DEVELOPMENT PARADOX: BULLET TRAIN AND SHAKURBASTI SLUM

The paradox of these two words that represent the two extremes, two hostile paradigms of development, sums the essence of the two most intense news developments these days – bilateral agreement with Japan on India’s first high speed rail corridor between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, that we also live to call the ‘Bullet Train’ corridor – and the daylight, inhuman demolition of shanties in Delhi’s Shakurbasti area by Indian Railways.

We may go on endlessly debating if India needs or doesn’t need a ‘Bullet Train’ – but when we see such developments that need huge investment (here it is INR 98000 crore, at this concept stage, and may well end up with higher figures when it is finally done) in the context of the fact that India is still home to countless slum habitations throughout its length and breadth, including its national capital Delhi, we are forced to question the relevance of such massive projects when resources should ideally be invested first in uplifting poor people.

But like it happens, everyone in the policymaking class is busy extracting mileage here with the Shakurbasti demolition incident (with visibly poor or non-existent relief measures for those displaced) – Aam Aadmi Party, BJP, Congress and everyone else, including Indian Railways, the massive Indian government outfit that reeks of corruption and inefficiency in its operations and is headed by a Rail Minister who selects only positive tweets to retweet, sifting away all those negativities. But can he?

As per Census 2011 figures, the slum population in India has gone up to 65 million from 52 million in 2001.

And the primary responsibility of any government in India should be bringing this figure down first. Bullet Trains, that anyway are nowhere near to the primary needs of rail infrastructure in India, may come later.

Because these 65 million are the just the ones who bothered to get counted. There would be, and there are many more than this figure and that should always serve as reminder for the mammoth task that lies before us – to uplift millions from poverty, to mainstream them into society – as society in a democratic country like India – the way it has been enshrined in our Constitution.

We are committing criminal offence by leaving many of our sisters and brothers out in the open, to face difficult and life threatening circumstances – like we did so in the Shakurbasti demolition case. We forced thousands out of their homes without thinking of the cold, inclement weather, without thinking how they would battle it out without roofs over their heads.

Yes, there are many parameters and their indicators that rightly vouch for India’s rising global prominence – the world’s youngest nation, a nation with large middle class that is slated to become the largest, among the world’s largest economies, the world’s fastest growing economy, the favourite marketplace of the world’s companies after China, the example of successful democratic transition from a colonial past, and so on.

But unless and until we don’t work on to bring uniformity in lives of ordinary Indians, we will consistently face such dilemmatic propositions on development – the paradoxes that force us to think what we need first – that how should we prioritize elements of governance in a fast moving economy that still has the maximum headcount of the world’s poor.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

THE RANGARAJAN POVERTY LINES, TOO, FAIL INDIANS

I had written on Indian achievement on reducing poverty on July 24, 2013

In a huge, huge achievement, in a trademark Montek Singh Ahluwalia style, packaged and presented in the Manmohan Singh style, yesterday, all of a sudden, we the Indians were told by the economy wizard of the nation that his government had lifted almost 15 per cent of the Indians above the poverty line since 2004-05.

So, the school of Montekonomics, the Planning Commission of India has announced: “The percentage of persons below the Poverty Line in 2011-12 has been estimated as 25.7% in rural areas, 13.7% in urban areas and 21.9% for the country as a whole. The respective ratios for the rural and urban areas were 41.8% and 25.7% and 37.2% for the country as a whole in 2004-05. It was 50.1% in rural areas, 31.8% in urban areas and 45.3% for the country as a whole in 1993-94. In 2011-12, India had 270 million persons below the Tendulkar Poverty Line as compared to 407 million in 2004-05, that is a reduction of 137 million persons over the seven year period.”

And it is one year to July 24, 2013 – Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia are not there to steer the Indian policy to decide on the poverty politics and poverty economics.

But the Rangarajan Committee appointed by the Manmohan Singh government has come out with Poverty Lines that undermine the glory of the moments Manmohan Singh had tried to project on patting his back for making India less poor and more Indians ‘poverty free’ – by assigning them a day of life on Rs. 33 in cities and Rs. 27 in villages – the exercise behind this relative realization of poverty was highly contagious – if it got Manmohan’s goodies, it also attracted public outrage and a huge political controversy like it had been the case a year earlier, in 2012.

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BEING POOR IN INDIA: THE NUMBERS

Related post: BEING POOR IN INDIA: IT IS STATISTICAL AS WELL
https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/being-poor-in-india/

The extreme levels of poverty indicators by the United Nations say there are 1.2 billion extreme poor in the world.

