Kumari Selja

It is reported the Prime Minister has given the housing and urban poverty alleviation minister Kumari Selja two books by the visiting Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto. The books by the economist are called the poor man’s capitalist, the books by the economist who seems to have created urban housing the in the slums there in his country. What is new in the books? No one so far has told us. There are so many eminent persons in the government, in the PM’s  advisory councils, experts outside who advise on urban poverty and transport, why, we have such outstanding names like eminent architect, Charles Correa who has written extensively and he is one who has been associated  with the Mumbai urban development, slum housing projects and townships.

Much more significant he is one person who is a big visionary and  a thinking sort of creative solution provider.

If the government is really serious about tackling urban poverty and slum cleaning, slum housing, then, the country must get to know what the thinking of the government is on such a vital subject.

Correa says in his latest collection of essays that the cities are the very future of the country and the cities are the precious natural resources and as other natural resources,  as he says, like the coal reserves of Bihar and the mineral reserves of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. So, the city spaces must be treated as the natural resources of the country, of the entire people, the poor and the rich who both live and work in the city.

Now, what is happening, asks Correa.

Now, the physical spaces of the cities are plundered, the scarce space is invaded by the powerful and the mighty, first the politicians  who are not elected by the voters of the Mumbai municipal corporation limits and the accountability for spending the scarce natural resources of the cities is almost nil. Says Correa without mincing any words: the Chief Minister of the state in which a city is located, say, as Mumbai or Chennai , and the elected politicians, the state government and the ruling party politicians go to make the most.

The ruling parties mobilize their funds by using and abusing the floor space index and other rights to plunder the scarce resource like the urban space and this is now accelerating, it seems, says Correa, without any thought for the people who live and occupy the urban space, in particular, the slums, the slum dwellers now increase without any thought of any future or the ruling elite also live happily without any thought of the future as well, we have to say.

So, what is  happening today?
The PM might make some gestures as he invites the Peruvian economist and expert and also gift his cabinet colleague the books he might want her to red and benefit.
But for what benefit or for what end result?

It is quite clear that the urbanization process is now relentless and  the further intensification of the process would only multiply the slum creation.
Says Correa: the first characteristic of a city is its transportation system.  First, the people from the outside, from the rural areas come into the city by the available  transportation means, usually by roads and the railways. Once they come in the search for settling down, this usually happens on the pavements or any other open space that is left vacant for even a day or two. Then, they move about in search of an earning. It could be anything, from begging to other menial jobs and one after another the new migrants start find a dwelling, it could still be a busty, a shanty location and once the slums start sprouting other things follow.

Problems only multiply, not the solutions, from water supply to hygiene to other questions arise.

So, we have got to a situation that is now a common sight. The more the cities expand, more are the slums and more are the urban problems.

Unless there is a long-term vision and a long-term thinking and a long term plan, there can’t be a satisfactory solution, no sustainable urban development infrastructure, and urban governance in short.

How to do urban governance?

A big question that of course has many answers and many approaches.

One obvious model is the urban governance model  put out by the Bangalore Corporation during a previous government and now followed in some form or other by the present government.

There  are of course so many issues here.

As listed out by Correa, it is the large scale corruption in urban governance which ,as he says again so perceptively, part management and part political.

It is the political that is critical, that is part of the problem and part of the solution.
Urban space is the most precious resource and so we have to plan for preserving and conserving the precious national and natural resources.

What is interesting, please note, interesting is the word, is the news that the visiting Peruvian economist is known for his new theory, it is new because we haven’t heard before, is that he wants to give the slum dwellers property titles and land ownerships.
That is both interesting and intriguing.

Why? Because of the many populist policies pursued by the state and the central government, property titles have almost become non-existent, you talk of property, and then you get into so many convoluting terms and endless discussions.

Today, to hold a property title even to a small piece of land even if it is inherited from family origins is challenged in the courts, increasingly out of the courts owing to the rise of populist democratic politics.

