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A grim picture of deprivation

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A grim picture of deprivation

The results of the Socio-Economic and Caste Census conducted in 2011 across the country present a grim picture of poverty and deprivation in rural India. It was an exclusionary census which left out about 40 per cent of the country’s 17.91 crore rural households on the basis of certain parameters like ownership of a motor vehicle or income above Rs 10,000. Of the remaining households, 8.69 crore, which account for more than half of the total population, belong to the deprived category. This is much more than what had been estimated till now with random surveys and poverty line exercises. The monthly income of the head of three out of four households is less than Rs 5,000. A majority of the households are landless and most depend on casual manual labour for livelihood. Only a minority called themselves cultivators. Just about 14 per cent have non-farm jobs in the government or the private sector. In fact, only less than 3.5 per cent of rural households have graduates.  

The situation is worse when it comes to traditionally less developed areas of the country, like the eastern and central states. The figures are also much more grim in the case of weaker sections like the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and households headed by women. Only about 4 per cent of rural SC and ST households are employed in government despite decades of reservation. The figures are much lower in the case of the private sector. While the statistics are depressing, the first and foremost message they give out is that the development strategies of the last many decades have not had as much impact on rural India as has been claimed. This had been suspected by many but now there is proof in terms of figures. What they unflatteringly reveal is that high growth rates have passed up the poorest regions and sections in the country. There are some aspirational signs like the fairly high level of mobile phone penetration but that does not improve the overall picture.

The data revealed by the nationwide survey is not just for information and debate. The previous government which commissioned the census had said that the results would help governments at the Centre and in the states to formulate appropriate strategies and tailor them to the needs revealed by the census. This needs to be done now. This, however, should be based on the complete picture presented by the census, which is still not available with the government withholding the caste-wise data collected in the census. There is no reason to keep the data classified.  



'Top Secret' sections should handle classified documents: Government

Classified papers need to be handled only by specially-designated 'secret' or 'top secret' sections in every central government department, the Centre has said.
NEW DELHI: Classified papers need to be handled only by specially-designated 'secret' or 'top secret' sections in every central government department, the Centre has said.

In a fresh set of instructions, the government also restricted its employees from communicating with the media.

Only ministers, secretaries and other specially-authorised officers can give information or be accessible to the representatives of the press.

On the classified papers issue, the government said that every file should be reviewed once in every five years for declassification.

An officer not below the level of Under Secretary can only carry secret papers under special circumstances with the prior permission of a Joint Secretary-level officer for attending meeting or discussions outside offices, it said.

Section officers or above will only carry confidential papers with prior permission with them. "The authorisation will be produced by the officer on demand," the instructions issued by the Personnel Ministry said.

The move assumes significance as Delhi Police has arrested some government employees and few executives of big corporate houses for allegedly trading government documents.

On communication with the media, the ministry said, "Official information to the press and other news media i.e. radio, television, shall normally be communicated through the Press Information Bureau (PIB)."

Any other official, if approached by a representative of the press, will direct them to the PIB or shall seek the permission of the Secretary of the department before meeting the press, the instructions said.

The Personnel Ministry has cited Departmental Security Instructions issued by Home Ministry which says classified papers are expected to be handled either by officers themselves or in sections designated as 'secret' or 'top secret'.


Suvidha trains for catering to festival rush will only offer confirmed seats

Mahendra K Singh
NEW DELHI: In an effort to cater to extra rush during festivals, peak summer and winter seasons, railways have decided to run 'Suvidha' trains in which passengers will get confirmed berth or seat. No waitlisted ticket will be issued. The first Suvidha train will be from Gorakhpur to Anand Vihar. 
The transporter has decided to discontinue 'Premium' trains introduced last year, and replace it with Suvidha train, after changing a few rules that were causing inconvenience to passengers. The traveler can buy tickets for Suvidha trains from the reservation counters or book them online from IRCTC website. The reservation period will be a maximum of 30 days and a minimum of 10 days. Bookings in Premium trains were allowed only online and the reservation period was only 15 days. There was criticism that not all passengers had access to internet or online booking facility. 

"The service aims at catering to premium passengers and those who want to travel at short-notice by offering assured berth and better service," said an official, adding that the transporter will also earn additional revenue.

