Development? Governance?

After 75 posts on this blog, one may be forgiven for sitting back and letting readers explore whatever was said over the last three years. I am gratified that various search engines have serendipitously landed people from over 132 countries on this site, and many have bookmarked it and returned to browse from time to time. Thank you.

However, a WordPress notification wished me a happy anniversary, and I revisited the ABOUT page to check out my original motives for starting this blog: to explain the much misused terms of governance, corruption and development being arbitrarily thrown about in India’s political discourse at the time of the 2014 election, which brought to power a conservative, right-wing, market friendly party (the BJP) and routed the old establishment party – the INC, or Congress (please note this is not the legislative body it is in the US, but a political party in India.)

So let us indeed look at how these concepts have evolved and are understood, 42 months down the line:

Governance: I had covered the theory of Good Governance in one of my earliest posts, where I explain the relation between governance and government, and explain the globally accepted criteria for good governance: Good Governance

However, it has totally escaped this regime that government is subsumed within governance which has the empowered citizen at its heart. There is a similar ignorance of concepts like rule of law, consensus orientation, probity, code of ethics, freedom of information, conflict of interest, protocol, chain of command etc. As a result, the present government doesn’t score too well on providing either efficient and effective government, or participatory, accountable, responsive, transparent, inclusive or equitable governance.

The shortcomings of the ruling cabinet in terms of education, experience and exposure are very evident in the fact that almost ALL of the schemes and programmes of the previous government have been continued with NO substantive change except in their names. Never mind that most of these programmes had huge flaws which this cabinet of innocents continues to propagate. But if you throw out the baby (research, monitoring and evaluation wing) with the bath water (Planning Commission) who will point out these flaws and suggest ways to correct them? Instead, by farming out evaluation of important and costly schemes to private consultants, Indian data has lost a lot of its credibility among multilateral research organizations, and gained no real insights for future policy formulation.

Other institutions are also being undermined – whether the Reserve Bank of India, the Election Commission, or various federal and state investigative agencies. Further, the federal structure is itself under threat as decision making has become non-consultative and centralized (e.g. demonetization), and financial allocations to State Governments are becoming increasingly politicized – being used in election campaigns as threats or promises.

Corruption: The entire corruption narrative in India is limited to favours granted in return for bribes/cash. This is rather simplistic, and if it affects the common man then this type of corruption continues unabated among the petty bureaucracy no matter which party is in power. That is a fact of life in India. I had tried to broaden this debate by showing how capture and clientelism are equally detrimental to national interest (The 3 Cs- Corruption, Clientelism, Capture). Three years on, the great Indian people are at last getting to understand what is meant by ‘capture’ or crony capitalism as our social media prefer.

But clientelism remains more elusive – the best example of that is seen during elections in largely rural States like UP, where a village chief or mukhia can deliver an entire village’s vote for a promise of future personal benefit – like a share in a Central Government infrastructure project, or a ticket in the next State election. As this pattern of bottom up electoral victories is repeated, we will all get a better understanding of clientelism. It is noteworthy that virtually nobody has been brought to book, or even formally charged, in the various ‘scams’ the previous government and its coalition partners were allegedly guilty of – again clientelism in action: support us today and go scot free tomorrow. Simple.

Development: I had sarcastically hinted that development would be reduced to acquiring bullet trains, never dreaming how true this would be – literally! Never mind that the rest of the country’s infrastructure is among the poorest globally. Of course, this reduction of all ‘development’ to physical infrastructure, ignoring concepts of ‘human development’, will remain the most damaging legacy of the present government, as it will become the key deciding factor in 2019, as it was in 2014.

This tunnel vision is coupled with attitudes of climate change denial and loosening of ecological regulations in the sanctioning of megaprojects and it augurs ill for India’s achievement of the UNDP’s Sustainable Development Goals – which would be a tragedy, because India had done better than expected in the previous Millennium Development Goals. Interestingly, attempts to achieve the MDGs and thus governance in favour of the poor and disadvantaged, necessarily pushed the UPA Government and the Congress Party to the ideological Left and away from their 1991 image of pro-free market globalists. And in my humble opinion, this was the real cause for the Congress Government’s defeat in 2014.

