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Finally, we may have ‘slum’ data in Gurgaon! And then what? #Housing #Growth

So, after a rap on its knuckles, the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon sets out to survey the slums in the city. The Union ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MHUPA) had pulled up the MCG and asked them to find out why there is a high percentage (28%) of uncavassed households in the 2011 socio-economic and caste census. Uncanvassed households means the surveyor found nobody present/door closed or the respondent refused to answer. Certainly, this is strange and will need to be resolved if this data is to be used for any sort of policy making or planning purposes.

But that’s not the only strange thing I found in the data, which is available for download on the MCG website. Employment data was really skewed as well. For the three wards I read in detail, an overwhelming number of people were reported to have ‘other’ or ‘income from any other source’. The form was detailed and had codes for all sorts of informal work including home-based work, and codes for specific occupations like cleaner, gardener, transportation employee, shop helpers and waiters, dhobi/chaukidar, skilled workers like electricians, mechanics, assembly line workers, repair people etc. Strangely it did not consider that the recipients would work in IT or pharma or BPO or any of the sectors that Gurgaon is known for; there were no codes set out for those employed in white collar jobs! No wonder the surveyors were forced to list many residents as ‘other’!And the ‘other’ comprised of anyone from an urban village resident who has turned petty real estate broker to the Country Head of a Fortune 500 company!

What is the point then of collecting this sort of data if the survey questionnaire is poorly designed and the quality is so poor. If I were HUPA, I would be questioning that too! Of course, other indicators like material of roof, wall, etc of dwelling unit could tell a different story and one could correlate these different data sets to arrive at some idea about people’s socio-economic conditions in Gurgaon.

MCG officials have blamed the errors on problems in data collation and processing as well on the high level of migration in and out of Gurgaon. And hence the survey of ‘slums’ to find the data in the gaps. The pilot here begins in 4 urban villages and certainly, urban villages bear the brunt of the migration of low-income workers into Gurgaon, reducing them to slum-like conditions. Many villages in Gurgaon are very prosperous, neat and organized and offer a better quality of life than most of the city’s gated communities. It is precisely because they are not formal settlements that they have been able to tap into the opportunity that migration offers and many land owners are earning a living out of the rental units they have constructed. The aim of this exercise is purportedly to enable local government to implement a scheme to bring basic services to slums.

My research intends to look at the status of the low-income migrant in the city from the lens of housing. While the city benefits hugely from the labor that these migrants provide, there is little done to extend basic facilities like housing or basic services to them and they live in poor conditions. In fact, those migrants who can afford rentals in the city’s urban villages are at the top end of the scale; others live in squalid temporary jhuggis that are demolished at will, a very precarious existence indeed. Can a city, where migrants are steadily paying home rentals, not think of a way to ensure decent living conditions and harness the benefits that will come with a more secure labor force? I am curious about the government’s thinking on this and looking for a way to interact with people in government about this aspect. Would be happy if anyone can point me to the right people to talk with!

Data famine! How do Indian cities compare, compete and drive growth? May 9, 2012

The plethora of rankings for cities done in the UK, US and Europe is astonishing! I read this post recently that highlights how confusing these multiple ranking are for citizens and government alike. The author urges Mayors to find their own, more meaningful ways to measure how successful their cities are in comparison with competitors. In India, we don’t even have one! (Read this for a peep into global city comparisons)

A couple of years ago, I was part of a team that brought out a City Competitiveness Report for Indian cities. We ranked some 40 odd Indian cities and analyzed them for competitiveness using using the Porter’s Diamond as developed in Harvard by Michael Porter. The study used only hard government data collated from various sarkari organizations. We needed to collect this data for hundreds of indicators, which was a flabbergasting and frustrating exercise. I remember the despairing hours our research assistants spent…and very time we had to face the ultimate truth- that in many instances, the data did not exist!

This sad lack of data does not allow any decent rankings to be made for Indian cities. There is better data available for districts and for States, since these have been strongly¬† functional administrative units for decades. But cities have no defined form yet in the Indian data jungle, it seems! Nor do most Indian cities have distinct identities, visions for their own future…a far cry from the West, where each city screams out its identity, brands itself, advertises its attractions, competes for business.

Why do we need rankings? Well, to create a climate of competition that will, hopefully, drive cities to evolve more distinct identities than simply follow the latest trend (IT parks, for example, were set up indiscriminately all over the country when the IT boom happened). Rankings create media hype, they influence investors to look at cities more closely for what they are best suited for, they influence citizens and more importantly, they influence job-seekers and corporations to choose specific cities that rank high in terms of quality of life (which includes factors like educational opportunities, environmental quality, safety, cost of living and many others).

To create a meaningful ranking for Indian cities, however, would mean to first create authentic data. That would mean to develop a clear understanding of city boundaries and jurisdictions, set up institutions to collate data, analyze it and share it. Sounds like a dream for a country whose municipalities have empty coffers, are unable to meet the current demands for infrastructure and services even as they desperately need to plan for additional capital expenditure to service their growing population!

Catch-22? Oh yes? Urbanization is sending this nation into a tizzy! To contribute to national growth, cities need to compete. To do so well, they need to compare themselves. To compare, they need data. Back to square one! Why would defunct city governments spend resources on collecting data?

Obliquely, the JNNURM tried to address this by linking funding to reforms that also required accounting reforms, reporting, etc. But that’s an area where the mission has all but failed. Where do we go from here?


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