Appalled by government apathy towards providing affordable shelter: The case of Gurgaon
The longer I work in the low-income housing sector, the more appalled I am by government apathy towards providing shelter, one of the most basic human rights upheld by the Constitution of India as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which India is not merely a signatory but a nation that has played an active role in drafting the declaration!
Over the years, governments have distanced themselves from the role of provider of housing, citing the need for private investment. The bald truth is that private developers have no reason to build homes for lower income groups as long as the middle and high income markets continue to offer good returns. Government intervention is therefore essential. Various models to deliver affordable homes are being adopted by States across India. However, much distance lies between promises made and achievements on ground.
Take Haryana for instance. In 2009, the Haryana government declared it would build 100,000 low cost homes across the state- 40,000 in Gurgaon, and 30,000 each in Faridabad and Panchkula. These are urban centers in the state that border the cities of Delhi and in the last case, Chandigarh.
In Gurgaon, the State government intended to build homes on 200 acres of land and these homes were to be prices between Rs 4 and 16 lakhs. Unit sizes were to be 270 and 520 square feet. Clearly, these homes were targeting LIG households in the city.
In a departure from the way governments have traditionally acted in building homes themselves (DDA in Delhi, for example), the Haryana government decided to distribute licenses to private builders to construct these affordable homes. A planning department official has told the media that about five such licenses have been granted, but refused to divulge the locations of these projects or any other details. The land for these projects, however, has not been acquired. The state town planning department’s website apparently shows that only 21 acres out of the total 200 (11.26 acre at Sector 67 and 10.06 acre at Sector 93) are actually available for this scheme. Meanwhile, developers have rapidly acquired land in the sectors demarcated in the Gurgaon Manesar Master Plan 2031 and it seems that the government is playing into the hands of the builder lobby rather than protecting the interests of the citizens.
Citizens groups and the media has alleged that HUDA has not acquired any land to build government housing or sell plots that would be affordable to the middle class either, leave alone provide shelter options to the poor. The last time plots were auctioned at affordable rates was in 2008 in Sector 57.
My fellowship research is attempting to study the possibilities of evolving an inclusive approach to housing in this city. My initial sense is that there has been a definite (and deliberate?) failure of the government to do its duty. Now, with land prices extremely high on the back of anticipated rapid development of the demarcated sectors in the city, there is little hope of the poor being accommodated easily. How is this city going to survive if it continues to deny shelter and even the most basic living conditions to its supply of labor, that essential workforce that is an important pillar that supports the city’s economy? My research attempts to prove that the poor have a stake in this city’s story, that they do have the resources to survive and they will, if only they were given a chance and recognized as stakeholders rather than as nuisances to be swept under the carpet!
Violence is an easy answer when real issues go unaddressed: Cases of South Africa & India- Oct 9, 2012
J M Coetze’s Booker winning book ‘Disgrace’ is deeply disturbing. It tells the story of the cultural backlash against whites in South Africa. The story caused me to have violent and dark nightmares because of the matter of fact reactions of the “victims” of violence, in this case a middle aged man and his young daughter. I finished the book last evening in a grim mood, wondering how it would be to live in a society where being safe was apparently not even a right any more.
Today, on cue as it has happened often enough lately, The Hindu carries an editorial by Anita Lakshmni Powell titled ‘Bring my my machine gun’ about the violence in South Africa. Shocking stats: One of 4 men in a nation of 50 million admitted to committing rape, half of them say they’ve done it more than once. Murder is commonplace; the police system reports one million unsolved murders a year!
A report by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation report, released in 2010 claims that violence is cheap, easy and the thing that works, the only answer where there are none. The report draws strong correlations with the disbalance is South African society (SA is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with a Gini coefficient of 0.7 in 2008; the top 10% of the population accounted for 58% of South Africa’s income, the bottom 10% accounted for 0.5% and the bottom 50% less than 8%, as per a recently released World Bank report). A quarter of South Africans are unemployed and traditional routes to prosperity, like education, simply aren’t working well enough.
To me, all of this sounds scarily familiar. Unemployment, growing disparities, rampant violence, rape as a means of expressing frustration, hatred, rage…..we see this all around us. And a weak policing system, a judiciary that simply cannot cope, political apathy.Is this where pockets of our country are going as well (13 rapes in Haryana within a month!)? Is India destined to be a violent nation? Will we also be no longer able to step out of our homes without fear? Will our children live a gated, over-protected life and never experience freedom, for fear of reprisal from their youthful counterparts who happened to be born on the other side of the social divide?
