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.

 

Good Countries, Bad Countries…

Growing xenophobia, islamophobia, racism and communalism do not sit well in an increasingly connected and globalised world – especially where challenges like climate change, air pollution, depleting fresh water resources, and disaster management require a transnational and multinational response. And any attempts to go it alone only end up dividing a nation, as the British have recently found out…

Simon Anholt is a British researcher and independent policy adviser, who believes that leaders across the world must be accountable not only for what they do within their national borders, but for the good or harm they do to the greater global community. To provide a quantifiable and comparable tool for the assessment of countries in the good/harm they do globally, he came up with the Good Country Index in 2014. This index concerns itself with the balance sheet of each of the 163 countries (for whom data are available) in terms of what it takes from others, and what its global contribution is, as reflected in these 7 essential indicators:

  1. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, measured by the number of international students, journal exports, international publications, Nobel Prizes, patents
  2. CULTURE, measured by creative goods exports, creative services exports, UNESCO dues in arrears as percentage of contribution, freedom of movement, press freedom
  3. INTERNATIONAL PEACE AND SECURITY, measured by peace-keeping troops, dues in arrears to UN peace keeping budgets, international violent conflict, arms exports, internet security
  4. WORLD ORDER, measured by charity given, refugees hosted, refugees generated, birth rate, UN treaties signed
  5. PLANET AND CLIMATE, measured by ecological footprint, reforestation since 1992, hazardous pesticides exports, CO2 emissions, ozone
  6. PROSPERITY AND EQUALITY, measured by open trading, UN volunteers abroad, Fairtrade market size, FDI outflows, development assistance
  7. HEALTH AND WELLBEING, measured by food aid, pharmaceutical exports, voluntary excess donations to the WHO, humanitarian aid donations

Not surprisingly, the top 10 in the latest rankings are: Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, UK, Switzerland, Germany, Finland, France, Austria and Canada – the high resourced and low population countries, which have done all they can to ensure the best quality of life for their own people, and can now afford to look elsewhere and do some good at the global level.

However, if we take a detailed look at what the BRICS countries contribute to the greater good of humanity, per this index, we come across plenty of surprises:

BRICS GOOD COUNTRY INDEX

Firstly, it’s a pleasant surprise that all BRICS countries are in the upper half of global Good Country rankings but that Brazil fares the best and Russia the worst, is rather surprising. Another encouraging fact is that BRICS as a whole is doing reasonably well in the health and well-being sector globally, even when their domestic health services are often downright abysmal and inequitable. But that’s the way the indicator is designed. For instance, Indian pharmaceutical companies have fought restrictive trade practices to reverse engineer several life-saving drugs, making them available cheaply for the worst affected areas, as in the case of HIV drugs in Africa.

That South Africa ranks as the number one contributor to international peace and security is indeed a matter of pride, and China, India and Brazil all do well in this regard. Russia is again the odd man out – but being the world’s second largest arms exporter, that is hardly surprising!

The fact that Brazil has at last got its environmental act together is a relief for the whole planet, but the world’s most polluted cities and reckless mining continue to give India, China and South Africa low rankings on this count.

Finally, the saddest performance of BRICS as a whole is in their failure to eradicate (or even reduce) poverty among their citizens, and narrow the growing divide between rich and poor – BRICS has among the highest Gini Coefficients of any group of countries. This makes them net consumers, rather than contributors of development aid and brings down their ranking (with Russia as an exception in this instance).


Globalisation is inescapable and has both negative and positive fallouts: who would have believed that a blog, essentially on governance and development in India, would be read in 111 countries within a year of its inception? But that’s global connectivity for you. So why not a new paradigm of governance based upon global participation, global accountability and global responsibility?

After all Rabindranath Tagore’s prayer for his beloved country ran:

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high…

Where knowledge is free.