The point here is that the government seems to be just drifting and has no definite plans or ideas to tackle the urbanization issues.

Yes, there have been many new initiatives, the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Mission and also there are now huge urban infrastructure  developments, metros, flyovers and massive housing projects. The developments that are  taking place in the private sector housing, the big players all bring to the Indian urban scene the foreign  development models.
So, there is every reason to believe that while the huge political corruption would push things in the urban space sharing in its own momentum and direction(what alternative is there for political parties to mobilize funds?)And as long as the huge corruption is brought into within manageable proportions, we have to look at the urban developments only in an international perspective.

At the end of the day, it is how the general public, the people see what a government does or doesn’t do.

But there is every reason to feel that things are going only in the right direction.
The National Highways have opened up the countryside and there is very little incentive to abandon the rural India to itself. It is getting integrated with the urban conglomerates.
The telecom revolution is another big new element that  would  connect  the cities and the rural hinterland.

There would be a process of suburbanization and the further dispersal of the urban population as prosperity grows.

The IT revolution is also creating its own momentum, the tier ii and tier iii cities would all become centres of growth and this would only augment the housing stock and ease the pressures on the more developed city centres in the big metropolises.

Urbanisation is only a continuous process.
There is no reversal or any halt to this process.

It is the new prosperity, the new wealth and the spreading effect of the new, a sort of a new “money order economy” that transfer  the funds from the urban centres to their rural  hinterlands.

So, we have to take a positive look and wait for the wisdom of the Peruvian economist as to how  the poor can have landed property rights and the new illusion of slum owners catching up with our present plight in owning lands in the urban centres and more challengingly in the rural agricultural environment.

Image Source : topnews.in

Yes, for most farmers!
Most things have to remain unsaid in our democracy!
So, even criticism has to remain subdued!
Climate change summit outcome and the future of agriculture

One good thing is that the PM and Sonia Gandhi don’t speak on food prices!
Their pet hobbies are the aam aadmi and the NREGA, both are now in disarray.
Aam aadmi is disillusioned with the erratic prices of essential commodities, from rice, to sugar to pulses to potatoes. The daily lives and the struggles to cope with it is all that matters for an average citizen, not the high level and abstract debate over what happened at the Copenhagen Climate debate. But then you can run away from the big picture in order to make sense of what is happening at this point of time in our lives and in our generation.

Agriculture today is proving tough for management by the current Cabinet for the simple reason that most of the Cabinet Ministers don’t have any roots in the soil. See a quick count and you will see most of them, as the MPs in general, are from the urban affluent class, most of the well-born and well-endowed, they won the elections by spending huge sums, most of the money coming from the business classes, most of the big corporates are spending money to win favour with the winning parties.

There are great deals of things that remain unsaid in our democratic elections. Otherwise, how do you account for the large number of wealthy men who got elected, most of them, as was seen in AP, contractors class and the ones with criminal records and the others are all dynastic heirs.

So, the democratic politics too is becoming a sort of anti rural and anti-farmers oriented.

None of the seniors in the ruling as well as in other parties are farmers or dependent on their rural vote base.

Vote-buying is now a fine art.

Either the incumbent Chief Minister hasn’t furnished his election expenses account or the supposedly defeated Cabinet minister is likely to lose his seat before completing his five year terms.

There is a grave distortion of the ground level realities.
Who has the time to speak for the farmer’s suicides and the child labour, girl child more to the point, which is being exploited in the corron fields?
So, the rural countryside is neglected in terms of the political power equations.
So, India will continue, it seems, to import food and feed the people, no doubt.
India might lose its food secure nation status and we have to live with this reality, it seems. We only have to look for Japan and Thailand to understand how agriculture is intertwined with their culture, their social beliefs and their traditional way of life.

Can India regain such a traditional faith in a rural stronghold and a farm-based rural life system? One has only to yearn for such an articulation.

It is through modern and scientific outlook and articulation and based on hard-headed real life situations we have to integrate the largely diverging trends today.

