much importance, and the UN reports on social indicators generally neglected. Consequently, wealth qua wealth is worshipped and accumulated, enterprise rewarded, bad debts incurred, and the informality and inequality in the country keep rising.

This is how the very core neocon agenda undermines itself, because as the social analyst Jong-Sung You argues in his latest book, inequality produces several causal mechanisms that serve to embed corruption within democratic structures and make them difficult to eradicate. Linking economic to political power, he explains how the ruling elite in an attempt to safeguard its own interests, buys political influence through both legal and illegal channels in order to ensure their interests are over-represented in the corridors of power. High rates of inequality thus compound the problem of state capture by powerful figures in politics, business and the media, with the result that democratic processes of accountability are undermined by corrupt practices.

Further, Dr You points out that an unequal state with enfeebled democratic infrastructure is ripe for persistent and prevalent clientelism, forcing the poor to become dependent on corrupt chains of patronage for the provision of particular benefits like medicine, education and nourishment, which would otherwise be considered entitlements in a functioning democracy. These chains of patronage on which the poor rely, are then mobilized during elections to buy votes and, in the bureaucracy, to buy favours. Importantly, this illustrates that the role elections should play as a mechanism for accountability ceases to function under high conditions of inequality; elections meant to fight corruption, become a means to legitimize a corrupt regime. And so we have come full circle.

Maybe it is the work of thinkers like Dr Jong-sung You which has begun to influence that bastion of free enterprise, the World Bank. Their latest World Development Report is a refreshing recant on their earlier version of governance and now considers governance as “… the process through which state and non-state actors interact to design and implement policies within a given set of formal and informal rules that shape and are shaped by power. This Report defines power as the ability of groups and individuals to make others act in the interest of those groups and individuals and to bring about specific outcomes.”

So there you have it: in the end, the institutions of governance do eventually subserve the demands of the most powerful in society. The WDR 2017 acknowledges that the power asymmetries in society can greatly undermine development and policy making and implementation because they lead to exclusion, capture, and clientelism. This in turn leads to the power of elite bargaining in a modern democracy, and its impact on policy-making and eventually, development.


As part of the World Development Report 2017, the World Bank, in collaboration with the V-Dem Institute, has conducted expert surveys to generate cross-national indicators that enable comparison of who holds bargaining power and how they wield this influence. The surveys cover more than 100 years of data in 12 countries across six regions and their findings are very interesting, as this graph shows:

WDR 2017 Elites.png

Some observations:

  • Power in Russia, Turkey (and Rwanda!) is apparently centralized totally to the exclusion of all other actors. So what happens when the mighty One is no more?
  • Do Brazilians really feel that the media there are such powerful players? Perhaps, especially after the media hounding of a democratically elected President…
  • Are foreign governments and international donor agencies really so powerful in Sri Lanka, or is there a defence angle India should worry about?
  • Local Governments, Organized Labour Unions and Civil Society Organizations seem to wield power only in Bolivia making it some sort of last refuge for the socialist idealist, and
  • Finally, India is true to the South Asian archetype, where power is centralized in the National Executive, National legislature, the Judiciary, national political parties and the All-India Civil Services – a permanent bureaucracy bequeathed by our erstwhile rulers to the entire sub-continent. Noticeable too is the absence of influence at the local or municipal level, despite the 74th Constitutional Amendment on decentralization, dating back to 1992, and that goes a long way in explaining the pathetic state of India’s burgeoning cities…

Dimensions of Urban Poverty – Revisited

My rather long absence from the blog was meant to be an assessment of the usefulness and direction of what I have been writing on issues of development and governance, and it is quite gratifying to learn that the traffic on the site holds steady, and the readership has now extended to 115 countries… What is rather surprising, is the continuing popularity of the ‘dimensions of urban poverty’ post I put up almost two years ago.