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls…”

 

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…

 

Cities of Asia and the Pacific

UN Habitat and UN-ESCAP together released the report The State of Asian and Pacific Cities 2015, and its key finding is that the speed and scope of urbanisation in the region is unprecedented. Between 1980 and 2010, cities here grew by around one billion people, and another one billion will be added by 2040. The urban population at mid-year per region as defined in World Urbanisation Prospects (2014) illustrates this most dramatically:

Urban Population mid-year Region-wise

All Asia and Pacific sub-regions are experiencing urban growth at higher rates than overall population growth. While the region as a whole does not yet have the high urbanisation levels of North America (81.5%), Latin America and the Caribbean (79.5%) or Europe (73.4%), by 2018 half of the Asia and Pacific population will be living in the region’s towns and cities. By 2050, urban areas will account for nearly two out of three people. By 2050, cities in China and India alone will have grown by an additional 696 million – India by 404 million and China by 292 million.

Paradoxically, while the region is home to 17 megacities (which are starting to give way to huge mega-urban regions that encompass cities, towns, villages and rural areas), they only accommodate a little over 10% of the region’s urban dwellers and 7% of its total population. The bulk of urban dwellers live in small and medium-size cities, “… where much of the region’s urban transition is actually unfolding. Yet, despite their increasing significance, most small cities face their future with limited human, financial, and organisational resources.”

The Report is subtitled Urban Transformations: Shifting from quantity to quality and therein lies the rub.

If cities in Asia and the Pacific are to continue as the engines of growth for their national economies, they have to reinvent urban planning to make cities more sustainable and inclusive – and the fact that the world’s most polluted and disparate cities are all to be found in this region, underlines the urgency for a new planning model.

First of all, there is a need for new paradigms of urban governance, especially in the growing megaregions, which are extremely difficult to manage holistically. Perhaps the experiment in Tamil Nadu under the previous State Government of decentralising urban governance while centralising urban infrastructure may provide both greater efficiency in the delivery of services, and economies of scale in upgrading infrastructure.

Secondly, as advocated on this site time and again, perhaps the small and medium towns of countries like India (where the bulk of the urban population lives) could be reinvented as agricultural hubs, bringing both sustainability and prosperity to the agricultural sector, and creating new avenues of employment in the towns and cities by tertiarising the rural economy.

Finally, the biggest challenge for governments in Asia and the Pacific remains the growing urban poverty and vulnerability, often grossly underestimated, and therefore unaddressed. The Report estimates that a third of the region’s urban residents lack access to adequate shelter, clean energy, safe drinking water and sanitation while the urban informal sector continues to grow rapidly. Unless some attempts are made to formalize the informal sectors in both economic activity and housing, poverty and the omnipresent slum will continue to mar the Asian urban story in the foreseeable future.

Next time round we could perhaps take a look at the emerging challenges for cities around the world.

 

 

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.

 

Housing Dimension of Urban Poverty

UN Habitat estimates that 1.6 billion people today live in inadequate shelter around the world, and 1 billion of those live in informal settlements or slums. An additional 100 million people worldwide are homeless. It goes on to state that by 2030, an additional 3 billion people or 40% of the world’s population, will need access to housing. This translates into a demand for 96,150 new affordable units every day and 4,000 every hour. By 2050, 70% of the world’s population is projected to be living in urban areas, causing slums and unplanned settlements to swell. About one in four people on this planet, live in conditions that harm their health, safety, prosperity and opportunities. Estimates of homelessness in the richest country on earth, the United States, vary from 1.6 million to 3 million people. Most studies conclude that about one-third of the homeless are children.

In one of the most popular posts on this blog – Dimensions of Urban Poverty – it was pointed out that urban poverty had many dimensions such as income, education, health, housing and security and alleviation of urban poverty can only happen if all these dimensions are addressed synchronously. That has not happened. While globalization may have put more money in the pockets of the urban poor  (especially in the burgeoning and untaxed informal sector), the access of the urban poor to education and health remains questionable in both developed and developing economies, and of course, housing remains a major problem from Santiago to Shanghai.

It is now acknowledged by all development agencies, that housing poverty (especially in the world’s metros) has little to do with a lack of income, and everything to do with lack of access to land. In former colonies like India, urban land remains inaccessible to the poor for a variety of reasons:

  1. Retrograde laws and practices inherited from the former colonial rulers
  2. A preference for low form urbanization (again, an inherited western bourgeois aesthetic)
  3. Extremely stringent and outdated development control rules which militate against traditional forms of construction
  4. Absence of a reliable land record system rooted in the local ethos
  5. An inherent disconnect between western educated urban planners and ground realities
  6. Failure to reign in the avarice of private developers
  7. Rampant corruption in the housing sector, from the grant of building permissions, to undervaluation, to issuance of completion certificates, to housing loans and subsidies, to transactions under the table to avoid high registration fees and stamp duty.