The urbanisation and the rural strong holds.

Agriculture and villages will live on and hold forth all along.
Rural hinterland and the rural landscape will only decide the character and strength of the Indian people.

So, we have to have strong faith and a sturdy outlook to give Indian agriculture and the voiceless millions a particular reason for a strong case for their existence.

So, even the just concluded international Copenhagen climate change control conference saw many positive outcomes.

The Financial Times, London reported the outcome as much about tough negotiations as about our moral commitment. China and USA saw some commonality. That was the best hope. Even noted individuals like the governor of California (Arnold Schwarzenegger pledged tougher regimes and alternative energy sources. California and Shanghai are two cities that are aggressively pursuing solar energy applications. So, there is a lesson for India where we have to move ahead in our own ways and commitments. Not governments alone. Everyone is us have a commitment. That was the best outcome and best hope for future.

One was the US pledge to contribute billions to mitigate the evil of carbon emissions by developed countries.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) is a step for ward. The “80% by 2050”   formula was a good one and though Obama, the crucial man and the crucial country was USA, the great economy and China, the gross emitter was earnest.

China, with all its pollution records, is still the one country that has reported 51 per cent growth in renewable energy output over three years. What is India’s record?

China has planted 20 m hectares of forests between 2003 and 2008.What is India’s record.

What every country like China and also India resisted was the commitment and monitoring by the USA. This the all 200 delegates seemed resisted.

China has committed a reduction between 40% and 45% by 2020 in the level of carbon intensity. And India too seemed to commit to some such reasonable reduction but in the din it was what China said and what USA said that was reported and that mattered.

But agriculture would be greatly impacted by the climate change and carbon emissions. This we have to take note. Deforestation is another major threat.
To keep global warming to 2C is an n absolute minimum and this is what the nations have understood at the end of the tough negotiations.

It is a good conference as it created and brought pressures and created an awareness that would only go to make things conducive for a more greener world.

As for the food security, food self-sufficiency, India needs to draw up a different strategy.

It is for the men and women in charge to come out withy a trustworthy strategy. Not to compromise with Indias perceived dignity in the eyes of the world.
Give farmers a sense of belonging and they matter in the national scheme of things.

Give the rural India a vision. Leadership is not just managing the day to day affairs.

Let us hope our ministers become more sensitive and act according to their conscience. Not offices as one more perks in their long careers!

Image Source : worldchanging.com

Aam aadmi then can steal your clothes, dont you see?
Congress patented aam aadmi?
See the bye-election results!
Yeddyurappa for 36 point rural development!
AP political reality point to ugly corporate-politicians nexus!
Tamil Nadu exhibits coalition degenerating into family empire!

Yes, even coalitions must have some baci principles, some basic truths and some basic ethics in governance. You can’t have too much gimmicks, too many slogans to hide the ugly ground level realities.

The aam aadmi have wisdom, much objectivity and when the time comes they bust your egos, punish you with ruthless voting and turn you out. That is the power of democracy, the wisdom of the commonpeople, Rousseau’s famous “general will”, the social contract and much of how the political evolution is taking place.

Let us hope our learned leaders who are supposed to be the embodiment of honesty and integrity do some introspection and ask themselves: do they deserve the trust of the people? Did they earn it by their moral basis for what they were called upon?

Are they democracy’s children? Or imposters from outside?Hard questions. But the aam aadmi are the hard ask masters, do we know? Now, there is some lull, it seems, in New Delhi. The 100 days announcements are over and what have we?

The Assembly elections in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarkand have dampened the enthusiasm of the Congress. In Gujarat, the BJP has staged a surprise; it won seven of the 12 bye-elections to various state assemblies. Bye-polls were held for 20 assembly seats in seven states. The first results for the 12 seats gave the Congress jitters.

The fallen hero, the BJP, stood up. The victorious outfit, namely, the Congress had fallen in a sullen mood. It is at this environment came the austerity drive that saw not many takers, first, in the Congress ranks itself. One by one, from S.M.Krishna and his deputy to the others have come out from their cozy rooms.

