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27th September 2013, Mumbai: Buildings are like our body. They need to be kept fit and in working order. If neglected, deterioration can be rapid. Sadly, our administrators neglect regular building maintenance, and this is seen everywhere -- from Mantralaya to BMC offices, from Municipal schools to hospitals, police stations and even courts.

There is a popular misconception that building collapses have something to do with illegal construction. Whenever buildings collapse, politicians are quick to point out that it was an illegal structure, in order to escape responsibility. Please note, if a collapsed building is also illegal in the eyes of local authorities, that is coincidental. Legality has no connection with the stability of the structure.

The larger issue is that there is virtually no option of good housing for all economic strata of our population in our city.

Today, housing is the only sector where poor citizens have accepted degraded quality of life - even at the cost of their own lives . Poor quality of  water, sanitation, hygine, pollution, garbage, etc. are add ons to this degradation.

Except Mumbai, there is no other city in the world, or even in India - where more than 60% of population have accepted slums as their habitat, that too on just 8% of the available city land.

Land is the most expensive component in any real estate project. It is strange that despite various government authorities (such as BMC, MHADA, BPT, MMRDA, CIDCO, Defence and Railways) owning hundreds of hectares of precious land, none of them have ever built any housing -- whether for its officers or for its staff -- of standards comparable with a private developer! Instead, they have been sellng land to private developers, increasing corruption among bureaucrats.

 

Examples of Govt owned lands

•  MTNL land at Worli — allowed to be encroached by slums, and now acquired by Ahuja group

•  MMRDA land at Wadala Truck Terminal, sold to Lodha group

•  Mantralaya / Bandra-MIG colony, PPP proposed with DB Realty

•  MHADA land at Powai, Juhu, etc — underutilized and poorly constructed

•  BPT / Railways land resources — lease terminated years ago, grossly underutilized.

 

CIDCO initially showed some promise when they built Vashi four decades ago. But they succumbed to easy option of selling their precious lands to private developers. The end result today is that they have created more criminals than good developers in Navi Mumbai.

The land shortage has resulted in spiralling and prohibitive pricing. Expanding families have no scope for buying additional space or upgrading their existing houses. The cost of some tiny slum houses in Mumbai is equivalent to 1BHK houses in smaller Indian cities.

To worsen matters, our infrastructure is many decades old and now unable to sustain the growing numbers of houses. Infrastructure is actually deteriorating as our local authorities are totally politicized.

The government has abundant land as well as sufficient money to build beautiful housing complexes for all the economic strata of its citizens. Many of our politicians, like Manohar Joshi, Raj Thackeray, Mangal Prabhat Lodha and Ganesh Naik, also have ample knowledge and experience of the construction industry.

What is lacking is only the political will!

Based on interview with Architect Nitin Killawala

Issued in public interest by

Krishnaraj Rao

9821588114

Mumbai has a huge and growing migrant population. And Mumbai has conspicuous ‘sons of the soil’ insisting that priority in employment MUST go to locals. They have ransacked offices, issued ultimatums (and threats), targetted migrants from specific places. I disagree with their methods and I also see them applied unevenly (show me the objections to Gujarati migrants, for example). At the same time, I think there is an important value in what they are saying. And not just for Mumbai.

As inequality grows in India, more and more people are migrating to the cities. Part of the story is what is widely believed – that cities have opportunity. The other part is also that vast tracts of India are simply being cleared for corporations and their people abandoned to landless destitution, or are simply neglected in development to the point of unsustainability. These people land up in cities not only because cities hold hope of jobs, but also because they have been destroyed in their original homes.

Consider tribals who continue to live in forests being targetted as criminals and Maoist supporters. The story of Soni Sori is the tip of the iceberg. There is systematic “pest control” happening to clear out lands in demand. It is little more than a massive drive to empty out the mineral rich homes of the adivasis. Arundhati Roy has written extensively about this. This quote from “Capitalism: A Ghost Story” is telling:

Only days after the Chhattisgarh government signed an MoU for the construction of an integrated steel plant in Bastar with Tata Steel, the Salwa Judum, a vigilante militia, was inaugurated. The government said it was a spontaneous uprising of local people who were fed up of the “repression” by Maoist guerrillas in the forest. It turned out to be a ground-clearing operation, funded and armed by the government and subsidised by mining corporations. In the other states, similar militias were created, with other names. The prime minister announced the Maoists were the “single-largest security challenge in India”. It was a declaration of war.