The anomaly in fares of Premium trains was also a major issue. Premium trains offered dynamic fares and it was found that in these trains higher demand pushed AC3 fares higher than AC2 class.

In Suvidha trains minimum fare will be Tatkal fare for the class of travel and fares would increase after booking of every 20% of seats/berths subject to maximum three times of Tatkal fare. If any berth remains unsold during preparation of the journey chart, they could be sold through current booking counters for the last sold price. Other applicable supplementary charges like reservation charge, superfast charge, service tax etc. will be charged separately. No concession, no free or complimentary pass will be applicable and also for children full adult fare shall be charged.

The transporter will run three types of Suvidha trains—full AC trains without stops charging Rajdhani base fare and Tatkal charges, mixed service with no stops charging Duronto base fare and Tatkal charges and mixed service with some stops charging base fare of mail and express trains, and Tatkal charges.

The passenger has to produce one of the prescribed identity cards during journey for verification. The onboard facilities on Suvidha trains would be similar to Premium trains. Along with ensuring punctuality, railways want to ensure top quality linen, better food and cleanliness on Suvidha trains.

In normal circumstances Suvidha train will not be cancelled. However, in case of cancellation in exceptional circumstances, full refund of fare shall be granted for counter PRS ticket across the counter and for e-tickets full refunds of fare shall be directly credited to the customers account. For any other reason, if berth cannot be given to passenger by railways, full refund shall be granted to the passenger manually.


Chidambaram's dig at govt on skill development scheme launch
Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Tuesday took a jibe at the launching of the Skill Development Programme by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday saying it will be an "Achhe Din" for the NDA government.
"National Skill Development Mission will be relaunched, I repeat, relaunched by the PM on Wednesday under a new name. It will be Achhe Din for the NDA. Should we applaud?" he tweeted.
Modi is set to launch on Wednesday the Skill India mission on World Youth Skills Day that aims to converge and monitor skill development schemes across the country as well as provide subsidised loans to students for vocational training.
"The mission was originally launched in August 2010. Its flagship scheme 'STAR' was launched in August 2013. The first certificates were distributed to the trained youth on 5 February 2014.
"National Skill Development Corporation has enrolled 160 training partners & 1722 trainers. 35 lakh persons have already been trained," Chidambaram said in another tweet.


