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Chargesheet against a junta

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Since March 2020, beginning with the imposition of the “national lock down” in India, a host of measures have been ordered by the state – central government, state and union territory governments, and municipal corporations – which have been presented as means to control the coronavirus “epidemic”.

These measures are non-pharmacological and non-medical measures, that is, they are presented as controlling the transmission and spread of any disease outbreak or epidemic by halting, restricting, controlling or limiting the routine movement of citizens through the course of their day and week for social, commercial, leisure and faith-related activities.

I have opposed and continue to oppose and reject “lock down” and its host of associated restrictions as a means to address and control a disease outbreak/epidemic. Completely opposite to what their alleged aims are, all these measures cause harm to society and individuals. Moreover, these measures have no place – nor did they ever have any place, at any time during the modern medical history of India as has been recorded from the late 19th century – in elementary epidemiology.

The “national lock down” that was imposed from March to June 2020, and the many state “lock downs” that followed, including those imposed during the alleged “second wave” of March 2021 onwards, together constitute the most serious assault on citizens’ freedoms, civil liberties, inalienable rights, religious and faith-related customs, and livelihoods that post-Independence India has experienced. Not even during the notorious Emergency period (1975-77) were there such draconian measures.

These draconian measures, with no basis in public health whatsoever, gave rise to associated measures such as night curfews, quarantine centres, isolation centres, containment zones, quarantine periods and the like which all were alleged to control the transmission and spread of coronavirus. None of these measures, not a single one, was supported by the epidemiological evidence in India, of which there is a very extensive record.

Worse, not once was any such measure, whether introduced and enforced nationally, in a state or in a city/town/district, subject to review and assessment by any members of the large pool of experienced medical practitioners in India who have worked on public health. Instead, central and state governments, municipal corporations and district administrations either created as bodies to endorse these measure “expert groups” and “expert committees” whose members were chosen and selected opaquely, or issued administrative “orders’ to impose such measures which bore no reference whatsoever to any objective assessments of the situation on the ground.

The cumulative impact of such measures has been devastating to the public at large and the ordinary citizen. This impact is far greater, and has much more long-lasting consequences, than would have been the case had any disease outbreak/epidemic in India run its natural course. I say this unreservedly because never in the Indian public health record have healthy citizens been confined – under risk of penalty – and then subjected to continued and acute psychological pressures.

These pressures took the form, early during the “national lock down”, as compliance demanded by the state at the point of penalties and fines, and also through physical assault by the police, for not wearing face masks and coverings, or for missing curfew deadlines.

During 2021, these pressures have taken the form, especially since early February 2021, of submitting to the illegal and unconstitutional “vaccination drive” (or “tika utsav“, which translates as ‘vaccination festival’, a hideous travesty of public health) that was commenced by the central government, and which quickly thereafter was attempted to be enforced by making vaccination against coronavirus the condition against which employment as a government or public sector employee could continue, against which essential services such as food rations from fair price shops could be disbursed, and against which transport services such as metropolitan commuter trains and buses could be boarded. As I state towards the close of this chargesheet, these wholly authoritarian measures have ignored all democratic scrutiny and oversight.

The wage labour and informal sectors of the Indian economy, which have depended on and continue to depend on daily or weekly wages, were especially from late March until July 2020 reduced to penury and starvation by these draconian measures that had nothing whatsoever to do with public health.

From July 2020 when these measures began to be relaxed in different regions and states, earning daily and weekly wages and monthly salaries once again became possible as commercial and business activity resumed. But by then, three to four months of living off debt for a large number of households proved to be a crushing burden. It has been estimated that between 20% and 25% of all households in India were made poorer, and pushed below the true poverty line, directly because of the “lock down” and associated restrictions.

Whether during the “national lock down” or during the many state-level lock downs and movement restrictions during the 2020-21 period, daily and casual wage labour lost income. Surveys have shown that 6 out of 10 domestic workers did not get paid at all during lock downs, that 9 out of 10 casual labourers (such as those who labour at construction sites) did not get paid. Their capacities to save, already small, were ruined for 20 months and counting, and the great majority of such households have been pushed into debt.

The floor minimum wage in India – which was set at some 18,000 rupees a month about three years ago – has proven during 2020-21 to be wholly inadequate to provide for a family given the steep rise in food and fuel prices (about half the cost of the LPG cooking gas cylinder has been added during only the last 12 months). Even until the start of 2020, the average Indian household paid some 60 out of every 100 rupees of its medical expenses out of pocket. The “epidemic”-related costs of tests and access to basic medical care have only pushed up this already very high out-of-pocket expenditure. I have no doubt that all these factors have contributed to a rate of household indebtedness that has not been seen for two generations.