The real bad news in South Africa, the editorial claims, is that violence is a language that was endorsed as the rightful means for recourse even during the anti-apartheid movement. The establishment turns a blind eye to violence and politicians glorify violence in their campaigns. Violence is culturally acceptable.
Fortunately for us, we did not win our freedom through violent means, but the aftermath of Independence saw a nation steeped in blood and gore. Our system still frowns on violence and there is no social endorsement yet for it. In SA, a gang rape of a mentally deficient girl was distributed brazenly as a video on mobile phone; here rapists still try and run away from the law. But that’s neither here nor there. Increasingly, we are become inured to violence and perpetrators are becoming bolder. Increasingly, we want to believe that the bad things happen to someone else and live in fear of becoming victims. The larger issues are taking way too long to be addressed and in the meantime, paranoia is taking hold of our society.
The South African experience should be a wake up call for us. Inclusiveness is not a warm and fuzzy type of concept that idealists (like me, I have been told recently and yes, I am a bit angry about that) promote. Inclusiveness is a necessity, so that we do not become an inhuman, abnormal, highly stressed and unworkable society. Equal opportunity, as much as possible at least, regardless of religion (ref: Sachar Committee report), caste, ethnicity, gender, income level, is the goal we must adopt, as a nation. Otherwise, we are doomed indeed. I shudder, I hope. I fervently hope for change.
Low-income informal communities offer a window into an astonishing array of home-based work- Sep 25, 2012
Yesterday, we revisited Sundernagari, the site of the project we did last year in which we experienced a fairly intense community involvement process to redesign a slum in-situ. One of the first questions we got asked was if we knew whether the scheme to redevelop the slum would take off. Kokila Ben, the member of the women’s cooperative run by SEWA Bharat and MHT, had been fending questions by community members asking if they should invest in adding floors to their homes. Already, we saw several homes had been added to or were in the process of doing so when we walked through the neighborhood.
The home is a matter of emotion, pride and sustenance for anyone, more so for the poor and especially for this community where most people practice home-based occupations. A mochi community, nearly every home has its male head sewing and repairing shoes, while women support the house by venturing out to sell shoes or, in some cases, working as domestic help in middle income homes nearby.
I was struck by how much lower the activity levels seemed as compared to last year. When I asked, a tale of woes and apathy spilled out. Apparently, the Lal Qila market where these people sold their finished products is being disbanded and moved to the defunct Power House near ITO, which will take a while to attract customers. As of now, the shoemakers are selling from their basti and constantly being hounded by the police for what they claim is illegal work. It is clearly hard to make ends meet, and with kerosene halved on their BPL ration cards plus hiked electricity rates, they were tightening the belts for tough times ahead. One mochi brazenly asked us for a loan to grow his business and claimed he could make chappals to our design specifications if we wanted to try him out.
Walking around the basti, we saw some other very interesting occupations. A wizened old lady was sticking pins into tiny pieces of plastic, apparently a component that goes inside a bicycle horn. Another woman was putting together two small bits of plastic to fashion a whistle. These little components would then be fitted by someone else into the colorful plastic cover that we associate with the whistle! Other home-based occupations we ave noticed in these slums are buffalo rearing, which makes for an interesting though messy situation, metal fabrication to make things like birdcages and rat traps, jewelry making out of beads and sequins, embroidery and needlework, stitching and carpentry. Quite an array, isn’t it?
Indian communities have such a strong traditional of skilled handwork and handmade items of all kinds. The level of finish may vary but these people take pride in what they do. Most of these are non polluting, take very little energy and gives livelihood to scores of people. Certainly the city would not be able to provide employment to all these people if they stopped doing what they do. Yet, we place such little economic value on these tasks, and our legal system declares many of these home-based activities to be illegal, subjecting these poor people to the misery of harassment and corruption. It sees to me rather unfair and I wish I knew how to help these communities with better linkages to the supply chain, some means to reduce exploitation and increase market value through design inputs, branding and skill enhancement.
Is a new political entity an answer? Random conjectures on the future of Team Anna- Aug 2, 2012
Will Team Anna enter politics? Should they? Will such a move end our woes, provide a more rational, appealing option to voters, especially urban voters in India? It’s a question that has daunted me the past few days and something I wondered about even last year when Team Anna’s movement against corruption was its focal issue and at a high point.
Today, the team clearly announced that they would enter politics to provide a “political alternative” to the ‘corrupt’ political class”. They also said they would support candidates committed to “patriotism” and “country’s development”.