The five star culture was once the mark of the most successful of the Congress leader. So too their own private helicopters and even private planes, courtesy, the corporate helpers were the usual mode of transport for the otherwise undemocratic and power-grabbing class. Let us be frank.

No one realised and no one learnt any lessons from playing politics. We have a government that is not genuinely democratic, both the party as well as the government. That is one reason why the ground level realities are not reflected in what the political leaders speak. See the slogan: aam aadmi.

What nonsense is this slogan? It is as plain as daylight robbery? What this aam aadmi mean nowadays?

There is drought, there is crisis in agriculture and there is labour shortage for the farming sector. The NREGA had in some significant farm pockets, from Punjab to Tamil Nadu had taken away the farm workers into unproductive and plain wasteful expenditure on daily wages for those who wanted to work on the projects.
These projects are not chosen by the local agencies, the panchayats have no say, no role, it is the state government agencies, or rather the agents, the party brokers who boss over the projects.

The NREGA is not locally designed, it is designed at the New Delhi drawing rooms, it seems! So, there is much talk in Delhi, less talk and more manipulation at the state level. No state level leader would give credit to the Centre and so this programme is implemented with the eye on local publicity and for the state level electoral advantages.

So too the many other issues in agriculture. The crisis in agriculture is accentuated more by faulty policies and less on drought or monsoon failure. There are no institutional reforms and safeguards, for instance, in the implementation of the Vaidyanatham committee recommendations in revamping rural credit.

The finance minister seems to be simply unaware or disconnected with this side of the crop/development loan lending programmes. There is no clear announcement from the finance minister on farm lending. This is to be done sooner or later.
First, let the farmers’ views be sought.

The farming sector, on average, is becoming unviable for most farmers, the owner-cultivators. There is this real difficulty. If you own lands, you are called landlord. This is false. To own landed property is a sin in the current government schemes.

All land owners don’t engage in cultivation. They lease out their lands for tenants.
The very word tenants bring out some mutual suspicion in the rural areas.
There is a need to relax the land reform laws so that there is incentive to invest in land, to invest in technologies, to invest in rural housing etc. Even now, the very aam aadmi are all mostly rural people, right?

Go to any village; let the Prime Minister make a surprise visit to any village. He will see every village these days is a dumping ground at the very entrance to the villages. Garbages lie uncollected for months together. So too the sanitation situation. Too unmentionable the scene is villagers is.

Sanitation work can be given to the NREGA workers, so too garbage removal from the village entrances can be assigned to the NREGA workers. Then we can take up watershed and even rural housing schemes.

Villages are no more liveable. They are, at least the villages in the outer perimeter of most cities are now crowded. The villages need more expansions; more new colonies can be built around the existing villages. So too the need to extend the rural medical facilities.

A very sensible suggestion is to give highly subsidised rural clinics  building loans to qualified medical doctors, say, build clinics  at a distance of say, 30 kms from the centre of the city. So, that new clinics can be opened by qualified medical doctors at a very attractive subsidised loan scheme.

This would really encourage rural doctors; encourage a sort of pay by your ability to rural patients. The telemedicine scheme can be tagged to these rural clinics so that quality treatment can be ensured. So too the IT rural kiosks. We need now more and more IT related developments.

Now, it is a shame to think that with all the various rural development schemes, there is much wastage of funds, much leakages, much corruption and only very weak talk at the top.

There is a tendency in the government, at the level of many ministers, to imagine they are the most clever and wisemen! And women! They are not! They are many ignoramuses!

In education to rural development to panchayat raj, there is very little attempt to invite outside talents. There must be advisory panels to every ministry, they must be experts, NGOs and the minister must seek advice and then only act on their policies. Now, Kapil Sibal, before he did anything, he invited himself controversies, be it teaching Hindi to 10th standard exams! So too the rural development minister. To use the funds to build Rajiv Gandhi Bhavans is fool hardy!