I had then optimistically hoped that with a new government, which came to power in India on a promise of ‘Development for All’, the following issues would receive serious consideration:

  • Ending the rural-urban bifurcation
  • Tertiarising the rural economy to stem distress migration to cities
  • Assuring food security for all: rural and urban
  • Providing a place of business that is legitimate, affordable and secure
  • Moving towards urban housing that is formal, affordable and secure
  • Putting in place a representational system for all assets, liabilities, and inventories
  • Augmenting access to institutional finance for all, not just rich industrialists
  • Vigorously enforcing the Right to Education
  • Giving easy and universal access to immunisation and health care
  • Guaranteeing public goods and services on the basis of equity and inclusion
  • Putting in place a social security net to cope with the unexpected

However, recent events in India force me to revisit this subject, and perhaps add a refinement or two to the original enunciation. I have been covering the different dimensions in various posts, and wish to bring them together only to underline one sad reality: that a country cannot progress, no matter how many missions are launched to make it SMART, digital or business-friendly, unless the various dimensions of poverty, especially urban deprivation, are addressed with long-term, cogent, inter-related, holistic policies and programmes.

Under the Income Dimension of urban poverty, we had noted that its commonest manifestation was the daily cash transactions that constitute the economy of the poor. Nowhere was this point better illustrated than in the furore and hardship caused to the urban poor and middle classes, by the Indian government’s decision to demonetize 86% of the country’s currency in one fell swoop. Venezuela too tried something of the sort, leading to riots in the streets.

Another side effect of the demonetization was that it turned the focus on the urban informal sector (again marked by cash transactions) which is on the verge of choking the formal economy to extinction, as mentioned in my previous post. It emerged that it is this informalisation of the urban economy (unchecked over the years) which results in tax evasion on a massive scale, though in a myriad petty ways, by the poorer classes of middle India. And I iterate that unless these informal sectors are formalized through cooperatives, labour collectives and self-help groups, with a user friendly tax regime to back it, the transactions of the average Indian consumer will continue to be in cash, unrecorded and therefore untaxed.

Under the Health Dimension of urban poverty, we had noted the pernicious impact of chronic malnutrition, and how it debilitated a nation’s human resources, bringing India’s demographic dividend to naught. It is also well documented that in a food deprived household in a largely patriarchal society like India (with a marked son-preference), the meagre resources go to feed the men in the family – the male ‘breadwinner’ and the beloved son; and the girl child is doomed to a lifetime of malnutrition and anemia.  In such a scenario, any attempt to introduce a fixed basic income cash transfer to replace subsidized food grains under the Public Distribution System, would be tantamount to condemning vast swathes of the population to virtual starvation, as the direct cash transfer is unlikely to feed an individual buying food on the open market. So much for the basic human right of food security. This does not augur well for the future of India, which is already home to 25% of the world’s hungry.

Under the Education Dimension, we had noted how the lack of access, facilities and quality in primary education doomed the urban poor to a lifetime of deprivation – generation after generation. The Indian Government has made no new investments in primary and secondary education and even the Prime Minister limits himself to the children of the well-heeled in his frequent radio and TV broadcasts to motivate them about such earth-shaking things as Yoga! Of course, the worst thing this government has done to the children of the poor, is to virtually legitimize child labour by permitting it in ‘family’ businesses. The same absence of policy results in a total failure to take concrete steps along other dimensions of urban poverty like housing, security and empowerment.


The single-minded pursuit of higher economic growth in a globalized world, has only resulted in increasing inequality and disparities, the flip side of which is the growing marginalization of the world’s poor, and a cold disregard for the UN’s recently announced Sustainable Development Goals.  This graphic from Statista, based upon the latest Oxfam Report on disparity, says it all:

world-inequality-in-oxfam-report

What an irony then, that the move away from globalization to a more insular and protectionist mode has begun in the West, where it was born; and its strongest defendant today is the President of Marxist China addressing the world at Davos…

Inclusive Cities – But who pays?