And this denial of access to urban land continues to divide Indian cities into the haves and have-nots, even when the differences in income, services and assets between the ‘slum-dweller’ and the average urbanite are dwindling away, as these statistics from Census India 2011 clearly indicate:

Slum assets Census India 2011

Clearly, inadequate housing is the problem. Not inadequate income.


Activists across the world have taken a ‘rights’ approach to housing, but unfortunately, such ‘leftist claptrap’ doesn’t sit well with the Government in Delhi… Perhaps housing in urban areas will get more attention from the present government if its economic benefits are pointed out, as UN-Habitat does:

  • Adequate shelter is a critical foundation for breaking the cycle of poverty
  • Adequate housing is vitally important to the health of the world’s economies, communities and populations.
  • Home ownership is a form of wealth accumulation through equity and forced savings from mortgage repayment.
  • Good housing attracts economic investment and development.

Not to mention that in an India increasingly riven by social unrest, insecurity and increasing violence against women, decent shelter makes for safe homes and neighborhoods that help to build social stability and security.

 

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…

 

The Digital Divide

The World Bank’s World Development Report 2016 looks at Digital Dividends. It explores the impact of the internet, mobile phones, and related technologies on economic development. The Report lists digital dividends as growth, jobs, and services. It explains how digital technologies help businesses become more productive; people find jobs and greater opportunities; and governments deliver better public services to all.

By reducing information costs, digital technologies greatly lower the cost of economic and social transactions for firms, individuals, and the public sector. They promote innovation when transaction costs fall to essentially zero. They boost efficiency as existing activities and services become cheaper, quicker, or more convenient. And they increase inclusion as people get access to services that previously were out of reach.

The Report lists the dividends of digital technology as follows:

Dividends of Digital Technology WDR2016

It goes on to point out that these dividends are not as widespread as expected because:

  1. Nearly 60% of the world’s people are still offline and cannot fully participate in the digital economy. There also are persistent digital divides across gender, geography, age, and income dimensions within each country.
  2. Some of the perceived benefits of the internet are being neutralized by new risks, such as vested business interests, regulatory uncertainty, and limited contestation across digital platforms, leading to harmful concentration in many sectors.

Risks of Digital Technology WDR2016

 

Moreover, quickly expanding automation, even of mid-level office jobs, could contribute to a hollowing out of labour markets and to rising inequality. And the poor record of many e-government initiatives points to high failure of ICT projects and the risk that states and corporations could use digital technologies to control citizens, not to empower them.

There is an interesting graphic of a typical day in the life of the Internet, which clearly tells you that even with extended connectivity, only a miniscule minority of the 40% of the world’s people who are on-line, are using the internet to its full potential:

A typical day in the life of the Internet WDR 2016

 

The Report concludes that enhanced connectivity is vital, but not enough to realize the full development benefits. “Digital investments need the support of analogue complements: regulations, so that firms can leverage the internet to compete and innovate; improved skills, so that people can take full advantage of digital opportunities; and accountable institutions, so that governments respond to citizens’ needs and demands. Digital technologies can, in turn, augment and strengthen these complements—accelerating the pace of development.”

As is its wont, the World Bank seeks solutions from governments and its institutions, never asking essential (if embarrassing) questions about the social milieu where development is a desired objective.

Take the case of India, where for millennia, society has been divided along caste, class, ethnic and religious lines, and where access to the basic elements of development – such as education and health – is often decided by one’s social status, often ascribed by birth and therefore immutable. The digital divide so clearly visible in India cannot be bridged without tackling the underlying social and economic divide throughout the country.

So perhaps a government given to pithy sloganeering should first promote a casteless India, an equitable India, an educated India, a healthy India and only then look for a digital India. Or  failing that, leave behind a legacy of greater inequality, greater marginalisation, concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, and greater social malaise, intolerance and deprivation than it inherited from its predecessors…