Other than during war time, which after 1945 are periods that Indians have experienced for short spells (such as in 1971), there has never been such a long period of concentrated deprivation. The cumulative effect of the “national lock down”, the state lock downs that followed, the restrictions placed by municipal corporations and district administrations have caused directly the sharp reversal of all the average standard-of-living and public health gains that have slowly and painstakingly been secured over the previous 70 years.

Not once since March 2020 until now, December 2021, has the central government or state government or municipal corporations or district administrations when imposing “lock down” and associated restrictions, acknowledged the specific needs of large sections of the population: those up to 18 years old (about 240 million male and 220 million female, total about 460 million), the population above 60 years old (about 143 million), the labour force (about 470 million).

The restrictions of all kinds taken together have affected India’s large population of children, adolescents and teenagers severely. Their schools and colleges were shuttered for over a year (and continue to be in some places, while where normal classes resumed, they are limited in frequency and attendance). Children, adolescents and teenagers being snatched away by the tens of millions from socialising settings, where they meet and play and speak to those of their own age group, and also from social and family settings, has caused both psychological and physiological harm to a degree that is still, 20 months after the onset of the alleged “epidemic”, neither recognised by the government authorities nor remedied in any way.

This impact comes on top of the already very alarming situation that was recorded by the central government in 2017 which showed that more than 840,000 children die before completing the first year of their lives. This number is more than that recorded by any other country in the world. India’s infant mortality rate was still 34 per 1,000 live births in 2016, but several states (such as Assam and Odisha with 44 per 1,000, Chhattisgarh with 39 per 1,000, Madhya Pradesh with 47 per 1,000) are very much above the national infant mortality rate.

I stand appalled that for 20 months, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Indian Council of Medical Research and the health departments of all states and union territories have refused to acknowledge or consider the effects of their “lock down” and associated restrictions on so fundamental an indicator as the infant mortality rate.

Moreover, the shuttering of schools all over the country also stopped the provision of the mid-day meals. For pre-primary, primary and upper primary school students from 2001 – and for all children in government and government-aided schools until the age of 14 as per the 2013 National Food Security Act – the mid-day meal programme provides fresh cooked food to 120 million children in over 1.26 million schools (and centres under the Education Guarantee Scheme).

With the schools shuttered the meals to children stopped – directly contravening the provisions of the 2013 Act – depriving them of one of their fresh cooked meals a day. No central or state government authorities have recognised or remedied this effect of the “lock down” and associated restrictions in a country that has over a third of the world’s stunted (chronically malnourished) children.

Ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stroke, diarrhoeal diseases, neo-natal disorders, lower respiratory tract infections, tuberculosis, diabetes and cirrhosis were the leading cause of deaths in India in 2019. Yet throughout the period March 2020 until the present (December 2021) health authorities in central and state governments, and in municipal corporations, refused to ascertain, prior to considering any restrictive public health measure such as ‘lock down’, what the effects of such restriction, the curbing of personal mobility (in all situations including medical consultations and routine treatments), and the health effects of reduced income or no income at all were likely to be.

This omission to be one of the gravest committed by central, state and city administrations, an omission whose scale and true impact will not be known as the authorities have refused to monitor it. In India in 2015, as per an assessment by the WHO, nearly 5.8 million people died because of non-communicable diseases such as these. Their causes include physical inactivity, unhealthy food (diets low in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, but high in salt and fats), daily exposure to air pollution (the 2016 Global Burden of Disease report showed that 920,000 premature deaths occurred because of household air pollution and 590,000 premature deaths because of ambient air pollution), tobacco use (smoking, smokeless tobacco), and the harmful use of alcohol. The lock down and associated restrictions, for months on end, strengthened these risk factors. It is inconceivable that the administrative and health authorities were unaware of the increased risks their orders directly caused.

During the period March 2020 until the present (December 2021), central and state governments, municipal corporations and district administrations alike have grossly and continuously abused emergency powers. Their applications of the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 together with the Disaster Management Act 2005 and the imposition of sections of the Indian Penal Code (such as Section 144) has in every single instance been abuse of power under the guise of addressing an epidemic.

The necessary democratic safeguards that accompany all emergency powers – they must be invoked only through legislative process, their use must be proportionate, their application must be specific, they must be shown to be necessary, their application must be non-discriminatory, their implementation must not infringe rights and freedoms recognised by the Constitution, they must observe time limits, they must be subject to judicial correction – have in every instance been done away with.

The attempts being made by the state and its partners to accelerate the rate of vaccination rests entirely on the stripping away of judicial and legislative checks and balances, and the blocking of citizens’ oversight. What is alarming is the readiness of the state and its agencies to ignore entirely the directions given in Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India, and likewise the obligations upon the Republic of India as a signatory to international conventions such as the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights 2005 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966.