The Indian electorate was not tuned to fashionable ideas like the Rights Approach to development…

You see, the disgruntled middle level ‘dominant castes’ in India have such a sense of entitlement that they see any action in favour of the poor, the disadvantaged and minorities as appeasement and will not allow rights-based programmes to succeed. Sadly, even in 21st Century India, your politics and opportunities continue to be decided by an accident of birth.

I had clarified in an earlier post (India an Aspirational Society? Not yet… ) that India would never be a truly ‘aspirational society’ without greater equality, better distribution of wealth, unity of purpose and civility. Sadly, all these ideals are in tatters just three and a half years down the line, and Indian society and polity have never been as divided, discriminatory and raucous as they are today.

One consequence of these attitudes has been the conscious marginalization of India’s poor, which now manifests itself in greater hunger, deprivation, malnutrition, higher school dropout rates, poorly educated human resources, increase in child and forced labour, distress migration, farmer suicides and ever greater informalisation of the economy, livelihoods, and urban housing. And frankly, nobody in power gives a damn. The Opposition too is patently moving from the Left to the Right of Centre, with the entire electoral focus shifting to businesses and the ‘entitled’ middle castes (as in Gujarat), with no mention at all of the poor…


Sadly, it is this disempowered but enfranchised section of the population who can even now deliver the votes needed (a mere 31%) to elect the next government. All that the incumbents have to do is use the standard right wing tools of diversion, emotion, commotion, coercion and subversion to ensure another term. These are the means which bring and retain the neocons in power from North to South America, to Israel to South East Asia…

But is this democracy, you may wonder… Of course it is. Because what else will give us the ‘moral’ high ground vis-à-vis autocratic China and Russia ? (I am sure this resonates a bit with my American readers too…)

 

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National Urban Policy – Part II

Today is Guru Poornima in India – a day to honour and respect our teachers, and to be fondly remembered by one’s students. Also an occasion to lament the disappearance of teachers who believed every subject should convey to its learners a sense of history, a continuity with the past, an understanding of the context for the present, and an envisioning of alternatives for the future.

Instead we have economists lamenting the lack of an institutional memory in the institutions of governance in India; a POTUS who has so muddied the waters that it is well-nigh impossible to tell real news from fake news; surveys of American law-makers who have no clue about the difference between Sunni and Shia Islam… and the dumbing down of generation after generation across the world, fed as they are on sound bites, instant images and 140 characters of wisdom. These phenomena are a direct consequence of the waves of globalization, privatization and liberalization which hit the world c.1990, and were reinforced by the simultaneous growth of Information Technology and the Internet.

It is against this background that we realize how difficult it is to formulate and articulate any national policy – let alone something as complex as a National Urban Policy for a very diverse, highly rural and conservative society like India.

Time was, India was ruled by learned scholars, philosophers and historians who produced volume after volume of crystalized wisdom, even if it was replete with the Fabian idealism learnt in the groves of academe in England – Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Dr Ambedkar, and so many more. Even as recently as 1988, the National Commission on Urbanization, chaired by an eminent architect, produced a report fit to be turned into perhaps the only important urban law passed in independent India – the 74 CAA. There have been other excellent pieces of conceptualization like the Rakesh Sharma Report on Infrastructure, or the Ishar Judge Ahluwalia report on urban governance and infrastructure. However, however, however… for reasons of party political advantage, all work carried out by the previous government has been chucked in the bin and been replaced by ‘copy and paste’ flyers and websites on subjects like Smart Cities and Urban Renewal and left to a handful of self-styled urban ‘consultants’ and bottom feeders with virtually NO concept of the evolution of orthogenetic (pre-colonial) and heterogenetic (post-colonial) cities across the Indian sub-continent; its largely agrarian society and values; its distress and economic migrations; its dwindling manufacturing sector and growing services sector; and, most of all, the worsening situation in urban housing and land management.

Therefore, given these immense challenges, India (and other developing countries) need to develop a National Urban Policy out of necessity, as a means of retrofitting, to direct and control the inevitable urbanization of their countries, before the urban situation is beyond redemption and the lives and livelihoods of millions of their citizens are put at high risk.