The world today is becoming increasingly difficult to classify along old ideological strands of left and right, or liberal and conservative. Essentially, it is divided between those who have benefited greatly from globalization, and those who have qualms about its impact on the environment and the vulnerable.

While the new right believes in a free market, wealth accumulation, exclusivity, exceptionalism and stronger state protection; the new left today is defined less by working class solidarity (virtually destroyed in any case, by 25 years of globalization) and more by its concern for the environment, renewable energy, climate change, gender discrimination and universally acceptable and ‘politically correct’ causes like child labour, slavery, LGBT rights and extreme poverty. The new left mantras are: Inclusion, Sustainability and Equity. And they are spattered all across the latest draft (18 July 2016) of the UN-Habitat’s New Urban Agenda, expected to be discussed, modified and accepted at the Habitat III in Quito, come October.

A look at the Agenda’s principles and commitments makes this point very clear:

Leave no one behind, by ending poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including the eradication of extreme poverty, by ensuring equal rights and opportunities, socio-economic and cultural diversity, integration in the urban space, enhancing livability, health and well-being; promoting safety and eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence; ensuring public participation; and providing equal access for all to physical and social infrastructure and basic services.

Sustainable and inclusive urban economies, by leveraging the agglomeration benefits of well-planned urbanization, high productivity, competitiveness and innovation; ensuring full and productive employment creation and equitable access for all to economic and productive resources and opportunities; preventing land speculation; and promoting secure land tenure.

Environmental sustainability, by promoting clean energy, resource and land use efficiency in urban development, as well as protecting ecosystems and biodiversity, including adopting healthy lifestyles in harmony with nature; ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns; building urban resilience; reducing disaster risks; and mitigating and adapting to climate change.

The draft agenda then moves on to transformative commitments for sustainable urban development, covering everything like: growing inequality and discrimination in cities; growth of internal, international and crisis migration; inadequate housing and social infrastructure; and paucity of safe public spaces. On institutions of urban governance, the agenda commits to facilitate grassroots democracy and also look beyond city-specific governments, to larger regional mechanisms.

Please bear in mind that this is an agenda for a fast changing world, where the face of urbanization will be definitively Asian:

Urbanization by 2030

And that is why, when it comes to the commitments to the urban economy, I find it too rose-tinted, idealistic and impractical. For instance point #51 reads:

We commit to recognize the working poor in the informal economy, particularly women, as contributors and legitimate actors of the urban economies, including the unpaid and domestic workers. We further commit to develop a gradual approach to formalization with a view to facilitating the transition from the informal to the formal economy, extending access to legal and social protections to informal livelihoods, as well as support services to the informal workforce.

If the new urban age is going to be essentially Asian, then there are two fallacies in the above point: The urban informal sector is no more the exclusive realm of the urban poor; and the assumption that efforts to formalize the informal will be welcomed by the practitioners of informality is also false – at least in the prevailing Asian context.

In India, for example, if you are redecorating your house, it is possible to procure the services of a decorator, builder, plumber, electrician, AC man without paying a penny tax, and you may even buy the materials in cash (without receipt) and save some more on tax! It is the middle class, and not the poor, who keep the urban informal sector going. Secondly, although everybody likes the idea of ‘inclusive’ municipal services, nobody likes the idea of ‘inclusive’ taxes, rates and user charges to pay for them. As a result, every hike proposed by municipal officers tends to get shot down by our elected representatives as being ‘anti-people’, thus ensuring their victory in the next election… And the infrastructure and services continue to deteriorate because of inadequate funding.

So if Habitat III is to be more than a talking shop for the international ‘urban mafia’, the New Urban Agenda needs to be more grounded in reality (and increasingly, the Asian reality) and propose more practical ways of making both income and expenditure truly ‘inclusive’ at the local level.

 

Cities without Shelter…

The maiden edition of UN Habitat’s World Cities Report (WCR 2016) reviews the changing face of urbanization in the last 20 years, covering the period when the global urban population hit the critical 50% mark, and our world was forever changed.