What the state refuses to abide by however is what the citizens of India will defend.

Written by makanaka

December 8, 2021 at 11:51

The relative speeds of urban inflation

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How to read this chart. The light grey bars are the current month's CPI-IW (consumer price index for industrial workers) for each urban centre plotted to the left scale (the current data is for 2016 May). The green square marker is the reading for the difference between the current month's CPI and the average of the previous six months. The yellow square marker is the reading for the difference between the current month's CPI and the average of the previous 12 months. And the red square marker is the reading for the difference between the current month's CPI and the average of the year previous to 12 months ago. These are all plotted to the right scale, and their vertical separation helps tell us whether overall consumer inflation is rapid (or not) compared with other cities. You will find accompanying this chart a table. This associates a city code, such as ST21, used for the charting process, with a city: ST21 the city is Shimla in Himachal Pradesh. Data only (not method or treatment) are from Labour Bureau, Ministry of Labour and Employment.

How to read this chart. The light grey bars are the current month’s CPI-IW (consumer price index for industrial workers) for each urban centre plotted to the left scale (the current data is for 2016 May). The green square marker is the reading for the difference between the current month’s CPI and the average of the previous six months. The yellow square marker is the reading for the difference between the current month’s CPI and the average of the previous 12 months. And the red square marker is the reading for the difference between the current month’s CPI and the average of the year previous to 12 months ago. These are all plotted to the right scale, and their vertical separation helps tell us whether overall consumer inflation is rapid (or not) compared with other cities. You will find accompanying this chart a table. This associates a city code, such as ST21, used for the charting process, with a city: ST21 the city is Shimla in Himachal Pradesh. Data only (not method or treatment) are from Labour Bureau, Ministry of Labour and Employment.

Belgaum and Mysore in Karnataka with 12 points. Warangal, Telengana with 12 points. Panaji, Goa with 12 points. Munger, Bihar with 11 points. Bangalore, Karnataka with 11 points. Salem, Coimbatore and Coonoor in Tamil Nadu with 10 points. Rourkela, Odisha with 10 points. Sholapur, Maharashtra with 10 points. Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh with 10 points.

Charting process codes used for urban centres and the cities they correspond with.

Charting process codes used for urban centres and the cities they correspond with.

These are not Swachch Bharat rankings nor are they ‘ease of doing business’ scores. They are, for each urban centre, the number of points its consumer price index (CPI) increased in May 2016 over the average for the previous quarter. The data is collected and distributed by the Labour Bureau, Ministry of Labour and Employment. This is one of the ways in which the monthly CPI numbers for industrial workers (a somewhat dated term which suited an era when the public sector dominated the economy, but which still relates to urban households) can usefully indicate the acceleration in inflation of household staples.

The picture changes when the CPIs of urban centres for a month (the latest available being 2016 May) are compared with their own averages for the last six months, the last 12 months or the year which ended 12 months ago. When the frame of comparison is the average of the previous 12 months, I find that in 30 of the 78 centres for which a CPI-IW is calculated, the increase is 10 points or more. Warangal in Telengana, Kollam in Kerala and Mysore in Karnataka are 16 points above their previous 12 month average while Munger in Bihar, Rajkot in Gujarat and Jamshedpur in Jharkhand are 15 points above.

This is the relativist picture that perhaps makes the most illuminating use of a monthly index, whatever its faults and shortcomings. The well-appointed chart that I have drawn helps show why the speeds and acceleration, between a current measure and an earlier set of measures, are more important to consider than the absolute numbers themselves. This is an experimental way to help visualise a subject that is alas rather dry but of great import for every single household. I will update this as new CPI numbers are released by the Labour Bureau every month.

Written by makanaka

July 23, 2016 at 22:25

How a district employs land and crop

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A plotting of the cropland size categories with the number of holdings for the district of Hingoli in Maharashtra. The central group of rectangles displays the distribution, relative to each other, of the size categories of holdings (in hectares, ha.). The blue squares, also relative to each other, displays the number of holdings for each farm size category. The data source is the Agricultural Census 2010-11.

A plotting of the cropland size categories with the number of holdings for the district of Hingoli in Maharashtra. The central group of rectangles displays the distribution, relative to each other, of the size categories of holdings (in hectares, ha.). The blue squares, also relative to each other, displays the number of holdings for each farm size category. The data source is the Agricultural Census 2010-11.