As I had mentioned in my last post, the UN-Habitat’s Guiding Framework on National Urban Policy had mentioned the 5 step process of:

Feasibility: Understanding…
– What a NUP can and cannot achieve
– What constitutes urbanization in a particular country
– Role of national, regional and local governments and consensus building about these roles
– History, facts and figures

Diagnosis: Identifying …
– The key actors and stakeholders
– The problems that the policy is expected to address
– The opportunities provided by the NUP
– The goals and objectives of the Policy

Formulation: Assess…
– The various policy options available
– The capacity of the institutions and mechanisms of urban governance
– The efficacy of the means for constant monitoring and evaluation

Implementation: putting in place…
– An implementation plan
– A timeline
– An institutional and legislative framework
– Structure for proper delegation, decentralization and devolution

Monitoring and Evaluation: continuous process to…
– Assess the efficiency, effectiveness and dynamics of policy implementation
– Loop back evaluation results as learning and capacity building


All this is fine as theoretical frameworks go, but applying the UN-Habitat framework on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ basis in India and elsewhere will flounder on the very first issue of what constitutes urbanization.

The Census of India in 1961, defined an urban area as:

– Firstly, those settlements that were given urban civic status, like corporation, municipality and cantonment by the State Governments, and were recognised as ‘statutory’ towns.
– Secondly, ‘census town’, applied to areas which met the following criteria: (1) population size of 5000 or more; (2) density of at least 400 persons per square kilometre; (3) at least 75% of the male workers to be engaged outside agriculture.

As urban development is a State subject in the Constitution of India, there is quite a bit of variation in identifying Statutory Towns across States, making comparisons difficult. State Governments have been declaring overgrown villages as municipalities with great alacrity, often in the neighbourhood of existing metros. As these metros expand, land-owners on the periphery acquire overnight wealth and in order to match their new economic clout with political power, displace the traditional landed elite by the simple expedient of having their home village declared an urban area.

According to the Government of India Census 2011 there are 7,935 urban centres or townships that house the 377 million urban citizens of the country. Of these, the 53 million-plus urban agglomerations account for 160.7 million persons (or 42.6%), and the remaining 217 million – or more than half of the total urban population of India – live in small and medium sized towns.

So the question arises: should there be two parts to India’s National Urban Policy

  • One for the million-plus cities with emphasis on telecommunication, connectivity, quality public utilities, tertiary education and health care and infrastructure – to encourage the growing services sector and consolidate and centralize manufacturing
  • Another for the small and medium towns acting as the traditional agricultural hubs for their immediate hinterland, with good roads, telecommunication, infrastructure, primary and secondary health care and education to develop agro-industries which will be the acupressure points to relieve rural distress

Worth a thought, wouldn’t you say..?

 

REPUBLIC DAY INDIA

Here’s wishing my fellow Indians a Happy Republic Day, arguably the most important day in the country’s modern history, because on that day, we, the people of India, gave to ourselves the Constitution of a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic Republic.

In my post last year I had looked at the Fundamental Rights of Indian Citizens enshrined in the Constitution, so why not even the books with a look at our Fundamental Duties, this year? As these fundamental duties cannot be enforced by writs, and can only be promoted by constitutional methods, they do not make the news as often as a high profile case on the violation of Fundamental Rights.

Nonetheless, our Fundamental Duties define the very essence of Indianness  and the essential oneness and inclusion of a vastly diverse society such as ours.

A gentle reminder:

It shall be the duty of every citizen of India:

  • To abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem;
  • To cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom;
  • To uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India;
  • To defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so;
  • To promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women;
  • To value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture;
  • To protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures;
  • To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform;
  • To safeguard public property and to abjure violence;
  • To strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievement.”

And which were the values that drove our Independence struggle and our subsequent endeavours at nation-building? Justice, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity as so poetically enunciated in the Preamble to the Constitution…

So in this election season, let citizens evaluate their candidates based on their commitment to these values and their efforts at ensuring sustainable, equitable, inclusive and just development for all Indians, so that the map of India can never be so cruelly used to depict its inequalities as this:

indian-disparities

Jai Hind!