If I were to be outright cynical (and I confess I feel that way about a lot of things happening in the Indian political scene right now), I would say Kejriwal’s original plan has always been to start a political party. Even last year, his comments betrayed his leaning in this direction, but Anna himself maintained a neutral stand. The debate on extending this movement into a political one seems to be growing right now.
What does this development mean for us as citizens? For very long, our sense of disillusionment with politicians has been intense. Many urban, educated voters are really caught between a rock and a hard place while trying to take sides between the Congress-UPA bunch and the BJP-NDA lot on the other. Theoretically, a third front has always been an option. But putting together such an alternative is an enormous challenge.
It is one thing to call upon politicians to answer on charges of corruption and demand change as a citizen group. But will Kejriwal and his allies be capable of the political acumen required to play the power games? Will they remain clean when they are in the system? I don’t see in this team the kind of charismatic leadership you need to upset the power balance in a democracy as large as India. I’ve heard Kejriwal speak up close and while he has his facts pat, he came across as hot headed, even a bit rabid. His simplicity and uprightness is very appealing, but I wasn’t bowled over. Not by a long shot. Who else, with Anna clearly taking a non-political stand. (Of course, one could argue that the two main parties are just as bereft of capable leadership!) I’m also wondering if TA has a pan India base. I don’t know enough and would love to learn more. And importantly, an alternate political party needs to have a bigger vision for the nation. I don’t quite see that here, though it can evolve by logically extending the current principles of transparency, democratic process, etc.
Despite my doubts, I do admire the courage and conviction of the movement. I wish it had not waivered, but rather stuck to its original agenda of targeting graft. I also wish it had focused as much on efficiency of governance as on corruption; efficiency and optimization through technology and better processes would go a long way in solving most of the day-to-day problems citizens face, and control low-level corruption.
I also understand that it is logical to fight the system from inside if you cannot make a dent from the outside. If Team Anna can unveil a well-rounded and more palatable vision for India, then they might well get popular support. However, I suspect a lot of their appeal until now has been that they represented the common man and fought against the establishment. Now that they aspire to be the establishment, the expectations will change drastically. To keep their agenda afloat in this new milieu will be quite a challenge. Let’s wait and watch- the run up to 2014 is getting exciting!
No value for human life: How I prepared myself to be a thick-skinned Indian citizen! June 24, 2012
The anger at the death of little Mahi (whose lifeless body was rescued from the borewell she fell into 85 hours after she went missing!) across social media is genuine. The anger is, of course, directed at those who let such things happen, but even more so, it is directed at us. At the public memory of Indian newspaper readers and news channel watchers, who have gotten so used to stories of pointless death that we scarcely bat an eyelid anymore!
I always remember it being like this, though. When we were little (I was 8, same as Udai is now) and Indira Gandhi died, I was actually amazed to see so many people crying because someone on TV had died! I simply could not understand it. There were people dying in newspapers and TV all the time. Why did some people get tears and others shrugs? To my eyes at the time, many of the people shot by militants in Punjab or dying in train accidents seemed more like us. People with kids, who went to offices, carried tiffin boxes, wore nondescript check shirts and brown/grey trousers or bleached fading cotton saris. And so their dying seemed somehow to talk about the vulnerability of us. I once dreamt that my parents held hands and jumped off the Worli seaface into the sea…..perhaps a fallout of all the violence, distant and yet surrounding me.
Later, as a teenager in Lucknow, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I clearly remember a few of us took responsibility of a small pinboard in the faculty club, our venue for evenings full on table tennis, carrom and gossip! That pinboard became our canvas for expressing our feelings. We put up a daily tally of lives lost in the J&K insurgency. For months, those figures leapt at us everyday. I don’t remember the reactions of the adults round us, but our group of kids was very much affected by the sheer number of innocents losing their lives to a cause they didn’t perhaps understand or subscribe to fully.
Even then, we were steeling ourselves to become adult Indian citizens. Part of that preparation was developing a thick skin about death, killing the tears before they sprang to the eyes, stopping yourself from caring too much, convincing yourself that there is precious little you can do, so its best to get on with life and not think about the negatives.
It’s not easy to really be like that though. Many of us still get seriously disturbed by death that could be avoided if we were more careful, more sensitive, better organized, more prepared. And while I try and fight the feeling of total helplessness, I rack my brains to think about what I can possible do to change this, the deaths themselves and certainly, the apathy!