Utopia & Reality-I

Souvanic Roy
The Smart Cities Mission was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 25 June with extraordinary fanfare to transform and develop hundred cities to become the engines of urban growth. The Government has declared a budget provision of Rs. 50,000 crore for the initiative with the hope of large-scale foreign and private investment over the next five years. Inspired by the smart city paradigm in European and developed economies, Indian cities are likely to be built with the objectives of achieving competitive, investor-friendly and world class enclaves.
The distinguishing features of such cities, as promised by the government, are ICT (Information and Communication Technology) and sensor enabled technological interventions. This envisages real time monitoring of the state of affairs, service level benchmarking (24 X 7 water supply with metered connections, 100 per cent coverage of sewerage, storm water drainage and access to public transport) comparable to cities in Europe and the developed world, notably Yokahama, Barcelona, Singapore, Shanghai, Songdo in South Korea or Masdar in the UAE; development driven by the private sector; transit-oriented growth, and governance by incentives rather than by enforcement.
It would be prudent at this juncture to reflect on the fundamental assumptions of technocratic approach to governance, entrepreneurial urbanism and leapfrog approach to development of these cities.
The budget speech of the Finance Minister in July 2014 mentioned that aspirations of the neo-middle class towards better living standards are to be realized through developing smart cities as satellite towns for larger cities and by modernizing existing mid-size cities. Taking the cue from models of the developed world and Dholera Special Investment Region (SIR) and Gujarat International Finance Tec (GIFT) City, the draft concept note prepared by Ministry of Urban Development indicates competitiveness, quality of life and sustainability as three cardinal principles for smart cities. In India, a section of the industry and civil society have welcomed the idea as they rightly consider the Indian urban scene as anything but smart with obsolete and inconsistent data, crumbling infrastructure, unaccountable city governance and lack of financial resources. A city with a mission of quality lifestyle characterized by state-of-the-art infrastructure, high speed mass transit system, pollution free environment, energy efficiency and transparent governance through application of ICT, can be expected to raise the quality of life to world-class cities in the west. Private sector investment in ICT and other infrastructure, real estate, energy, healthcare and education will impart efficiency, intelligence and quality in the socio-economic, physical and institutional environment in the cities.
On the contrary, the critics raise the issues of diversity of the country across its people, economies and geographies. ICT applications and cost recovery of service delivery would increase the cost of living of the urban poor who may be pushed further to the periphery of cities, marked by renewed onslaught on their lives and livelihood.
The primary aim of the smart city, as envisaged in the draft concept note, is to achieve competitiveness to attract investment and operational efficiency in service delivery through the pillars of institutional, physical, social and economic infrastructure. Institutional infrastructure seeks to address the fragmented nature of service delivery across multiple institutions, achieve e-governance and citizen participation through social media and other mechanisms. Physical infrastructure emphasizes a high level of urban mobility, intelligent and ubiquitous availability of urban services including ICT and digital technology. The social infrastructure encompasses quality education, healthcare and entertainment facilities to attract entrepreneurs and professionals. The economic infrastructure will comprise industrial parks, export processing zones, IT/BT parks, trade centres and financial and logistic hubs.
The Centre’s High Power Expert Committee (HPEC) estimated an annual investment requirement of Rs. 35,000 crore for 100 smart cities. With the major share of the investment expected from the private sector, the contributions from the central government shall be limited to “viability gap funding”. The financing mechanism will primarily be based on land value-based taxation, user charges, PPP, market borrowing and debt financing of infrastructure.
The country’s urban scenario is a mix of divergent development patterns, wide-ranging norms and conflicting priorities of multiple stakeholders inherited from indigenous, colonial, post-independent and presently liberalized socio-political order. These layers have interacted with the diversity of physical and cultural landscape inducing complex heterogeneity in cities. This is reflected in unequal access to infrastructure and opportunities to marginalized socio-economic groups in megacities like Delhi or Kolkata, contrasting urban forms and activity patterns of cities in diverse geographies (e.g. Jaisalmer and Simla), differing management priorities in towns with range of economic base such as trade and commerce, manufacturing, tourism or administrative functions and dissimilarity in resource disposition in economically vibrant versus stagnant towns. The smart city initiative with its urge to replicate the developed economy model reflects neoliberal urbanism and overlooks the range of inequality and diversity in Indian cities. The major challenges are sustainability and inclusiveness of the initiative.
The obsession with monitoring and managing cities through ubiquitous computing and digital devices disregards the city as a socio-political phenomenon. It presumes that all its attributes and problems can be measured and monitored in real time and considered as technical problems with technical solutions. This form of governance is extremely limited in scope and fails to capture the heterogeneity of culture, politics, policy and physical landscape that shapes Indian cities. The deep-rooted problems of cities manifested in unequal access to opportunities linked to skewed power equation balanced in favour of the elites leading to inefficiency in resource allocation.
Explicit focus on cities as destinations of skilled professionals serving knowledge economy, high security enclaves of the neo-rich, the PPP mode of service delivery and adopting technologies and services developed by big corporates will lead to capital accumulation by few through dispossessing others. The urge to promote entrepreneurial urbanism is revealed in the unusual haste of the NDA government in promulgating the new Land Acquisition Ordinance, 2015, depriving the safeguards against compulsory acquisition enshrined in the present Act and withdrawal of the regulatory barrier for FDI in real estate.

(To be concluded)