Formalizing the Informal – the only economic reform that matters

Two incidents last week: a friend’s enthusiastically launched ‘start-up’ is downsizing in less than a  year and will probably become ‘stop-down’ soon; and another friend’s 16 year old but spacious flat has been attracting great interest from the local small businessmen, even before she has put it on the market. In other words, the money in India is inexorably moving from the formal to the informal sector. With the advent of a hefty Goods and Services Tax, the situation will only get worse. And there is little the Government can do, or is willing to do, to stop this leaching away of its legitimate tax revenue.

Given that its traditional support base has always been the urban business class, the ruling party is unlikely to take stringent action against this class which is the biggest beneficiary of that twilight zone of the informal sector that now covers over 68% of the economy of India’s commercial capital – Mumbai.

By promising greater ease of business to attract domestic and foreign investors, the business-friendly and business-financed central government has weakened the regulatory framework to such an extent that it has opened the floodgates for environmentally irresponsible infrastructure projects, and the exploitation of child labour – now legitimized by allowing children to work in family businesses or ‘learn’ traditional crafts. (Though there is hardly any skill or craft to be learnt, at the cost of regular schooling, to serve tea in your uncle’s roadside cafe, is there?)

Not quite familiar with consumer preferences in the West and the growing importance of ethical supply chains (especially among EU importers), both the Indian Government and the Indian business community are at a loss to understand why foreign direct investment in the country continues to remain sluggish.

But domestic consumption continues to grow and this demand is increasingly being met by informal and semi-informal enterprise, both in services and light manufacturing. As a result, quality and safety standards are readily sacrificed to cut costs. Ever wondered why a plumber or carpenter brings along a drill with bare leads which he pushes into the nearest electric socket? Because there is no standardization in the electric fittings produced cheaply in some back alley, and no two plugs/sockets in India will ever be compatible… This haphazard style of ‘making do’ with whatever is available then gets eulogized in management books as the inherent Indian genius of ‘jugaad’ while its corollary of ‘Chalta hai’ or ‘anything goes’ is blamed for every social evil from corruption to traffic snarls… God save us from management gurus.

But what of the workers in the informal sector? Most of them are likely to be poor male migrants from the North, with little education and only the skill of their specialization – which means they are exclusively employed in the construction, interior design or garment sectors. They also tend to belong to the lower castes and religious and ethnic minorities who have few opportunities for education and development on their home soil. They are ready to live and work in abysmal conditions so long as they make good money, to look after their families back home. In essence, as the informal sectors of the economy expand, so do the slums and informal settlements in a city – with all the concomitant consequences of anomie, alienation, violence and crime.

And as the formal sector keeps shrinking under the onslaught of the informal, the job market shrinks, and those lucky enough to be born into a higher caste/class and able to afford the qualifications to work in the formal sector, are so grateful to find a job – any job – that Indian workers report the greatest sense of well-being in their jobs, while paradoxically also being the hardest working, as these two Statista infographics indicate:

Percentage expressing well-being at work:

STATISTA WELL-BEING AT WORK

Working hours of Millennials (20-34 age group):

STATISTA WHERE MILLENNIALS WORK LONGEST HOURS

 

The point is that no amount of policy tweaking can swing a country’s economy this way or that because the way the economy works is inexorably tied to the way that society is organised. And all economic reform must necessarily be underpinned by social reform – greater equality of opportunity, inclusion, universal education, equitable regulation … and so on…

 

 

Independence Day

When I started this blog, I wanted to keep tabs on the Indian Government’s promises of development and good governance, and after the third Independence Day in the Modi era, it seemed appropriate to review where the country finds itself today.

I had always taught my students the UNDP version of Good Governance, for which I also gave them an easy mnemonic: E-PARTICLE: Efficiency and Effectiveness, Participation, Accountability, Responsiveness, Transparency, Inclusion, Consensus Orientation, Law (Rule of) and Equity. And I had defined Governance as Government + Citizen. Silly, silly me!