The UN study (UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2014) estimated 400 million or 40 crore of it in India.

That is 1/3rd of the Indian population of around 120 crore.

So, the UN says around 40 crore of the Indians are extremely poor – they survive on less than US$ 1.25 a day, i.e., almost Rs. 75 a day (@Rupee to US$ exchange rate of 60).

Now let’s talk on some more numbers – on how India counts its poor and reduces the poverty ‘found’ among its citizens.

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BEING POOR IN INDIA: IT IS STATISTICAL AS WELL

40 crores of Indians are extremely poor – if we go by the estimates and the extreme poverty line of the United Nations.

The only catch is – if we go by the Indian estimates – many of them are not poor and most of them are not ‘as extremely poor as the UN finds’ – as propounded by the by the Indian Government standards – an exercise that began with a Planning Commission working group in 1962, continuing with four other exercises, to come again to the ‘unacceptable’ Poverty Lines (Urban/Rural) of the Rangarajan Committee which submitted its report last month, a report that got public this month – but has failed to come with logical and sociologically viable Poverty Line(s) for a society that has the maximum number of world’s poor (including the ‘extreme’ poor).

If we take the Tendulkar Committee’s Poverty Lines, being used by the Government of India and the Planning Commission so far, before Mr. Rangarajan’s figures were reached at – as expected, at Rs. 75 a day (with US$ to Re. exchange rate of 60), this extreme UN Poverty Line is almost double to the new urban Poverty Line of Rs. 47 as decided by the noted economist C. Rangarajan after almost 2 years of work.

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WHO OWNS POVERTY IN INDIA?

Is it the hundreds of millions of people hovering around the ambiguous line, otherwise ‘termed’ the ‘poverty-line’, a line that is as controversial as the second tenure of Manmohan Singh as India’s prime minister?

Or is it the politicians who, in collaboration, with bureaucrats and number-crunchers, define who should be poor and who should not be poor and who should not be ‘so poor’, obviously, more on the paper?

Or is it the Indian democracy that has come to evolve as an exploitative System where the millions of the poor, who are as important in the eyes of its Constitution, the world’s most extensively written Constitution, as the elite politicians hibernating in the plush environs funded by the pubic money, but have been pushed to the extremes of the periphery where they are not seen even as the entities to be co-opted to mitigate the chances of emerging threats?

Or is it the multitude of the hundreds of millions of ‘poverty-line’ stricken Indians who seem to have forgotten or seem to have never known what should be the ‘quality’ of their ‘quality of life’?

Or is it the multitude of the hundreds of millions of ‘poverty-line’ stricken Indians who have come to reconcile with the developments making them subservient to the political class?

Over 1200 millions of Indians that make India the world’s largest democracy – more or less, it is a functional democracy it is said!

But this functional democracy is yet to find how to count its poor. There are many ways. There are definitions. There are methodologies. And there is confusion. Huge sums are spent on finding how to define the ‘poverty-line’ yet the controversy remains. The Rs. 30 a month ‘poverty-line’, the average of all the expertise involved. Why?

Because, the poor here are not seen as human beings by the prevailing political thought process. They are yet another votebank, a significantly large votebank that cuts across the layers of religion, regionalism and caste.

This significantly large votebank has the tendency to act most impulsively of all the votebanks. Impoverished they have been, impoverished they are, and it can be understood. They don’t know what to expect from life than to survive every coming day. They are not expected to expect from life.

Poor, they are, but they do not own their poverty. They would do all to get rid of it provided they are given the help they need to do so.

But that help is not extended to them by those who own their poverty.

Those, who run the System, the politicians, the policymakers, the elite, the business people, and the likes of them, they own their poverty.

Instead, they are given occasional shots of calculated empowerment, empowerments that gives them borrowed moments of hunger-free and relatively easier days when elections approach. A food security bill is announced in 2009 but is put in motion in 2013 when elections are due in 2014. Farm debt waiver was announced in 2008 when elections were due in 2009.

The borrowed moments of hunger-free and relatively easier days push the voters from this votebank to react impulsively to cast their votes in favour of the political outfit doling out the ‘largesse’, something that should rightfully be their fundamental right.

Those, who run the System, their interest is in keeping this votebank poor.

Once out of poverty, the prospect to get the votebank react impulsively gets a certain negative hit. Why to take this risk?

They, who run the System, own the poverty in India and they don’t look in the mood to bequeath it.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/