The agriculture minister gets angry if we point out his ministry is a failure! An agriculture country like ours imports sugar! What a shame! There is so much poverty, so much malnutrition, and so much farmers’ suicides and yet we seem to indulge in gimmicks like travelling by train and economy class! Elections come at any time. Slogans seem to serve us. But even here, the electorate seems to have the sixth sense. They surprise us, wisely!

Image Source : thehindubusinessline.com

Yes, this is the time of difficult governance and decision-making

Considering the world recession, internal challenges, swine flu scare and widespread rought, there is an emerging crisis on a large-scale.

There is no use and it doesn’t serve anyone’s purpose to ignore the ground level realities.

Critical infrastructure, power, mining, steel, roads, civil aviation, to name the few ones, is all caught up in much critical policy making.

Certainly, the civil aviation is in crisis. Apart from what the civil aviation sector, the private players want what the psu Air India wants?

It is a huge bill and there are also the many options, fully-government owned or partially owned or  privatisation?

Rs.25,000 crore bailout is a big drain on the resources now. So, here is a major decision and the government can’t drag its feet.

Then ,the power sector. No targets can’t be assured? Yes, it looks like that.
But then the mining sector, the two mega projects, of arcelor Mittal and the Posco surely needs some plain common sense, how to give the lands, the land acquisition bill and the actual land acquisition needs a bit of dashing brain storming  and action.
Are the leaders in the coalition brave enough to rise up to the occasion?

Then there is some bright spot it seems from the Kamalnath’s ministry.
The man is doing something that we have to admire.

Yes, the roads ministry was caught in large scale corruption and bungling under the DMK cynicism in the UPA phase I. Now, under the UPA phase II, there is hope.

But then Nath needs some more energetic steps to give India much delayed good roads and reduce the road accidents to a zero tolerable levels.

India has a very bad reputation for accidents on the highways. India seems no one state. Maharashtra d and Tamil Nadu are the two leading road accident prone states.

In TN you see the roads never attended, all freebies nowadays and so the DMK government  has  a penchant for neglecting the roads.

So, mercifully now Nath promises to change the failures of the past.

Image Source : geographictravels.com

None! None at all!
You can’t have altruism unalloyed at the grass roots democracy, can you?
Forget about it! For quite sometime!
The hold of bureaucracy is total and unbreakable!

Unfortunately, our current crop of leaders also doesn’t believe in empowerment, seriously!
Yes, this election will be as like any other election.

The other day I was viewing a very heartening programme, one on the NDTV Profit channel on the unstoppable Indians.

Who is the unstoppable Indian I saw? It is none other  never-say-die Mr.Kejriwal who runs the NGO, Parvartan. Kejriwal, as everyone knows is a winner of the Magsaysay award for using the Right for Information  Act, RTI for getting justice done to poor people.

His experience was an eye-opener. He has a fund of energy that was surprising. Anyone who runs an NGO and that too in such an out of the way field like getting official information from the deadly institution of Indian bureaucracy is sure to fall victim of incurable cynicism! But not Mr.Kejriwal. He is young and earnest and is driven by unlimited optimism.

If I were the President of India, I am sure I would have enlisted his name for a Bharat Ratna. Yes, I am digressing here a bit but such a digression is in order.

We in India don’t recognise talent, talent if it doesn’t come from the official channels! That is the trouble. See the list of the Padma awardees. They all come on predictable lines, good and loyal government service is rewarded in a routine way. So too our choice of artistes. All respectable fields are there but not from out of the way fields that are rare and likely to disappear like the great and immortal oral art traditions like, say, the Kerala-centered  Sanskrit drama, Koodyattam etc.

To search for and reward rare talents, dying arts calls for rare leadership and imagination.
Even in other fields like development, who would appreciate a young man like Mr.Kejriwal who like others in the same category, the waterman and others, are battling against the very walls of government and the bureaucracy.