P Sainath’s reports on water privatization from around 2005 onwards contain horror stories of people being charged impossible rates for irrigation water and put into situations where they have little option but to sell land or starve. A quote from “How the deal was done“:

Back in Maregaon, Chavan points out: “This village lost canal water because people were too poor to pay the old charges. The rates plus fines crossed Rs.1 lakh for us and it got impossible.” Rambhau Mahajan had to pay the equivalent of one acre of land — Rs.25,000 — in order to be able to sell four acres to survive.

To make a long story short, the water was made so expensive that no crop grown in the region could sustain such charges. The bills of water were made more expensive for people with more than two children. Multiple taxes were levied, and non-payment by a few in the village could get water blocked for all. People couldn’t even sell their land without clearing dues first. Is there any wonder that there are suicides? Is there any wonder that people sell their lands and migrate to find work?

This is not progress. This is the desperate grab for opportunity for survival being peddled as progress. AUN report on urbanization says:

As a result of these shifts, developing countries will have 80 per cent of the world’s urban population in 2030.

This may seem like a good thing, but it is worth thinking that if urbanization is such a good thing, then why would developed countries have only 20% of the urban population?

Ok, leave aside this for a minute. India has a large population, and low energy reserves. Our pursuit of goals is all about industrialization, which minimizes human effort and needs more energy and takes a heavy toll from the environment. How is this ever going to result in better employment, energy independence or even ensure people have pollution free environments to live in at all? To feed this monster, we are promoting the corporatization of everything. Large farm holdings run efficiently, etc. Nuclear plants to keep this monster going. But even then, where will the jobs come from? We are already running into this problem. Rural people can migrate to urban areas when life becomes impossible, but what happens to the locals of urban areas when life becomes impossible for them as their meagre opportunities are up for grabs by more and more people?

Leave this aside too. There are allegations that migrant populations add to crime. I have no statistics for this. I haven’t searched. I will, and insert later if I find. So, I am not claiming this for fact. At the same time, migrant populations adding to crime does make sense, because they have no social anchors or any need to maintain their standing in society. Think of it as you going on your first hidden date. You may barely speak with each other in your own locality, but will act like husband and wife in a different place where no one knows you. Obviously you are not committing a crime, but if you were inclined to crime, would you find it easy among people who know you, or people who don’t? It makes a lot of sense that behavior is more reckless among strangers where stakes for disapproval or alienation are low.

This is not to say that all migrants are evil, or that migration should be banned completely or even that migrants should be discriminated against. At the same time, the cost of the rampant migration from the promise of “equal opportunity” overburdens cities and also increases stress for opportunities among populations as well as abandons vast tracts of the country to people who would like them abandoned. Development being defined as movement toward cities makes it increasingly easier to neglect villages.  In the long run, it is going to create pigeon colonies out of people, with vast, lush regions handed over to corporations, because no one else can survive the manufactured hardships.

Leave that aside too. Every place has a potential to work and earn. When people proudly proclaim India is one country and anyone can settle and earn anywhere, why is it that an urban person cannot buy agricultural land and stay in a village, if a person from a village can come and stay in the city? Because the design is to cluster people in less and less space and less and less resources. Factories have no problems buying rural land. It is normal citizens who do. The people making expectations that cities should accommodate everyone who takes a whim to be there choose to see only the rights of migrants in this situation. The desperation of the country to survive and cities being the only visible alternative has led to the blatant confiscation of the right of the people to their land in cities. The fantasy is that cities belong to no one, and everyone is equal. You wouldn’t approve of urban people going and outnumbering tribals in their land, and competing for the food naturally available in the wild, would you? Of course, cities have greater resources to accommodate more people, but it is a mistake to think that those resources are infinite and should not be guarded. Or that people who originally belong to the cities have no special right to their land over migrants. Or that they shouldn’t try and enforce boundaries when things become unsustainable.