It identifies and discusses the following key issues or challenges before our cities, citizens and local and federal governments:

Emerging Issues in World City Report 2016

Of particular interest to countries like India is the section on Slums and Informal Settlements. UN-Habitat defines slums as “… a contiguous settlement that lacks one or more of the following five conditions: access to clean water, access to improved sanitation, sufficient living area that is not overcrowded, durable housing and secure tenure.” The WCR 2016 clearly avers that “…slums are the products of failed policies, poor governance, corruption, inappropriate regulation, dysfunctional land markets, unresponsive financial systems, and a lack of political will.”

And what is apparently true of the world, is true of India as well. In spades.

The WCR 2016 draws a dismal picture of government efforts to address the problem of informal settlements, across the world:

  • Over the last 20 years, housing has not been central to national and international development agendas, and urban land management and administration have suffered as a result
  • The housing policies put in place through the enabling approach have failed to promote adequate and affordable housing
  • Inequality, focus on homeownership, speculation and neglect of rental housing have gone on unchecked
  • Most involvement by governments has focused on helping the middle class to achieve home-ownership in a formal sector that only they can afford
  • The dependence on the private sector to provide housing has steadily increased across the world

The Report suggests the following policy initiatives at all tiers of government, to address the issue of adequate and affordable housing:

  • If the emerging future of cities is to be sustainable, a new approach that places housing at the centre of urban policies is required, to re-establish the important role of housing in achieving sustainable urbanization
  • At the national level, the goal is to integrate housing into national urban policies
  • At the local level, the importance of housing must be reinforced within appropriate regulatory frameworks, urban planning and finance, and as part of the development of cities and people.

Nobody in India is paying the least attention, as housing subsidies for the poor are rapidly replaced by ‘subsidized housing loans’ and initiatives like Smart Cities run into local resistance, because they are seen as a means of further enrichment of multinational IT firms, by raising local tariffs and taxes. RIP!

And as the Government of India jettisons all rights-based approaches in the social sector, the situation in the country’s slums will only get worse. Urban land transactions have bred land and construction mafias, which have totally penetrated and undermined local governments; engendered corruption on an unimaginable scale in State and Central Governments; and transferred huge tracts of public lands into private hands through the back door – in the name of the poor. Where else but in Mumbai can a rich man buy a 5 bedroom penthouse, signing 4 different contracts with the developer for 4 ‘lower income’ flats ‘merged’ into one while the government authorities conveniently looked the other way? And even the beleaguered and heavily indebted middle class must turn its hard earned ‘white’ money into ‘black’ to appease the property developer who demands part of the price of a house in this form, to avoid paying taxes. None of the successive governments of various ideological hues has done anything to address these woes, and none will, because the builders’ lobby is simply too strong and influential.

So it goes in various guises across the world, as the global housing shortage is expected to hit a billion by 2025…

 

Schools and Skills

Two items of concern to all Indians. A Statista chart on the countries with the greatest skill shortages, with India in a disturbing second position:

Skill Shortage Bar Chart

 

And John Kurrien in the Times of India citing an Educational Initiatives study of 35,000 Class 2, 4 and 6 students in 300 municipal schools in 30 towns of 5 states, indicating that more than two-thirds of Class 4 children were unable to divide 20 by 5; and more than half of Class 2 students were unable to match an alphabet letter with its sound -­ a skill mastered by most children attending an average private pre-primary school.

The article goes on to lament that instruction in most municipal schools is extremely limited in quality and scope, confined as it is to the “… mindless teaching of languages and mathematics from prescribed textbooks, and a smattering of science and social studies…”

We must bear in mind that the parents who send their children to a municipal school are essentially domestic workers, rickshaw drivers, street vendors and other stalwarts of the urban informal sector, whose ONE aspiration is that their daughter or son will NOT follow in their footsteps, but get the education and skills to procure a secure, permanent and well paid job in the formal sector.

And this is exactly the type of student that programmes like Skill India should be targeting.