In the district of Hingoli, Maharashtra, the allocation of cultivated land between food crops and non-food crops is somewhat in favour of non-food crops. That is, for every hectare planted with a food crop 1.3 hectares is planted with a non-food crop. The broad categories we have under food crops are: cereals, pulses, vegetables and fruit. Under non-food crops there are: oilseeds, sugarcane, fibres, spices and fodder.

Where Hingoli district is in Maharashtra state.

Where Hingoli district is in Maharashtra state.

The Agricultural Census 2010-11 detailed data for Hingoli shows that at the time of the survey 493,927 hectares were under cultivation for all kinds of crops, both food and non-food. As this is a count of how much land was under cultivation by crop, the total land under cultivation for all crops taken together is more than the total land under cultivation when measured according to land use. This is so because of crop rotation during the same agricultural year, inter-cropping and mixed cropping – for a plot, the same land may raise two kinds of crops in a year.

Size categories of farm holdings, with number of holdings and total area under each category for Hingoli district, Maharashtra.

Size categories of farm holdings, with number of holdings and total area under each category for Hingoli district, Maharashtra.

The 493,927 hectares under cultivation in Hingoli are divided under 213,286 hectares for food crops and 280,640 hectares under non-food crops. This gives us the overall picture that the farming households of Hingoli choose to give more land for crop types under the ‘non-food’ category. As the settlement pattern of Hingoli is very largely rural – that means, few towns and these are the district headquarters and two more taluka centres – do the farming households of Hingoli grow enough to feed themselves comfortably? Do the farming households have the labour needed to continue cultivating so that they can feed themselves and their village communities? How are choices relating to land use and crop made?

Using the publicly available information from a variety of government sources, we are able to find parts of answers. The Agricultural Census 2010-11 is one such source, the Census of India 2011 is another, so are the tables provided by the Department of Economics and Statistics of the Ministry of Agriculture. The graphical representation I have prepared here helps provide the land use basis upon which to layer the district information from other sources.

Where the farmers are in Bharat

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RG_agri_districts_201603

The Census 2011 helps us understand where the great farming populations are: Nashik, Paschim Medinipur, Ahmadnagar, Guntur, Mahbubnagar, Purba Champaran, Belgaum, Kurnool, Madhubani, Jalgaon and 90 other districts are found in this chart, which shows the relationship between the populations of farmers and the total working populations of these districts.

Many of the districts in this chart, represented by the circles (click for full resolution version), lie between the population markers of 750,000 and 1.1 million. They also lie within the percentage band of 60% to about 85%. This shows how important agriculture is – and will continue to be as long as annual budgets and five-year plans support it – for the districts that give us our staple foods.

Ten years of India’s great rural guarantee

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RG_Nrega_20160203Ten years of a rural employment guarantee programme in India is well worth marking for the transformations it has brought about in rural districts and urban towns both, for the two kinds of Indias are so closely interlinked. The ten year mark has been surrounded by opportunistic political posturing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of the ruling National Democratic Alliance and by churlish accusations from the Indian National Congress (or Congress party, now in the opposition).

When the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act came about (it is now prefixed by MG, which is Mahatma Gandhi) ten years ago, it was only the newest in a long line of rural poverty alleviation programmes whose beginnings stretch past the Integrated Rural Development Programme (still a touchstone during the Ninth Five Year Plan) whose early period dates from the 1970s as a more coherent manifestation of the ‘Food For Work’ programme. Democratic decentralisation, which is casually dropped into central government communications nowadays as if it was invented only last week, was explained at length as early as the Sixth Five Year Plan. And in the Fourth Five Year Plan, in the guidance section it was stated that measures were needed for “widening opportunities of productive work and employment to the common man and particularly the less privileged sections of society” which “have to be thought out in a number of different contexts and coordinated in to effective, integrated programmes”.

RG_MAH_nrega_4_dists

Work demand patterns in four districts (all in Maharashtra) from 2012 April to 2016 February. The cyclical nature of work demanded usually coincides with crop calendar activities in districts and sub-districts. This aspect of the MGNREGA information system can be used as a good indicator for planning by other line ministries, not only rural development. We can see the difference between the set of two districts of Akola and Gondiya, and the districts of Washim and Hingoli: the cyclical nature in the first two is more pronounced. The April to June demand is seen common, and increasing over the three years recorded by the charts.

This is only the barest glimpse of the historical precursors to the MGNREGA. The size of our rural population in the decade of the 2010s transforms any national (central government) programme into a study of gigantism over a number of dimensions, and so it is with the (MG)NREGA whose procedural demands for organising information over time and place became a discipline by itself, leading to the creation of a management information system whose levels of detail are probably unmatched anywhere in the world.