There needs to be greater focus on development. On uniform development of India – even though cities remain hubs of civilization. There needs to be effort to sustain populations where they live instead of forcing them to cities. It is  not about opportunity. It is about survival for most migrants. If they could live on land they own and make a living, would they choose to wash your dirty dishes and live in hovels and servitude? The other problem is that when “posh” people claim equal rights for all Indians in cities, they are thinking of working professionals living in flats. Because of course, it is the norm to be blind to the poor. Our sense of majority is limited to those with voice, but the number of migrants with respectable jobs and sustainable work are very, very few. The vast majority inhabit slums and have no clue what they are doing with their lives beyond surviving and at most, saving for a rainy day. My maid is a second generation migrant who still lives in rented rooms and stores clothes in bundles. They have property in their village, but they would have to sell it and become homeless anyway, or starve, because there are no opportunities. Does she like working as a domestic servant? No. She has no choice. This isn’t a migration of opportunity.

We cannot kick out these migrants. They need to survive. Whatever fuck up we have become as a country, we have become together. At the same time, the right of locals to secure resources for themselves in their land should be respected. While burning buses is wrong, there shouldn’t be a need to burn buses over this. There needs to be serious attention paid to rural development and urgently, so that people are able to sustain themselves in their beloved lands with dignity. There still will be migrants chasing rainbows and India is a country for all, but we need to do something to manage the desperate bulk of them before things go into anarchy and we end up in a fight for survival in the supposed lands of opportunity as well.

Such thoughts are finding fertile ground in many places as people find the current systems unsustainable. One such site with alternative economic and development solutions is “Slow Money” – an attempt to begin fixing the economy from the ground up. Many thoughts worth thinking, but when it comes to the holistic development of India, one that is stuck in my imagination is:

What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?

Transcript of Globalizing Inequality - a lecture by P. Sainath, sponsored by the Center for Social and Environmental Justice of Washington State University, Vancouver. Video by pdxjustice Media Productions.

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjIcO_mqFKc

We did it weeping in our hearts for we too live in slums and we know our turn will come. The police constables giving protection to the demolition also live in slums and they did not take any pleasure in the actions they were forced to undertake by the government of Maharashtra. The people doing the demolitions were from the slums.

Incidentally. a United Nations habitat report of around late 2003 makes the assessment that by 2030, 25 years from now, fully one-third of humanity will live in urban slums. One third. The largest number of those are going to be in india and Africa.

None of this got covered. Even in covering the Tsunami, even in covering... this is the mindset of inequality. What happened? The poor have no rights. Even in the coverage of the Tsunami.

Whatever was done for the Tsunami victims was a result not of their rights, but of our generosity. You are going to get a new house. Not because you are a citizen of a decent society, not because you are entitled to one, which you are, under the directive principles of the Indian Constitution.

You're not going to get a house because of that. You're going to get a house because I am sorry that half your family was washed away in the Tsunami. It's not about your rights. It's about my generosity.

We've reduced people to that. We've reduced the poor to the objects of our generosity and our sympathy.

You build your own home, we'll demolish it. But we'll give you a new one. If we choose to. That is, if we feel sorry for you.

How agonized we are over how people die. How untroubled we are by how they live.

If you look at the Indian stock market. Coming back to that central indicator of how economies are doing, the Confedration of Indian Industry, which has the most optimistic take on such figures says that the total number of people having any kind of investment in the stock exchange constitute less than 1.15% - I repeat - one point one point percent of India's hundred and eighty million plus households.

1.15% of households. That's the most optimistic figure of those participating in any kind of investment in stock markets.

Yet, as I told... when the stock market collapsed, in May 2004, it collapsed for all of two days. The country's largest newspaper had a front page mimicing 9/11. "Ground Zero!" said the headline. 2,340 billion rupees lost. Notional money. Which came back two days later. Notionally. And it had an aircraft flying into the stock exchange building and the tail of the aircraft had the communist hammer and sickle.