But if the municipal school education is as abysmally poor as the above report suggests, how successful will the government’s ambitious vocationalisation efforts be? Not very… and there goes India losing its demographic dividend, while countries like China and South Korea forge right ahead, especially in the small, medium and heavy manufacturing sectors.

While Japan may suffer a skill shortage because of the increasingly sophisticated technology of its industry coupled with an aging population, ‘younger’ countries like India, Brazil, Turkey and Mexico need to get their educational act together, if they are to overcome their respective skill shortages and the ensuing informalisation and deprivation of their urban economies.

 

Indian Diaspora

A rather strange picture of Indian women IT professionals wearing hijab, with the occasional bindi (the dot on the forehead worn by Hindu women) eagerly clicking selfies with a visibly discomfited Indian PM visiting that bastion of conservative Islam – Saudi Arabia! Oh what shapes and flavours does the Indian diaspora take!

MODI IN RIYADH

 

Indians in the old days (like their Chinese contemporaries) had a taboo against overseas travel, as crossing the ocean meant loss of caste. So it was only the acute labour shortage in the colonies after the abolition of slavery, that saw large scale migrations of indentured Indian labourers, sent forth to sweat and build in the distant outreaches of the British Empire – from the rubber plantations of Malaya, to the sugarcane farms of Mauritius and the Caribbean, to the railways of East and South Africa… Indentured labour began in 1833, at the end of slavery, and continued until 1920. Most persons of Indian origin in these countries are descendants of these indentured labourers, 25-40% of whom would be women, allowing those who decided to settle in these distant lands to remain endogamous, procreate, and retain their distinct Indian ethnicity to this day.

In East Africa, after the efforts of these pioneers had opened up the countries and their vast resources, a second wave of Indian migrants headed that way from the western State of Gujarat – not to build railways, but build economies through trade, industry and business. The East African Gujaratis were to become immensely wealthy, powerful (and some would say arrogant) throughout East Africa, when Idi Amin burst their bubble by ordering out thousands of them in 1970. Most of those expelled migrated onwards to the UK, USA and Canada and only a few chose to return home to India. It is these families who are now most prominent in the medium grade hospitality sector in North America – often referred to as the ‘motel Patels’.

The next wave of migrants came essentially from Kerala to the Gulf, after the quadrupling of oil prices, post-1973. The first arrivals may well have been blue collar workers, but following the rapid socio-economic development of the Gulf countries, the demand grew for Indian professionals like architects, engineers and doctors. Back in India, the Gulf boom was to have a tremendous impact on the families of these workers (many from minority groups) who had their first experience of some financial security, enabling them to purchase property and educate their children. Thanks to the remittances of these hard-working folk, entire families could move up the social ladder from working to middle class in a single generation.

Of course, the IT boom was to push another generation of worker-migrants further afield to Silicon Valley, and along with the Chinese, the Indian diaspora ranks among the most successful communities in the US and Canada.

Whenever we talk numbers in India, comparisons with China are inescapable. The Economist had this very interesting infographic shading in the Diasporas of both countries:

Chinese Indian Diaspora

The Chinese spread in South-East Asia is phenomenal, although such a high presence in distant Peru is indeed intriguing. It is believed that the post-globalization surge that China witnessed was made possible only because of the heavy investment in the motherland by the Chinese Diaspora, already close knit, well networked, wealthy and influential. Sadly, the Indian Diaspora has not contributed even a fraction of this to India’s development.

In the CARIM report on “India´s Engagement with its Diaspora in Comparative Perspective with China”, Kathryn Lum points out that while China can claim success in attracting a significant number of “sea turtles” back to Chinese universities and research parks, and has also been very successful in attracting ethnic Chinese Foreign Direct Investment, the FDI figures from the Indian diaspora have been disappointingly low, although India is still the leading recipient of remittances worldwide. The challenge for India, according to the report, “… is to build upon its already significant diaspora infrastructure in order to attract higher levels of investment, business formation and to boost diaspora-related initiatives in Indian states that have been relatively deficient in this area to date.”