After listening to his experiences I was wondering whether the President of India or the Prime Minister or Sonia Gandhi would have been watching the same programme. If they have had watched the programme, there must have been news in the next day. There was none and I assumed that I must be right in my assumptions and in my own prejudices. Assumptions and prejudices about our own leaders, the power seekers and grabbers with no shame whatever!
Mr.Kerjiwal says that in UP and other states, it is now  three years the pending time before you can get your application under the RTI act is likely to be taken up. So many applications are pending as on date. It is no fewer time lags in other states.

If any of the media houses is doing any pubic service then they must get the latest issues under the  working of the act and must publish and expose the causes and the men and women who cause such great distress to the affected community.

So, to come back to Mr.Kejriwal’s other efforts to empower people under the panchayat  raj, it looks he is fighting a losing battle surely. It is not a secret that the institutions under the panchayat raj are not working as they are envisaged. Who doesn’t know this state of affairs? Everybody knows. The PM knows and so his ministers. Surely, Mr.ManiShankar Iyer knows this only too well. But who is responsible to hold back the powers, the empowerment from the local people. It is again, the very same bureaucracy.

Who can reform the system?
Not surely, Dr.Manmohan Singh, the poor man with no powers, no vision and no powers at all.
Who knows he may go down in history as the one who put up a false facade  for five long years, a poor shadow of his master, the late P.V.Narasimha Rao, another false face. The late Prime Minister didn’t have even the courage to write a straightforward autobiography. So, we can be sure this time too our Prime Minister wont let you know what he did and what he couldn’t do, given the constrains under which he is operating as on date!

The concept of empowerment and decentralisation has taken so many avatars.
The history of the experiment is also too long.

One can quote Gandhi, Nehru and whomever you choose.
Even Mr.Kejriwal, in his TV chat quoted from Buddhist history the grass roots democracy and empowerment.

That is very fine and very soothing.

Today, we have to approach peoples’ empowerment, yes, I agree, without any cynicism whatever. That is our duty. Every one’s duty.

After all, we live in a democracy and society would be what it is.
Society would have all the pulls and pressures and various interests and ideals operate.
So, I am robust in my outlook and my optimism is unbounded.

Having said this, I like to look at empowerment in a positive way.
There are enough empirical data, enough World Bank reports, for instance, on governance.
I would like to see that the Central government takes serious interest and makes this social and grass roots democracy experiment as a high priority.

Unless the Central government and the major parties are serious or made to become serious and sensitive to this highly civilised and highly enlightened great political objective nothing much would happen in our life time.

At the states’s level I would like to see the Prime Minister to take the initiative  to impress upon the Chief Ministers to sensitise themselves on this human, humane and humanitarian issue  then also nothing much might happen.

It is a question of leadership. State level initiative is the key to the decisive move.

These aspects, the Central government initiative, state level initiative ,Mr.Kejriwal didn’t emphasis. I don’t know why.

Nor he took notice of the various other experiments, by other governments, as in Kerala and West Bengal, where the Communists made a dance and song of the decentralisation and in the end ended in making the Communist party to oppress and suppress all the initiatives and spontaneous growth of grass roots democracy.

I have also one skepticism of the enthusiasm of Mr.Kejriwal.
Yes, people’s assemblies must be regularly convened and questions asked for the failure of panchayat officials, petty officials to perform their jobs.

The olden day’s local heads of big families had some hold.
Today, these petty officials ,from the village revenue officers to others, including the village school teachers to the ayahs and anganwadi workers don’t respect the villagers. They are often party hands, the ruling party hands and they have their own corrupt deals made or to make and as such they are insensitive or be responsible to their paid duties.

So, in the end, as I also live and had lived and worked on several such projects and got disillusioned, I have to strike a realistic note, dont you approve?

So, we look at empowerment from a more altruistic manner.

Sometimes people deserve mercy. Many times they deserve what they deserve today! You cant have altruism unalloyed, all the time, can you?

Image Source : livinginperu.com