As any search engine will now tell you, governance was first used and defined by the World Bank as “…the exercise of political powers to manage a nation’s affairs”. And according to the same august institution, the Worldwide Governance Indicators are: Voice and Accountability, Political Stability and absence of Violence/terrorism, Government Effectiveness, Regulatory Quality, Rule of Law, and Control of corruption. So by these criteria, both Saddam and Gaddafi were providing excellent governance, then why did the West have to wreak such havoc on two great nations in the name of regime change? Because big business decreed that it be so, mainly to safeguard their oil interests in these two benighted countries…

In an excellent op-ed piece in the Hindu last year, G Sampath traces the origins of the this new ‘corporate-centric’ idea of good governance: “This trajectory – of aspirations first raised and then betrayed by economic reforms, leading to mass discontent, which zeroes in on corruption as the problem, with good governance presented as the solution – is very evident in recent Indian history. But it is by no means unique to India. As Jenkins points out, the “international anti-corruption consensus” has been a powerful vehicle for manoeuvring recalcitrant nations onto the neo-liberal track.” And of course, UNDP’s inclusion and equity are no longer relevant…

What this means is that accountability is no more to the citizens, but to business and to investors, who are risking their money with expectations in return. Similarly, transparency has translated into ‘ease of business’, especially for foreign investors, “… who are tired of trying to find their way through the intricate webs of political patronage (also known as corruption) and often lose out to domestic capital, which enjoys a cultural advantage (so-called crony capitalism).” As for empowerment, the emphasis has shifted from universal rights, to individual ‘consumer’ rights, according to Sampath. And as for participation, this is again increasingly limited to the ‘haves’ with the disenfranchised and poor reduced to nameless ‘populations’ that simply do not matter!

The inevitable conclusion is that the only ‘development’ model available under this paradigm of good governance is market-led development, which reduces a government to a facilitator of big business rather than a guarantor of the socio-economic rights of the citizens.

Is this the ‘tryst with destiny’ that Nehruji referred to on that historic night 70 years ago? I should think not…

 

 

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.

 

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?

 

Happy Republic Day India – yet again…

Happy Republic Day India. Remember it not as yet another opportunity for Amazon and Flipkart to slash their prices, but as the day when ‘We the People’ defined our very humanity and quintessential Indianness – by giving ourselves a sublimely inclusive Constitution.

Exactly a year ago, I had explored just how far we had strayed from the spirit of the Preamble to the Constitution. This year I would like to remind Indians of their Fundamental Rights, which need to be fought over, cherished and nurtured, lest we lose them forever.

The Right to Equality is one of the chief guarantees of the Constitution. It is embodied in Articles 14–16, which collectively encompass the general principles of equality before law and non-discrimination, and Articles 17–18 which collectively further the philosophy of social equality. And yet, inequality in India has never been higher as these figures from the World Economic Forum indicate:

GINI COEFFICIENT FROM WEF DATA

(Gini Coefficient as percentage, an indicator of income inequality. The higher it is, the greater the inequality)

Right to Freedom: Article 19 guarantees six freedoms in the nature of civil rights, which are available only to citizens of India. These include the freedom of speech and expression, freedom of assembly without arms, freedom of association, freedom of movement throughout the territory of India, freedom to reside and settle in any part of the country of India and the freedom to practise any profession. And yet, Indians from one part of the country continue to be branded as outsiders in other parts of their own motherland…

The Right against Exploitation, contained in Articles 23–24, lays down certain provisions to prevent exploitation of the weaker sections of the society by individuals or the State. Article 23 provides prohibits human trafficking, making it an offence punishable by law, and also prohibits forced labour or any act of compelling a person to work without wages where he was legally entitled not to work or to receive remuneration for it. Yet again, per WEF figures, India lags far behind when it comes to curbing forced and child labour, and providing productive work and adequate compensation to its people:

EMPLOYMENT AND WAGE INDICATORS FROM WEF DATA

(Performance rated on a scale of 1-7, with India doing marginally better than only Pakistan)

The Right to Freedom of Religion, covered in Articles 25–28, provides religious freedom to all citizens and ensures a secular state in India. According to the Constitution, there is no official State religion, and the State is required to treat all religions impartially and neutrally. Article 25 guarantees all persons the freedom of conscience and the right to preach, practice and propagate any religion of their choice. How sorry then to find that the Government’s own National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) gives us a League Table of the worst communal incidents in Indian States and the death toll in such incidents for 2014-15:

COMMUNAL RIOTS 2014-15 FROM NRCB

The Cultural and Educational Rights, given in Articles 29 and 30, are measures to protect the rights of cultural, linguistic and religious minorities, by enabling them to conserve their heritage and protecting them against discrimination. The jury is still out on a number of such cultural practices considered inhuman or inhumane, while cultural issues continue to be politicised by all concerned – whether it is jallikattu or the beef ban.