However, in my humble opinion, no amount of pop star type rallies or selfie-fests or ‘diaspora infrastructure’ are going to garner results for the most diaspora-friendly Prime Minister in Indian history, unless his government gets its act together to:

  • Enhance its human development ranking and shed the eternal Indian image abroad of inequity, poverty and injustice
  • Vocationalise its secondary and tertiary education to build up a highly skilled workforce
  • Ensure ethical practices throughout the supply chain in the manufacturing sector with tighter controls over child labour and forced labour, so that Indian goods do not get blacklisted abroad, and
  • Guarantee that the institutionalized corruption at Local and State Government level is rooted out completely – despite the election promises, the scale of graft has, if anything, gone up dramatically in scale…

 

 

 

 

Will the New Urban Agenda work?

“Habitat III” is shorthand for a major global summit, formally known as the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, to be held in Quito, Ecuador, from 17 to 20 October 2016. The United Nations has called the conference, the third in a series that began in 1976, to “reinvigorate” the global political commitment to the sustainable development of towns, cities and other human settlements, both rural and urban. The product of that reinvigoration, along with pledges and new obligations, is being referred to as the New Urban Agenda. That agenda will set a new global strategy around urbanization for the next two decades. Habitat III offers Member States an opportunity to discuss a New Urban Agenda that will focus on policies and strategies that can result in effectively harnessing the power and forces behind urbanization.

What will be the key elements to consider at Habitat III for creating a pattern of sustainable urban growth?

Firstly, it is expected that member states will realize that the future of this planet is inescapably urban, and a National Urban Policy is therefore necessary to establish a connection between the dynamics of urbanization and the overall process of national development.

Secondly, it is expected that a National Urbanization Policy will in turn result in the modernization and upgradation of the laws, institutions and systems of urban governance, creating the normative basis of action, the operational principles, organizational structures and institutional and societal relationships underlying the process of urbanization.

Finally, while there is a strong positive correlation between economic growth and urbanization, this potential relationship is not spontaneous and self-generating. Habitat III could be the means to place the central pillars for robust urban economic development, such as:

  • Urban Planning: The vision of the city, its physical configuration, the definition of technical solutions, and environmental considerations are all determined through urban/regional planning. A reinvigorated urban planning will optimize economies of agglomeration, promote sustainable density, encourage social diversity and mixed-land uses, foster inclusiveness, maximize heterogeneity, promote livable public spaces and vibrant streets, and thus make the city more functional, maintaining environmental balances.
  • Local fiscal systems: To change from being instruments of revenue generation and budget management, to vectors of change which generate real development outcomes.
  • Investment in urban basic services: Proper planning allows for less costly provision of basic services such as water and sanitation, higher resilience, climate change mitigation and adaptation, poverty reduction and pro-poor policies.

In short, the sponsors of Habitat III firmly believe that by embracing urbanization as a positive force and weaving equity into all development equations, sustainable urbanization may become a reality in our lifetimes, or at least by 2050, when two-thirds of humanity is expected to be urban.

But how realistic are these hopes of sustainable urban growth in a country like India? Along with China and Nigeria, India will account for 37% of the projected growth of the urban population between 2014 and 2050, and contribute the highest number of additional urban dwellers by 2050 – a whopping 404 million!

Let us examine the above UN aspirations in light of Indian reality.

Firstly, one of Gandhiji’s most quoted slogans that ‘India lives in its villages’ has had such a negative impact on India’s psyche and cities, that it still lacks a National Urban Policy – 68 years after Independence. In fact the hero of many a Bollywood epic often begins life as a virtuous villager and through trials and tribulations ends up as a hardened criminal, only because of the ‘evil’ influence of a city. The reality is rather different as the rural communities still reek of superstition, casteism, family feuds, vendetta, summary justice and social oppression; while cities may be the only place an individual can experience freedom. That aside, the fact remains that while only 60% of India’s land is under cultivation, it supports 67% of its population leading to smaller and smaller land-holdings, no alternative employment, declining agricultural production, distress, despair, migration and eventually, farmers’ suicides. So India needs to develop its urban mindset before investing blindly in infrastructure and smart cities.

