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The slowing motion of India’s quick mobility

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RG_vehicles_households_20_years

This is a chart whose lines drift downwards as time goes by, quite the opposite of all the usual depictions of India’s rising GDP, rising income, rising purchasing power, and so on. But in the two dropping lines is the proof that India’s households are tying themselves up in stifling vehicular knots.

This chart shows what we call two-wheelers (scooters and motor-cycles) and cars (four-wheeled passenger vehicles, formally). It also shows number of households and a span of 20 years. The two lines show the number of households to a car (the orange line) and the number of households to a two-wheeler (the blue line). As there are many more two-wheelers than there are cars, they are on different scales, so the left axis is for the two-wheelers and the right for cars.

vehicles_2012I have taken the data from two sources. One is the Census of India, for the census years 2011, 2001 and 1991. The other is the Road Transport Yearbook (2011-12) issued by the Transport Research Wing, Ministry Of Road Transport and Highways, Government Of India. The yearbook includes a table with the total number of registered vehicles (in different categories of vehicle – two-wheelers, cars, buses, goods vehicles, others) for every year. The number of households is from the census years, with simple decadal growth applied annually between census years. I have not yet found the detailed data that will let me refine this finding between urban and rural populations.

This is what the chart says: in 1992, there were 10 households to a two-wheeler and 48.7 households to a car. Ten years later in 2002 there were 4.8 households to a two-wheeler and 26.2 households to a car. Another ten years later in 2012 there were 2.2 households to a two-wheeler and 11.8 households to a car.

vehicles_2005The implications are several and almost all of them are an alarm signal. Especially for urban areas – where most of the buying of vehicles for households has taken place – the physical space available for the movement of people and goods has increased only marginally, but the number of motorised contrivances (cars, motor-cycles, scooters and more recently stupidly large SUVs and stupidly large and expensive luxury cars) has increased quickly. Naturally this ‘growth’ of wheeled metal has choked our city wards.

But there are other implications. One is the very idea of individual mobility in and through a town or city. The connection – foolishly maintained by one government after another, and foolishly defended by macro-economists and industrial planners – between the automobile industry and gross domestic product (GDP) has crippled common sense.

vehicles_1995More motorised conveyance per household also means more fuel demanded per household, and more fuel (and money) wasted because households are taught (by the auto industry with the encouragement of the foolish cohorts I mentioned earlier) that they are entitled to wasteful personal mobility. Over 20 years, the number of cars per household has increased 4.1 times but the number of buses per household has increased only 2.8 times. That is embarrassing proof of our un-ecological and climate unfriendly new habits.

In 2012, there were 1.67 million buses (of all kinds and configurations), there were 7.65 million goods vehicles (to move all those appliances demanded by households, food crops, fertiliser, retail food, etc), 13.16 million other vehicles (which as the ministry says “include tractors trailers, three-wheelers (passenger vehicles)/LMV and other miscellaneous vehicles which are not classified separately”), 21.56 million cars (including jeeps and taxis), and 115.41 million two-wheelers. There are far too many of some kinds and not enough of others. More than 20 years after ‘liberalisation’ began, India’s household mobility is crawling along in first gear for having made too many wrong choices.

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India’s writing of the urbanised middle-class symphony

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The maintaining of and adding to the numbers of the middle class is what the growth of India’s GDP relies upon. Photo: Rahul Goswami 2014

The maintaining of and adding to the numbers of the middle class is what the growth of India’s GDP relies upon. Photo: Rahul Goswami 2014

The occasional journal Agenda (published by the Centre for Communication and Development Studies) has focused on the subject of urban poverty. A collection of articles brings out the connections between population growth, the governance of cities and urban areas, the sub-populations of the ‘poor’ and how they are identified, the responses of the state to urbanisation and urban residents (links at the end of this post).

My contribution to this issue has described how the urbanisation of India project is being executed in the name of the ‘urban poor’. But the urban poor themselves are lost in the debate over methodologies to identify and classify them and the thicket of entitlements, provisions and agencies to facilitate their ‘inclusion’ and ‘empowerment’. I have divided my essay into four parts – part one may be read here, part two is found here, and this is part three:

A small matrix of classifications is the reason for such obtuseness, which any kirana shop owner and his speedy delivery boys could quickly debunk. As with the viewing of ‘poverty’ so too the consideration of an income level as the passport between economic strata (or classes) in a city: the Ministry of Housing follows the classification that a household whose income is up to Rs 5,000 a month is pigeon-holed as belonging to the economically weaker section while another whose income is Rs 5,001 and above up to Rs 10,000 is similarly treated as lower income group.

Committees and panels studying our urban condition are enjoined not to stray outside these markers if they want their reports to find official audiences, and so they do, as did the work (in 2012) of the Technical Group on Urban Housing Shortage over the Twelfth Plan period (which is 2012-17). Central trade unions were already at the time stridently demanding that Rs 10,000 be the national minimum wage, and stating that their calculation was already conservative (so it was, for the rise in the prices of food staples had begun two years earlier).