Well, when the stock exchange collapsed for all of 48 hours, this was following what every political analyst across the spectrum says is India's second most historic election since independence - 1977 after the emergency and 2004.

The finance minister of the country abandoned the first day of parliament, did not attend the first day of the new historic parliament. He came rushing to Bombay to the stock market to dry the tears and hold the hands of destroyed millionaires of dalal street.

Two days later it was okay, but he stayed there three days to make sure that the market behaved, then he went home.

It was... ah... meanwhile, an election that was largely fought on the key two states on the issue of farmers suicides, it took another 149 suicides of farmers in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh before the Prime Minister condescended to visit the place.

But a twitch in the SENSEX had the finance minister jetting out to Mumbai. That is the difference of attention that you get if you are poor or if you are rich.

So it is all about our generosity and our feelings and whom we are feeling sorry for today, or who we feel sorry for most of the time. If you start applying these measures to the various forms of generosity that you see, you get a very different picture from what you get from the Tsunami coverage.

One of my favorite forms of generosity is the drive to wipe out malaria in the third world. Some of you may have read about this - the distribution of - the planned distribution of millions of bed nets to protect people against malaria. Have you ever read about this?

It's a plan involving the WHO, the World Bank and anyone else out to make a dollar.

Teh fun part of this malaria nets thing is, by 1980, India had more or less successfully contained malaria. It was almost wiped out by the early 1980s. In the 1990s we entered the brave new world of structural adjustment. Huge cuts in public services. Privatization of medical services in a large way. Soaring costs of medical attention. 21% of the Indian rural public no longer seeked medical attention for their ailments - that's the latest figure we have - because they simply cannot afford it.

Now after all these cuts, malaria resurfaces with a vengeance in India and in neighbouring countries. Having caused it to resurface in the first place, now generosity demands that we distribute bed nets - millions of bed nets to people who don't have beds.

Now, if you're living in a hut, you don't fix your bed net to a wall, because you don't sleep close to the wall, because that's where the crepy crawlies reside. The scorpions and other stuff. You try sleeping a little away from the wall.

I'm a rural reporter. I spend 270 days of every year for the last 12 years in the villages and self-preservation causes you to figure out these sort of things about where you sleep and where you don't sleep.

So first, we're getting these bed nets to people who don't have beds, at the cost of God knows how many million dollars. It's planned. Every time it's been attacked, they have withdrawn quietly, only to try and bring it back through the next government.

Now, if anyone with even half a brain knows that even if these nets... oh, by the way, you'll forgive the gendered language... it doesn't mind, it's theirs. It says that these bed nets will protect you against malaria because the nets are impregnated with anti-mosquito repellent. Whatever that means.

Now, anyone with half a brain knows that the malaria ... we'll exempt the experts, right? - we're talking about people. Anyone knows that the malaria mosquito is not most active when you sleep. It is most active at dawn and dusk when people are in the fields.

Of course, you could make a bold new fashion statement by walking around in your net, but it might cramp your style.

The whole thing is one unmitigated racket. This is the generosity of the generosity, you know... the charity that begins at home and stays there. It has nothing to do with the eradication of malaria in these countries.

Speaking of malaria, one of the astonishing things you can look at in the spectrum of inequality across the globe both in the terms of what's happening and how the media cover it, is what I call the globalization of communicable diseases.

Anyone in the audience remember this word - SARS? Rings a bell? Yeah, it does, doesn't it?

You remember how SARS was perceived as moving about like the black death, mowing down millions in its deadly wake? You know how many people actually died of SARS in India? Zero.

SARS sero.

You can look at the World Health Organization's website on the subject. Total number of cases identified in India? Three. But from the coverage you got from the media, you think that SARS... you know the subcontinent was in danger of its survival, right? The way it was covered.