Secondly, almost all the most crucial laws relevant to cities are a legacy of the British Raj with the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act dating as far back as 1888, which was to spawn offspring as far afield as Aden, Sri Lanka, Pakistan… The Land Acquisition Act too dates back to 1894. Therefore not only do the municipal laws need to be brought in line with the rest of the world, but power to manage cities must pass from a lethargic, permanent bureaucracy, to dynamic people’s representatives, as most successfully demonstrated by South American cities.

Thirdly, streamlining and modernizing land laws is crucial to any urban planning that Indian cities may indulge in. Otherwise they will continue in the present mode, where the people go and settle where they may, and the local body follows years later to charge tax, and perforce provide some basic services. The costs of retrofitting municipal infrastructure can be prohibitive, and entire ‘neighbourhoods’ may be born, live and decay, without even the solace of drinking water in their taps. So much for Indian urban planning…

Lastly, when the very raison d’être of great cities has been manufacturing, how can they survive de-industrialisation? They don’t. While de-industrialization may hollow out a western city, in India, de-industrialization ‘leaves the world to darkness and to me…’ The stalwart of the informal sector, living a life of quiet misery and departing life unmourned and unlamented. How and when will India reinvent its Bombays and Madrases? Perhaps by renaming them yet again?

 

HDR 2015: Work and Development

The UNDP’s Human Development Report 2015, looks at Work for Human Development. It points out that ‘work’ covers much more than a job and includes unpaid care work, voluntary work, or creative work. In this sense, work adds to the richness of human lives and has a synergistic relation with Human Development:

Work & HD Synergy HDR2015

The HDR 2015 points out that since 1990, the world has made major strides in human development, and the number of people living in low human development fell from 3 billion in 1990 to slightly more than 1 billion in 2014. “Today, people are living longer, more children are going to school and more people have access to clean water and basic sanitation. This progress goes hand in hand with rising incomes, producing the highest standards of living in human history. A digital revolution now connects people across societies and countries. Just as important, political developments are enabling more people than ever to live under democratic regimes. All are important facets of human development.”

The Report explains how work in various forms by 7.3 billion people has contributed to this progress:

  • Nearly a billion people who work in agriculture and more than 500 million family farms produce more than 80% of world food supplies, improving nutrition and health
  • Worldwide, 80 million workers in health and education have enhanced human capabilities
  • More than a billion workers in services have contributed to human progress
  • More than 450 million entrepreneurs are contributing to human innovation and creativity
  • Some 53 million paid domestic workers are addressing the care needs of people
  • Care work for children is preparing them for the future
  • Work that involves caring for older people, or people with disabilities, is helping them maintain their capabilities
  • Work by artists, musicians and writers is enriching human lives
  • More than 970 million people who engage in volunteer activity each year are helping families and communities, building social networks and contributing to social cohesion

Yet human progress has been uneven, human deprivations are still widespread and much human potential remains unused. Worldwide 795 million people suffer from chronic hunger, 11 children under age 5 die every minute and 33 mothers die every hour. About 37 million people live with HIV and 11 million with tuberculosis. More than 660 million people use an unimproved source of drinking water, 2.4 billion people use an unimproved sanitation facility and nearly a billion people resort to open defecation. Worldwide, 780 million adults and 103 million young people (ages 15–24) are illiterate. In developed countries 160 million people are functionally illiterate. Globally 250 million children have not learned basic skills – even though 130 million of them have spent at least four years in school.