Disturbed by the political paralysis at the Center- May 8, 2012
The political deadlock we are seeing at the Center in India is really disturbing. When we do shavasana in yoga class, our teacher tells us to focus on each body part and let it go, imagining that it is no longer now part of the body, is detached, dysfunctional. That’s how the current political madness plays out in my mind. As if, one by one, critical functions are being rendered defunct and India will eventually reach a state of suspended animation!
Sounds like nonsense, perhaps, but it’s really scary! I agree that the Congress government has botched up on serious issues. But its still got two more years in power. So unless the Opposition really thinks it has a good chance at toppling the government and having early elections, I don’t see the point in obstructing anything and everything the ruling party is trying to do, obstructing Parliamentary proceedings, obstructing the business of policy making, the business of governing a country as large and chaotic as India, where children die in thousands and Maoists abduct ajd kill policemen!
I guess I don’t see the point because I am politically dumb, but really, as a citizen, I see each day go by as a wasted opportunity to make positive changes. When the top politicians in the nation engage in meaningless scuffles, citizens like me wonder what the future is going to be like!
The world is seeing massive economic shifts; the rules are being redefined and the growing economies (like ours) need to deliver. Or we can craft our own set of rules on how we would want to grow in order to secure a better future for our citizens and contribute positively to the global economy.
In the end, the targets for India are crystal clear. Address poverty, health, education and governance. Create a climate of opportunity, encourage entrepreneurship, attract investment towards sustainable industries that can nurture communities, not destroy them. Those would be highest on my list.
There as so many petitions I am asked to sign-Save the Girl Child, Speak Against Child Sexual Abuse, Stop Illegal Mining, Stop Ragging…..and so on. Can we put up a petition for Parliamentarians to make the Parliament function? Incidentally, that’s their job. Who gives them a right to waste public money fighting amongst themselves. Debate, by all means, but also take some decisions! The future of the nation, the future of you and me depends on it.
A vibrant construction industry based on shoddy treatment of laborers? Shame! 1 May, 2012
At work, I’m part of a team working to set up a system for certifying affordable housing projects. The initiative is that of the Ashoka Innovators for the Public and we at mHS are working on the aspects of the rating system that would impact the low-income community.
Anyway, during our discussions, we often come to the point where we wonder if the rating should consider whether the contractor uses ethical and legal practices for treatment and payment meted out to labor working on the project. If they use child labor, for instance, or use sub-standard shelter to house their labor, they should drop lower in the ratings, we think.
Today, on the occasion of Labor Day, The Hindu carried an excellent editorial written by Moushumi Basu on the subject. She spells out clearly the Acts contractors and construction companies violate when they pay lower wages, do not build decent shelter, do not ensure safe conditions for work, etc. Moreover, developers and construction companies who have ridden the wave of India’s GDP growth (and continue to do so despite slower growth) have no business to do this at the cost of the labor that works for them. It is a sad tale of mistreatment of those who have no voice. Besides the legality, where’s the humanity here? Would it really hurt to pass on a tiny bit of your profits towards improving the lives of those that made your projects possible, often risking their lives, migrating far from their homes?
So in our ratings projects, we’re really wondering….how do we factor in the humanity/ethics (or lack of these) of developers into ratings for affordable housing, where profit margins are lower than regular projects, when they fail to factor in regular projects where profit margins are decent?
Good governance can only come out of good intention! Not feeling optimistic about Gurgaon- April 7, 2012
In May 2011, Gurgaon residents elected its first set of councilors under a newly formed Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon (MCG). Nothing dramatic seems to have happened since then. In fact, from what I hear, many initiatives remain mired in conflicts between councilors and contractors, contractors and MCG officials and MCG officials and councilors. Voters who dare to ask questions are pretty much told to shut up and show up to make changes at the next election!
So when Shashi Tharoor says that good governance must become the passion for governments, I can only laugh! In the context of Gurgaon, good governance does not even seem to be in the vocabulary of the government. Day after day, residents struggle with the same issues–bad roads, frequent power cuts, lack of policing, traffic mismanagement, no system to streamline private developments with mainline government-supplied infrastructure, poor maintenance of public spaces, no street lighting, mafia-run public transport, nuisance liquor vends at every crossing….I could go on and on. And councilors continue to not care. Clearly, they ran for public office with the sole intention of filling their personal coffers. I sincerely hope they are not being able to achieve even that, which is probably the case since contracts would need to be given out and some work shown for pockets to be lined!
Of course, part of the issue is that Gurgaon’s educated urban population doesn’t really turn out to vote. And priorities of rural voters and urban voters do differ. Councillors, therefore, do not really feel the need to be answerable to you and me. I am tired, however, of trying to divert the blame for lack of governance on lack of motivation by citizens. We deserve good governance because we pay the taxes that fund the government. Gurgaon’s urban citizens may not vote, but they pay hefty taxes to the state government and deserve not just basic, but world class amenities.