3 cases from SARS. 0 deaths from sars. Why did SARS get so much attention? And by the way I'm not saying that SARS is not dangerous. You're going to get a hell of a lot of SARS by other names in the not too distant future, because we have globalized communicable diseases through these strategies of the last 10-15 years. Through the policies of the last 10-15 years.

However, it's important to look at why SARS or plague... you know in '94 we had a plague in India. Every aircraft going out of India was sprayed while going out, sprayed while being received at in the airports in the West. The plague killed 53 people. SARS worldwide - in its 100 days according to the World Health Organization's website, in the hundred days of its existence in the first round, across the planet, SARS killed 879 human beings.

That's about half the number of people who die of tuberculosis every day in India.

But TB never gets the same kind of coverage. Because it kills the wrong people. SARS germs, plague germs kill the beautiful people. So they get that kind of attention. In the media, in the medical systems, in the government's policies.

Plague germs, SARS germs, they are notorious for their non-observance of class distinctions. They board aircraft and fly club class to New York and that scares the pants off the world.

So they affect the wrong kinds of people. And I'm not just talking about poor countries. How many people are aware, that in August 2003... in OCTOBER 2003, the government of France, one of the best off countries in the world... The government of France acknowledged that in August 2003, 15,000 senior French citizens had died in a heat wave.

Now France has had heat waves before. Why did 15,000 people die in that heat wave and why is it that all those 15,000 citizens were elderly pensioners and retirees?

You know, the thing is, 879 people from SARS in 100 days. 15,000 people in rich France in the space of a month. And it didn't make the world headlines, because they were largely poor, elderly pensioners whose health benefits had been subjected to severe cuts in the preceeding two or three years. That's why they died.

If it had been 800 people of the flying classes, you got that kind of coverage. When 15,000 - and again, we're not talking about Bangladesh and India - we're talking about France. 15,000 senior citizens died, they didn't even make news. You can get on to the net and look at the figures and the discussion. They had a special parliamentary commission to go into it, I don't know what came out of it.

It may also be interesting to look at why China was the worst affected country by SARS. And that has a lot to do with what we're discussing today. In the 90s... in the 80s and 90s we entered this world of structural adjustment, cut some subsidies, cut some basic services, withdrawal of entitlements of poor people, and privatization of just about everything including soul and intellect.

The Chinese government closed tens of thousands of factories. Now if you are a citizen of China, you have access to health through your workplace, through your school, your factory or the local network that you were aligned with.

When tens of thousands of factories were closed down across China, millions of workers lost access to health. The chain of command, the alarm system, the signal system by which a new disease got reported and got checked at the labs and the tertiary level, that system completely collapsed.

Therefore when SARS hit, there was no plot on the Chinese government's part to conceal it. For most of the time, they really didn't know, because they had destroyed the system by which they could have known. They destroyed it to save a few million dollars, and lost a few billion dollars, because the deprivations you visit on the poor, tend to come back to you.

That was the year when the Chinese GDP took its worst hit in a decade and a half. Also leaving severe scars on the GDP of Singapore, Thailand, and a number of other countries, also hit by SARS.

The great software festival of China was cancelled. China lost billions of dollars though it saved million, in throwing workers out of work. Throwing workers out of their factories. That happened with China.

Did I mention France? In this country, I have no idea. I don't think there is a clear estimate, how many elderly American's cross the border into Mexico and Canada to buy drugs. I do know that your Federal government has responded to it by conducting police raids on pharmacies in Michigan.

Not by trying to provide cheaper drugs to poor people, but by conducting police raids on pharmacies in Michigan and the Mexican border. To prevent people from getting cheaper drugs.

In Africa, thanks to the new institutional arrangements and the trips and the WTO... under the trade related intellectual property rights and the WTO, India... an Indian company which produced so far the cheapest - the company's name is Cipla - which produced the cheapest anti-AIDS drug. Millions of Africans were denied the right to get this drug at dirt cheap prices, by the intervention of multinational corporations of the pharmaceutical sector.

After a huge outcry - after considerable outrage across the world, a compromise was reached, but the owner of the company will still tell you that he can provide it for much cheaper if it were not for the pressures working on him nationally and internationally.