The contributions of those in the lower economic strata (not the ‘poor’ alone, however they are measured or miscounted) to the cities of India and the towns of Bharat, to the urban agglomerations and outgrowths (terms that conceal the entombment of hundreds of hectares of growing soil in cement and rubble so that more bastis may be accommodated), are only erratically recorded. When this is done, more often than not by an NGO, or a research institute (not necessarily on urban studies) or a more enlightened university programme, seldom do the findings make their way through the grimy corridors of the municipal councils and into recognition of the success or failure of urban policy.

Until 10 years ago, it was still being said in government circles that India's pace of urbanisation was only 'modest' by world standards. Photo: Rahul Goswami 2014

Until 10 years ago, it was still being said in government circles that India’s pace of urbanisation was only ‘modest’ by world standards. Photo: Rahul Goswami 2014

And so it is that the tide of migrants – India’s urban population grew at 31.8% in the 10 years between 2001 and 2011, both census years, while the rural population grew at 12.18% and the overall national population growth rate was 17.64% with the difference between all three figures illustrating in one short equation the strength of the urbanisation project – is essential for the provision of cheap labour to the services sector for that higher economic strata upon whom the larger share of the GDP growth burden rests, the middle class.

And so the picture clears, for it is in maintaining and adding to the numbers of the middle class – no troublesome poverty lines here whose interpretations may arrest the impulse to consume – that the growth of India’s GDP relies. By the end of the first confused decade following the liberalisation of India’s economy, in the late-1990s, the arrant new ideology that posited the need for a demographic shift from panchayat to urban ward found supporters at home and outside (in the circles of the multi-lateral development lending institutions particularly, which our senior administrators and functionaries were lured into through fellowships and secondments). Until 10 years ago, it was still being said in government circles that India’s pace of urbanisation was only modest by world standards (said in the same off-the-cuff manner that explains our per capita carbon dioxide emissions as being well under the global average).

In 2005, India had 41 urban areas with populations of a million and more while China had 95 – in 2015 the number of our cities which will have at least a million will be more than 60. Hence the need to turn a comfortable question into a profoundly irritating one: instead of ‘let us mark the slums as being those areas of a city or town in which the poor live’ we choose ‘let us mark the poor along as many axes as we citizens can think of and find the households – in slum or cooperative housing society or condominium – that are deprived by our own measures’. The result of making such a choice would be to halt the patronymic practiced by the state (and its private sector assistants) under many different guises.

Whether urban residents in our towns and cities will bestir themselves to organise and claim such self-determination is a forecast difficult to attempt for a complex system such as a ward, in which issues of class and economic status have as much to do with group choices as the level of political control of ward committees and the participation of urban councillors, the grip of land and water mafias, the degree to which state programmes have actually bettered household lives or sharpened divisions.

It is probably still not a dilemma, provided there is re-education enough and awareness enough of the perils of continuing to inject ‘services’ and ‘infrastructure’ into communities which for over a generation have experienced rising levels of economic stress. At a more base level – for sociological concerns trouble industry even less, in general, than environmental concerns do – India’s business associations are doing their best to ensure that the urbanisation project continues. The three large associations – Assocham, CII and FICCI (and their partners in states) – agree that India’s urban population will grow, occupying 40% of the total population 15 years from now.

[Articles in the Agenda issue, Urban Poverty, are: How to make urban governance pro-poor, Counting the urban poor, The industry of ‘empowerment’, Data discrepancies, The feminisation of urban poverty, Making the invisible visible, Minorities at the margins, Housing poverty by social groups, Multidimensional poverty in Pune, Undermining Rajiv Awas Yojana, Resettlement projects as poverty traps, Participatory budgeting, Exclusionary cities.]

Bharat and its billionaires

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RG_new_India_inequality_panelSeveral times a year, one money-minded organisation or another publishes a ‘rich list’. On this list are the names of the extraordinarily wealthy, the billionaires. Such a list is compiled by Forbes magazine. In this year’s list of billionaires, there are 90 Indians.

Perhaps it is the largest contingent of Indians on this list ever, perhaps their wealth is greater, singly and together, than ever before, perhaps the space below them (the almost-billionaires) is more crowded than ever. What must be of concern to us is the inequality that such a list represents. In the first two, perhaps three, Five Year Plans, cautions were expressed that the income (or wealth) multiple between the farmer and the labourer on the one hand and the entrepreneur or skilled manager on the other should not exceed 1 to 10.

In practice it was quite different, but the differences of the early 1990s – which is when economic liberalisation took hold in India – are microscopic compared to those of today. What’s more, the astronomically large differences in income/wealth of 2015 are actually celebrated as being evidence of India’s economic superpowerdom.

The current per capita national income is 88,533 rupees and it will take, as my disturbing panel of comparisons shows, the combined incomes of 677,713 such earners to equal the wealth of the 90th on the Forbes list of Indian billionaires. Likewise, there are six on the list of 90 with median incomes, and a median income is Rs 11.616 crore, which is equal to the entire Central Government budget outlay for agriculture (and allied activities) for 2015-16.

Written by makanaka

March 5, 2015 at 22:03