Gurgaon is an opportunity gone waste for Haryana. Yes, the government’s made a killing on land, but opportunity for continued revenue generation is being wasted as the city languishes in a semi-developed state. If Kingdom of Dreams is not making enough money to pay the government taxes, something is terribly wrong indeed! I don’t feel optimistic at all about a city that fails to make its entertainment destinations economically viable, a city where the transition from ‘scattered islands of population’ to ‘community’ is painfully slow and receives absolutely no government support, a city where no one really seems to care and those who do….. don’t vote!
Women feel unsafe: Of petitions, activism and perceptions- March 19, 2012
The atmosphere of festive bonhomie at India Gate yesterday morning could have fooled some, but there was real anger simmering inside for a lot of us who chose to show our support by walking from India Gate to the President’s home Rashtrapati Bhawan to hand over a petition asking for measures to enhance safety for women.’We want women safe’ was what the event called itself….
The most unlikely people have spoken to me these past few days about feeling unsafe in Gurgaon. A girl who works at the beaut parlor across the road left her job after the latest rape that has triggered the spate of protests. Her friend recounted her personal experiences of being teased, heckled, harassed, a male friend who was dropping her home being beaten up, etc. My maid spoke about not being able to take up work on winter evenings as it wasn’t safe to walk or cycle back to her basti; she spoke of relatives being groped, pushed over from their cycles, people in passing cars trying to pull one young girl in…. Amid the outpouring is a scary sense of helplessness…there must be some way to change attitudes!
On Sunday morning, we saw a group of enthusiastic cyclists (some had come in from as far as Noida and civil lines), many walkers and a show of support from the Harley Davidson club; plus kids on skates, a street play, drummers….the works. I wouldn’t say there were a lot of emotional moments, but everyone felt strongly for the cause and proud of being able to do something, release the frustration and angst that was festering inside. Nupur and me clicked some pictures that document the protest march.
Gurgaon rape: To bring change, we need sustained effort beyond immediate anger and protests- March 14, 2012
I try and not rant against the system on this blog, but when you read about rape everyday and then it happens in your backyard, it’s just too much provocation! I took a taxi back from the airport close to midnight yesterday and I was glad for the paternal polite sardarji who was my cabbie, while still wondering about whether appearances can be deceptive. I am not a paranoid person, but when brutal incidents happen everyday, it twists your mind, doesn’t it?
And then, to top it all, the police response is to stop women from working in pubs after eight in the evening. Sure, they caught some of the rapists, but I’m not willing to forgive an attitude that resorts to curtailing the freedom of citizens rather than taking measures to increase the safety of our city.
My first reaction, of course, is how easy it is for society (the authorities are reflecting a larger social attitude) to ask women to behave ‘within limits’. Just like recent incidents in which airline staff asked people with disabilities to deplane, the attitude reeks of a mindset in which women are considered weak, disadvantaged and mostly a problem.
Why can’t we do something to promote (among men and potential rapists and everyone) understanding and tolerance, perhaps by creating common platforms to bring people from diverse backgrounds together? Culture and sports, community building activities like planting trees, cleanliness drives…I don’t know. There must be something we can do to stop the ‘us’ and ‘them’ thinking. Urban vs rural, rich vs poor, modern vs traditional, boys vs girls……as a society, we seem to be losing our balance and lashing out against something. And I am, perhaps naively, convinced that rape, brawls and bad driving are symptoms of a problem, while also being problems in themselves and therefore we need to take a larger view and address the issue at many levels.
Of course, there is a disregard for the law and authority, which needs to be addressed by harsher punishments and better policing. But I cannot believe a rapist thinks he is right or isn’t shit scared when the police actually catch him. Then what makes him do it? What makes him not stop? Its insensitivity, the prioritization of his pleasure over anything else, the importance of ‘I’ and our own and the absence of an inclusive sense of community. If I were to actually know a girl who worked in a bar and see her as a normal person trying to earn a living, would I be less likely to rape her? (For that matter, I don’t happen to know a rapist, so its hard to profile one!)
I don’t know how to think all this through. But I do know that citizens have a right to expect governments to act. The action, however, must be long-term and two-pronged and a diverse range of citizen groups must be involved. Protests should convert to some sort of sustained communication, building of trust and spreading the message that crime against anyone is a crime against yourself, your community, your family, your women……..yourself…..