Utopia & Reality-II

Souvanic Roy
The selection criteria is ambiguous. It does not recognize the imbalance that exists in urban geography across different states. In tune with the neoliberal ideology and entrepreneurial agenda, it lays emphasis on performance, presence of a Master Plan, mandatory involvement of the private sector, commitment to cost recovery in infrastructure projects and per capita revenue earning. Large cities in developed states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat will satisfy these criteria. The government has not drawn lessons from the shortcomings of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and it would be disingenuous to infuse a second tranche of ambitious investment in urban rejuvenation without conducting a regional planning exercise. The faux pas will lead to snowballing of regional imbalance and exclusionary urbanization in the country.
The urban reality in India is characterized by gradual improvement contributed through investment by people in shelter and household level infrastructure complemented by augmentation of “trunk infrastructure” by Urban Local Bodies (ULB) and state governments. All that the JnNURM has achieved is gradual transformation through implementation of infrastructure and housing projects in some of the better governed cities. The smart city initiative intends to reverse this trend and adopt a big bang approach to development.
The vision of quick overhauling of existing cities to achieve the unattainable level of service and development of greenfield cities through large-scale land acquisition are unlikely to be enduring given the prevailing socio-political climate. A one size-fits all approach and development of cities in an identical mould is doomed to fail. It ignores the diversity of physical landscape, culture, history and politics.
The ULBs will be mute spectators as the Smart City Development Plans are to be formulated by externally hired consultants. Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) will be created for managing the cities. The initiative belies the provisions of 74th Constitution Amendment and charts a course of action that is undemocratic and unaccountable to the citizens. The situation is somewhat similar to the formulation of recent CDPs under JnNURM and previous IDSMT (Integrated Development of Small and Medium Towns) Program which ignored the participation of citizens and could not yield the desired result because it downgraded the role of elected ULBs.
The obsession with the technocratic mode of governance is oblivious to the legacy of cultural, political and ecological dimensions of properly managed cities. For example, the old cities of Jaipur and Jaisalmer have the wherewithal to address the climatic discomfort while the colonial hill settlements of Dalhousie and Darjeeling in their early phase negotiated difficult terrain with remarkable sophistication and finesse. The megacity of Kolkata boasts its wetlands as sites for sewage fed fisheries contributing to the natural process of waste recycling and generation of local employment.
The leap-frog approach to development in terms of unattainable service level benchmarking for existing cities and bulk acquisition of land for new towns is a confirmed recipe for failure. The argument is particularly valid for the slums and informal settlements. Contrary to this, the country has successful experience of community-driven and incremental improvement of shelter and infrastructure in the Slum Networking Project in Indore and Ahmedabad. The Ban Mankong (Secure Housing) Program in Thailand is also a model that needs to be examined.
The top-down and consultant driven initiative would serve the political agenda of the new government against the basic spirit of devolution and autonomy in urban planning by the ULBs envisaged in the 74th Constitution Amendment. In contrast, it is worthwhile to look into the planning process of Kollam Development Plan in Kerala as an example of participatory spatial planning undertaken by the District Planning Committee involving diverse stakeholders including the urban poor.
The smart city initiative and the digital technologies for management and monitoring of the urban systems are being promoted by the world’s largest hardware and software companies such as IBM, CISCO and Microsoft to ensure world class living and working experience for the emerging rich and neo-middle class. To be inclusive, it is necessary to adopt a democratic approach to city development and explore the potential to connect information technology with marginalized sections of the society to enhance their access to employment, market, education, health and building their resilience against natural disasters.
Some of the radical examples available across the world are Digital Stewards Project in Redhook, Brooklyn (job listings and support for recovery from Hurricane Sandy), Community Telecentre in Africa (job opportunities for women) and Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) producing open source software for disaster response. The RHoK products were used effectively in the wake of the Haiti earthquake in 2010. Bangaluru-based Babajob, a digital social network provides information about jobs to millions working in the informal sector. About a decade ago, a collaboration of NGOs and networks of women prepared the slum atlas of Pune by mapping them in the GIS platform to bring slum communities into the ambit of planning so that they could have a fair share of resources.
Map Kibera project used participatory GPS and Open Street Map to empower communities of Kenya’s largest slum to monitor and record their experiences on state initiatives. In the Kosovo Science for Change Project people measure air quality, temperature, humidity, noise levels in their communities with the help of Arduino based smart citizen sensors and share the data through internet. The communities use the information to improve the situation on the basis of environmental principles and enforcement of standards.
The growing evidence suggests the possibilities of grass-root action and vision of local governments across the globe for an inclusive future to create just and humane cities based on community empowerment and participatory principles of development.

The notion of prosperity and competitiveness in cities should look beyond the confines of economic growth and strive for equitable distribution of benefits and opportunities securing economic wellbeing, social cohesion and environmental sustainability. In the words of Jane Jacobs, the great American urban activist, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody only because and only when they are created by everybody”.


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