For its administrators, every week that the MGNREGA delivers money to households in a hamlet for work sanctioned by that small panchayat is one more successful week. There have over this last decade been considerably more successful weeks than unsuccessful ones. This has happened not because of politicians of whichever party of persuasion, but because of the decision made by many households to participate in the shape that NREGA (and later MGNREGA) took in their particular village. The politicians, like the parties they belong to, are incidental and transitory. At this stage of the programme’s life, it is to be hoped that it continues to run as a participatory pillar of the economy of Bharat, and assimilates in the years to come new concerns from the domains of organic (or zero budget) agriculture, sustainable development and ecological conservation.

At this stage the commentaries look back at the last year or perhaps two of the programme. “It is unclear, however, what the present NDA government thinks about the performance of the scheme,” commented the periodical Down To Earth. “Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called MGNREGA a ‘monument of failure’. Now, the rural development ministry has termed it as ‘a cause of national pride’.” The magazine went on to add that MGNREGA “started losing steam when wages were kept pending, leading to the liability being carried forward to the following year”.

“What is relatively less known is the impact of MGNREGA on several other aspects of the rural economy, such as wages, agricultural productivity and gender empowerment,” a commentary in the financial daily Mint has pointed out. “While most critics lament the quality of assets created under MGNREGA, there is now increasing evidence based on rigorous studies, which suggest that not only has the asset quality been better than comparable government programmes, they are also used more by the community.”

The finance minister has been quoted by the daily Indian Express as follows: “A kind of indifference towards it (MGNREGA) was growing by 2013-14, when the scheme entered its seventh and eighth years. When there was a change of government in 2014-15, there was talk on whether the scheme will be discontinued, or its fund allocation curtailed,” Minister Arun Jaitley is reported to have said at the MGNREGA ‘Sammelan’ in New Delhi. “The new government [the BJP] not only took forward the scheme but also increased its fund.”

In a Press Information Bureau release, the Minister for Rural Development, Birender Singh, said that 2015-16 has seen a revival of the MGNREGA programme. He also said that more than 64% of total expenditure was on agriculture and allied activities and 57% of all workers were women (well above the statutory requirement of 33%), and that among the measures responsible for the “revival of MGNREGA are the timely release of funds to states to provide work on demand, an electronic fund management system, consistent coordination between banks and post offices besides monitoring of pendency of payments”.

RG_Nrega_MAH_wages_201602So far so good. What MGNREGA administrators need to mind now is for managerial technology and methods to not get ahead (or around) the objectives of the programme because these tend to keep the poor and vulnerable out instead of the other way around. The evaluations and studies on NREGA – and there have been a number of good ones – have shown that the more new financial and administrative measures there are, the greater the decline in participation in the programme. Administrative complexity also provides fodder to those, like this pompous commentator, who try to find in data ‘evidence’ that NREGA does “not help the poor”.

The MGNREGA’s usefulness and relevance is not only about creating employment when it is needed and its generally positive impact on wages. For all its shortcomings the MGNREGA programme has also helped revitalise the need to understand labour dynamics in rural areas particularly as it pertains to agriculture and cultivation. At a time when the flashier sections of the modern economy have lost their shine (if ever there was a shine) and when the need for panchayat-led, village-centric development that is self-reliant in deed and spirit is growing in Bharat, a programme like the MGNREGA has all the potential to serve the country well for another generation.

Written by makanaka

February 3, 2016 at 19:04

Big cities, large appetites, fewer farmers

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RG_city_section_20160108

By March or April 2016 the populations of several of our smaller Class I cities (those whose populations are 100,000 and more) will pass certain marks. These marks mean little by themselves, but ought to be used by city administrations (municipal council and civic services departments) to judge for themselves how essentials are being provided for and used: food, water, sanitation, electricity, waste.

There are now 152 towns in the National Urban Information System, which is – if I have understood this national urban administration maze – under the Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small and Medium Towns (which goes by the utterly unfriendly acronym of UIDSSMT). This is described as: “a component of JNNURM. The Mission aims to encourage reforms and  fast track urban infrastructure and services delivery, community participation, accountability of ULBs/parastatal agency towards citizens.”

As you can see, the Ministry of Urban Development likes dreadful acronyms, and likes keywords such as ‘component’, ‘reform’, ‘fast track’, ‘services’, ‘infrastructure’, ‘PPP’ and anything else that sounds large, technical and expensive.

The JNNURM which got all this going in the first place (the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission) turned ten years old in December 2015. Its ideas, assumptions and performance ought to have come under careful scrutiny at least on this occasion. It didn’t because there’s so much else to be distracted by when it comes to smartening up cities and towns in India these days.