According to the Report, the biggest deprivation in society today is the non-utilisation or underutilisation or misuse of human potential and capabilities. In 2015, 204 million people were out of work, including 74 million young people. About 830 million people in the world are working poor (living on less than $2 a day) and more than 1.5 billion are in vulnerable employment, usually lacking decent working conditions and adequate voice and social security.

The Report cautions that not all work can enhance human development, and some work actually damages it. For example, if the work is hazardous, where workplace violence is common, where women workers face harassment and abuse, where forced and child labour is tolerated, then work can hardly be said to contribute to either the quality of life or human development. In 2009, some 30 million EU workers experienced work-related violence, such as harassment, intimidation, bullying or physical violence – 10 million in the workplace and 20 million outside it! Obviously, such data is not recorded in other regions where work conditions are known to be much worse.

The world has around 168 million child labourers, almost 11 percent of the child population, some 100 million boys and 68 million girls. Around half are engaged in hazardous work. Similarly, in 2012 about 21 million people worldwide were in forced labour, trafficked for labour and sexual exploitation or held in slavery-like conditions. Forced labour is thought to generate around $150 billion a year in illegal profits. After arms and drug trafficking, human trafficking is the most lucrative illicit business worldwide. Between 2007 and 2010 trafficked victims of 136 nationalities were detected in 118 countries, 55–60 percent of them women. Paid domestic work is an important means of income for millions of workers, the majority being women; but exploitation and abuse are rife in this sector.

The following infographic illustrates well just how work can either enhance or diminish human development:

Global picture of Work HDR2015

I have quoted at such length from the Report, because I see how little attention is paid to the human development and sustainability aspects of work in all developing countries, while economists remain wholly obsessed with the number of jobs ‘created’ by a government in this quarter or that financial year. In reality, this age of digital technology and global trade has set new challenges: there has never been a worse time to be a worker with only ordinary skills and abilities. A more holistic and societal approach to enhancing the quality of all work (of which paid jobs are a mere subset) is needed, if our countries are not to become more unequal and divided – with pockets of wealth glittering among deprivation and despair.

The Report lists possible measures for a country to take to move towards sustainable work, and it is interesting to see how far the actual policies of a Government (such as India) diverge from the desirable:

  • Identify appropriate technologies and investment options, including leapfrogging opportunities. An interesting example is the spread of mobile telephony throughout Asia and Africa, where the landline networks were practically non-existent.
  • Set up regulatory and macroeconomic frameworks to facilitate adoption of sustainable policies. On the contrary, infrastructure and industrial projects are being cleared with such haste in India, that sustainability and the environment are getting chucked out of the window
  • Ensure that the population has the appropriate skills base combining technical and high-quality skills with core abilities for learning, employability and communicating. India with its highly stratified society has always shown a hint of elitism in its education policies – with world class institutions for ‘people like us’ and virtually nothing for ‘them’. This elitism is now being increasingly challenged and is the major cause for the growing unrest on Indian campuses.
  • Retrain and upgrade the skills of large numbers of workers in informal sectors, such as agriculture. As long as the farmers provide India with food self-sufficiency, who cares about upgrading their skills? Ironically, when sons of farmers graduate from a good Agricultural University in Maharashtra, their one aspiration is to pass the State or Union Public Service Exam and become a bureaucrat. So much for education…
  • Manage the adverse impacts of the transition by offering diversified packages of support and levelling the playing field to break the transmission of intergenerational inequality. No one has even noticed this impact of transition (creeping urbanization being an example), let alone frame a policy to deal with it…
  • Continue to build the skill base of the population. This will require a lifecycle approach that recognizes the cumulative nature of interventions that lead to learning. Large investments in the number and quality of health and education workers will be necessary, underscoring the continuing role of the public sector in transforming skills. Again, the desired investment in health and education is simply not happening. 

So perhaps it is time for the Indian PM to pay greater heed to Nobel Laureates like Amartya Sen and Kailash Satyarthi… and put his US-educated experts back in the multinational consultancy firms where they belong. Or watch the winds of unrest grow into a whirlwind…