So, on this day, let us all reinforce our faith in the Constitution as we “… continue to complain; to demand; to rebel…” as urged by the President of India in his speech today.

Jai Hind!

 

 

 

Child Labour and Youth Unemployment

The International Labour Organization in its World Report on Child Labour 2015, raises a very important issue: the incidence of child labour in a country, and its effect on youth employment in the long term. As the report points out: Some 168 million children remain trapped in child labour while at the same time there are 75 million young persons aged 15 to 24 years who are unemployed and many more who must settle for jobs that fail to offer a fair income, security in the workplace, social protection or other basic decent work attributes.

Which means that all those trapped in child labour and denied education because of endemic poverty and inadequate social security mechanisms, are unlikely to find decent work opportunities as they come of age and join the work force, and will sink further into poverty, and their progeny will again be forced into child labour … and so the downslide continues, generation after generation.

The Report provides a framework for addressing the twin challenges of eradicating child labour and providing opportunities for decent work to the youth in any country

ILO World Report on Child Labour 2015

It is hoped that any national government could meet these twin challenges:

By enacting tough legislation so that the disincentives for employing child labour far outweigh any economic advantages

By putting in place support mechanisms so that poor households can afford to send their children to school rather than to the job market

By strengthening the school system, especially in rural and tribal areas, with special emphasis on girls’ schools

By providing much greater access to vocational education after high school

By encouraging youth enterprise through easy access to credit from formal sector banks, which would also help in the tertiarisation of the rural economy

By encouraging public and private industry to run youth and apprenticeship programmes, by offering tax benefits and as part of their CSR activity

Sadly, none of these issues appear to be of immediate concern to the Indian Government, more interested in impressing the Indian diaspora than addressing domestic issues which have long-term deleterious consequences on Indian society and economy.

Some facts about India :

One in every 11 children in India is working, and more than half of the 5.5 million working children in India are concentrated in five states—Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The first 4 States are considered ‘BIMARU’ or sick and this statistic is no surprise, but the presence of Maharashtra in this list confirms the assertion of activists that the urban informal sector is perhaps the worst exploiter of children.

Over 80% of working children are based in rural areas and three out of four of these children work in agriculture, as cultivators or in household industries, most of which are home-based employments. Which means that they will continue in this wretched cycle, thanks to the recent amendments in the relevant Act, which legitimises child labour in family enterprises which are deemed ‘non-hazardous’, such as agriculture and handicrafts.

While the incidence of hazardous work among adolescents is highest in Nicaragua, the number of adolescents in hazardous work is greatest in India (2.4 million) – and one would think that any Government coming to power in the name of development would squirm at this dubious honour, instead of coining a new slogan every day, and washing its hands of the bottom 30% of the population in every sense…

And sure enough, continuing child labour does impact the long-term youth employment prospects in India, as the Report predicts. Recent studies confirm that because of poverty and poor human capital endowment, Indian youth are forced to participate in the labour market at an earlier stage than in other countries. They cannot afford to remain unemployed for long and end up in the informal sector, in low productivity and badly paid activities. Most men end up in casual wage employment, while women may become self-employed or work in agriculture. Training and skill-building at this stage may be a case of too little too late, if the targeted youth were child labourers and missed out on a solid foundation of primary and secondary education.


At the risk of sounding extremely cynical, may one say that the only beneficiaries of all the skill building programmes recently announced are likely to be the middle classes (yet again!) and the politicians who will be granted licences to open more and more ‘technical institutions’ on prime urban land… So much for ‘skill India’…