The JNNURM favoured 65 cities for what it called a “higher level of resources and management attention” and with typical confusion also said these 65 ‘mission cities’ are under the Urban Infrastructure and Governance (UIG) programme. But, as I have written about here earlier, there are many towns in India whose populations are growing quickly, because of which ‘services’, ‘infrastructure’ and more modest levels of ‘resources and management attention’ all become programmes (with complicated balance sheets, naturally).

And so we have the Smart Cities Mission and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) – I’m still working out how it fits together with everything else going on in the Ministry of Urban Development.

Here’s what the officialese says: “Smart Cities Mission is based on the idea of developing the entire urban eco-system on the principles of complete and integrated planning.” Leaving aside the question of whether non-Smart cities (and towns) are destined to remain unsmart and unacronymed, 100 cities have been selected to become smart.

Nor is that all. There is an Urban Rejuvenation Mission (which goes by the, erm, unprepossessing acronym of URM) which the ministry says it is finalising which seems to have very much to do with infrastructure development, but on a much larger canvas of 500 cities, “to be implemented over a period of 10 years from 2014-15 to 2023-24”.

Nowhere in this plethora of programmes and schemes and grand visions have I seen anything that remotely refers to foodstuffs that city populations need, every day, week, month and year.

And so to return to March or April 2016 when the populations of several of our smaller Class I cities (those whose populations are 100,000 and more) will pass certain marks. Using the 2001-2011 decadal growth rates for the urban centres, and adjusting for lower growth rates for the most recent three years (to account for factors such as fewer work opportunities in these centres, rising urban costs of survival compared with the slower increase in wages for informal work, and the benefits of the MGNREGA, here is a summary that shows the sort of change we continue to see in towns and cities.

Chhindwara and Guna in Madhya Pradesh, Nabadwip in West Bengal, Bhusawal in Maharashtra, and Modinagar and Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh will all have reached or crossed the mark of 200,000 residents. Likewise, Vadakara in Kerala, Ganganagar in Rajasthan, Haldwani in Uttarakhand, and Karur, Udhagamandalam and (all three in Tamil Nadu) will all have reached or crossed the mark of 250,000 residents. And moreover Farrukhabad-Fatehgarh in Uttar Pradesh, Satna in Madhya Pradesh, Jalna in Maharashtra and Navsari in Gujarat will all have reached or crossed the mark of 300,000 residents.

What is the impact of these increases in the populations of these cities? Using the recommended dietary allowance (prescribed by the National Institute of Nutrition) this is what the population increases mean for the provision of food essentials. Every day in 2016, Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh will need 92 tons of cereals, 8 tons of pulses and 20 tons of vegetables. Compared with the city’s needs in 2001 (when the previous census was done) Sitapur will consume 23 tons more of cereals, 2 tons more of pulses and 5 tons more of vegetables – every day.

In the same way, every day in 2016 Navsari in Gujarat will need 137 tons of cereals, 12 tons of pulses and 29 tons of vegetables. Compared with the city’s needs in 2001 Navsari will consume 31 tons more of cereals, 3 tons more of pulses and 7 tons more of vegetables – every day. Then there is Hosur in Tamil Nadu which every day in 2016 will need 115 tons of cereals, 10 tons of pulses and 25 tons of vegetables. Compared with the city’s needs in 2001 Hosur will consume 77 tons more of cereals, 7 tons more of pulses and 17 tons more of vegetables – every day.

This is an indication of the food dimension of the population change that we are seeing – of ever greater quantities of the bare essentials being needed, but fewer agriculturists and cultivators – that is, fewer farming households growing these and other food essentials in their fields – remaining to support nearby (and distant) urban populations.

These equations are simple enough to understand for the Smart city lot, the JNNURM technocrats and the engineers and financiers running the PPP treadmills. Why then hasn’t daily food budgets of our towns and cities made it to the top of the urban renewal charts of India?

The worth of an agricultural wage day

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Being unorganised, rural and particularly agricultural labour constitutes a relatively vulnerable segment of the work force. Rural and agricultural labour is generally deprived of the benefits of collective bargaining and lacks the protection of labour enactments which their counterparts in the organised sectors of the economy can fall back upon during times of work uncertainty, or calculated mismanagement. Agricultural labourers however have to live with casual employment, frequent changes of employers as well as places and wide fluctuations in the pay.

All-India average daily wage rates in agricultural occupations during 2014-2015 for children, women and men. Based on data compiled by the Labour Bureau, Ministry of Labour, Government of India

All-India average daily wage rates in agricultural occupations during 2014-2015 for children, women and men. Based on data compiled by the Labour Bureau, Ministry of Labour, Government of India

Farming remains at the centre of rural Indian life, even as more men and women today seek out non-farm work. Using data from the MGNREGA records, the proportion of men aged 15–59 working solely in agriculture fell from 41% in 2004–05 to 31% in 2011–12. The decline for women was smaller, from 40% to 35%. Many men and women combine farm work with non-farm labour, whether or not they participate in MGNREGA.

