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/

SLUMS THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA WAY: NOTIFIED, RECOGNISED AND IDENTIFIED

..Though ‘slums are the places where dwellings are unfit for human habitation’ the Government of India recognises..

Recently, The Hindu had a report on India’s slum population quoting the latest Census of India figures.

Naturally, it said the slum population in India had gone up to 65 million from 52 million counted by the last Census in 2001.

Focus of the story was the slum population had a better child sex ratio of 922 girls for every 1000 boys than the urban India average of 905. It also said the average family size of 4.7 in slums was in line with the average urban family size in India.

Signs of progress! Okay, maybe, when we see the figures as pure population statistics.

But this huge growth in slum population over the decade, almost 25 per cent, belies it and cautions us to see the figures more as the signs of unplanned rapid urbanization.

‘Slums are residential areas where dwellings are unfit for human habitation’, the report says quoting the Census of India. Now the direct corollary to this definition is the slums must not exist in a civilized world of the socialist, secular and democratic Republic that India is.

There must be efforts on war scale to undo the concept of slums! Daydreaming, isn’t it?

Okay, it cannot happen in one go and for a country like India with limited resources, it can only come in phased manner with sincere efforts spread over a period of time.

Sincere efforts, floating promises and a multiplying slum population with every count!

The government that says ‘slums are unfit for human habitation’ readily categorises slums as ‘notified’, ‘recognised’ and ‘identified’ the report says quoting the Census of India categorisation.

‘Notified’ and ‘recognised’ slums, that are unfit for human habitation according to the Census of India definition, are accorded legal status, and ‘enjoy’ some civic amenities.

‘Identified’ slums, ‘unfit as well for human habitation’ are ‘kept’ devoid of any legal sanctity though they too are recognised ‘officially’ in some form as the precondition to be categorised as an ‘identified’ slum is it has to have ‘at least 60-70 tenements with at least 300 people’ as the report says. These ‘identified slums’ are not extended ‘legal protection and municipal services’.

The catch is, according to The Hindu report based on the Census of India 2011, the largest chunk of slum population dwells in the dwellings of the ‘identified’ slums that are lowest in the ‘hierarchy’ of slums in India (where every slum is defined as ‘unfit for human habitation’).

Now, this ‘largest chunk’, one million of which are in Delhi, India’s national capital, claimed to be world-class city, cannot even ask the Government of India to provide them with that elusive sewage-line or water pipeline or electricity connections.

Human misery notified, recognised, identified the Government of India way – strangely familiar – predictably strange – in the socialist, secular and democratic Republic India that is busy discussing ‘requirement of toilets and temples in India’ these days!

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