The labour scenario in a rural area is influenced by a number of factors such as its topography, natural resources, population growth, pressure on land, level of economic development, level of utilisation of resources and the institutional factors, namely, land tenure systems and inheritance laws.

Rural wages are considered to have risen steadily between 2004–05 and 2011–12, but the increase has been greater at higher wage levels compared with lower levels. MGNREGA records show that men’s daily wages for agricultural work grew by 50% between 2004–05 and 2011–12, women’s by 47%. Overall, growth in rural wages is higher in states and districts whose populations have greater participation in MGNREGA but it is important to note that MGNREGA plays only a modest role in wage increases.

Taking national averages, about a quarter of rural households participate in the programme, about 60% of these would like to work more days but are can’t get MGNREGA work. This widespread ‘rationing’ of work affects about 29% of all rural households, but percentages vary between regions. Households in the lowest income quintile worked only 23 days a year when they were allocated work.

The information base on the working and living conditions of this segment of labour market is scanty. The only major source of reliable information on socio-economic conditions of the rural labour is the Rural Labour Enquiry conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) every five years. Consumer Price Index Numbers for Agricultural and Rural Labourers, released by the Bureau every month, provides a basis for minimum wages in agriculture under the Minimum Wages Act,1948.

Written by makanaka

December 31, 2015 at 23:50

To localise and humanise India’s urban project

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Cities and towns have outdated and inadequate master plans that are unable to address the needs of inhabitants. Photo: Rahul Goswami (2013)

Cities and towns have outdated and inadequate master plans that are unable to address the needs of inhabitants. Photo: Rahul Goswami (2013)

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 partspart one may be read here, part two is found here, part three is here and this is part four:

The reason they pursue this objective in so predatory a manner is the potential of GDP being concentrated – their guides, the international management consulting companies (such as McKinsey, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, Deloitte, Ernst and Young, Accenture and so on), have determined India’s unique selling proposition to the world for the first half of the 21st century. It runs like this: “Employment opportunities in urban cities will prove to be a catalyst for economic growth, creating 70% of net new jobs while contributing in excess of 70% to India’s GDP.” Naturally, the steps required to ensure such a concentration of people and wealth-making capacity include building new urban infrastructure (and rebuilding what exists, regardless of whether it serves the ward populations or not).

"Employment opportunities in urban cities will prove to be a catalyst for economic growth" is the usual excuse given for the sort of built superscale seen in this metro suburb. Photo: Rahul Goswami (2013)

“Employment opportunities in urban cities will prove to be a catalyst for economic growth” is the usual excuse given for the sort of built superscale seen in this metro suburb. Photo: Rahul Goswami (2013)

The sums being floated today for achieving this camouflaged subjugation of urban populations defy common sense, for any number between Rs 5 million crore and Rs 7 million crore is being proposed, since an “investment outlay will create a huge demand in various core and ancillary sectors causing a multiplier effect through inter-linkages between 254 industries including those in infrastructure, logistics and modern retail… it will help promote social stability and economic equality through all-round development of urban economic centres and shall improve synergies between urban and rural centres”.

Tiers of overlapping programmes and a maze of controls via agencies shaded in sombre government hues to bright private sector colours are already well assembled and provided governance fiat to realise this ‘transformation’, as every government since the Tenth Plan has called it (the present new government included). For all the academic originality claimed by a host of new urban planning and habitat research institutes in India (many with faculty active in the United Nations circuits that gravely discuss the fate of cities; for we have spawned a new brigade of Indian – though not Bharatiya – urban studies brahmins adept at deconstructing the city but ignorant of such essentials as ward-level food demand), city planning remains a signal failure.

Typically, democratisation and self-determination is permitted only in controlled conditions. Photo: Rahul Goswami (2013)

Typically, democratisation and self-determination is permitted only in controlled conditions. Photo: Rahul Goswami (2013)

Other than the metropolitan cities and a small clutch of others (thanks to the efforts of a few administrative individuals who valued humanism above GDP), cities and towns have outdated and inadequate master plans that are unable to address the needs of city inhabitants in general (and of migrants in particular). These plans, where they exist, are technically prepared and bureaucratically envisioned with little involvement of citizens, and so the instruments of exclusion have been successfully transferred to the new frameworks that determine city-building in India.

Democratisation and self-determination is permitted only in controlled conditions and with ‘deliverables’ and ‘outcomes’ attached – organic ward committees and residents groups that have not influenced the vision and text of a city master plan have even less scope today to do so inside the maze of technocratic and finance-heavy social re-engineering represented by the JNNURM, RAY, UIDSSMT, BSUP, IHSDP and NULM and all their efficiently bristling sub-components. The rights of inhabitants to a comfortable standard of life that does not disturb environmental limits, to adequate and affordable housing, to safe and reliable water and sanitation, to holistic education and healthcare, and most of all the right to alter their habitats and processes of administration according to their needs, all are circumscribed by outside agencies.

Managed socialisation in our cities and towns must give way to organic groups. Photo: Rahul Goswami (2013)

Managed socialisation in our cities and towns must give way to organic groups. Photo: Rahul Goswami (2013)

It is not too late to find remedies and corrections. “As long as the machinery is the same, if we are simply depending on the idealism of the men at the helm, we are running a grave risk. The Indian genius has ever been to create organisations which are impersonal and are self-acting. Mere socialisation of the functions will not solve our problem.” So J C Kumarappa had advised (the Kumarappa Papers, 1939-46) about 80 years ago, advice that is as sensible in the bastis of today as it was to the artisans and craftspeople of his era.

For the managed socialisation of the urbanisation project to give way to organic groups working to build the beginnings of simpler ways in their communities will require recognition of these elements of independence now. It is the localisation of our towns and cities that can provide a base for reconstruction when existing and planned urban systems fail. Today some of these are finding ‘swadeshi’ within a consumer-capitalist society that sees them as EWS, LIG and migrants, and it is their stories that must guide urban India.

[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.]

May Day 2015

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Garment workers take part in a protest calling on the government to raise wages during a march to mark Labour Day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Garment workers take part in a protest calling on the government to raise wages during a march to mark Labour Day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

All the substantial issues confronting the working class today — the rapid growth of social inequality, a tattered veneer of ‘democracy’ behind which ever more rapacious forms of neo-liberal economics rule over peoples and the environment, the explosion of police violence within countries (as in the USA) and of armed conflict between countries and regions — all these are bound up with the struggle against new forms of dominance.

The dangers of war loom more menacing today than they did in 1914 and in 1939. But for many workers in many countries on this May Day in 2015, war has never gone away. It persists because of the division of the world into what are called competing economies (as if ‘country’ and ‘economy’ are synonymous: they are nothing of the kind). On May Day, the subordination of the productive forces of households, families, communities and villages to the corporate and financial elite is protested and revoked.

Workers carry banners with messages in support of workers' rights during a march to mark Labour Day in Yangon, Burma (left). Members of the Group of the National Confederation of Trade Unions, raise their fists and shout slogans during their annual May Day rally in Tokyo.

Workers carry banners with messages in support of workers’ rights during a march to mark Labour Day in Yangon, Burma (left). Members of the Group of the National Confederation of Trade Unions, raise their fists and shout slogans during their annual May Day rally in Tokyo.

The world of work has been reshaped by globalisation. Today, much of global trade involves global buyers and suppliers, which has implications for workers’ welfare. Multinational enterprises source from a network of suppliers, who, in turn, compete with one another to obtain business. The task of providing compensation is therefore left to the supplier of the product or service, who is under considerable pressure with regard to the wages and conditions they can offer workers.

There are no mechanisms within the political system (there are scant differences between political systems installed today, for their methods are so similar) through which any of the grievances of the vast majority of the population can find expression. These democratic demands should be linked to programmes that advances the social rights of the working class. Chief amongst these must be a massive redistribution of wealth, which has been snatched away by what is mockingly called the ‘market’, itself a ghastly amalgam of banks, technocrats, commodity speculators, global finance capital, lobbyists and consultants, the multi-lateral lending organisations (like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank), and all their cronies and cabals fostered by politicians.

Technological advancements and the expansion of the internet have caused temporal and physical distances to vanish. They have accelerated sweeping and damaging changes in the organisation of production and work. There has been a growth in the number of hours that enterprises operate (24 by 7 has become a household term) and therefore in the times when workers at all levels of service and production must be available to work. If they are not they are summarily sacked, fired, dismissed.

Protesters from the trade union PAME hold red flags during the May Day rally in front of the parliament building in Athens, Greece (left). People march in Moscow marking Labour Day.

Protesters from the trade union PAME hold red flags during the May Day rally in front of the parliament building in Athens, Greece (left). People march in Moscow marking Labour Day.

Since the 1980s, but especially in the 2010s, under the pressures of ‘competition’ but in fact as a strategy to create an ever-greater pool of consumers who are otherwise disenfranchised, companies and corporations run by the financial puppeteers have demanded greater flexibility in production and organisation. This has abandoned the traditional employment relationship which, for all its faults, has been one that has survived the Modern Era. It was the basis for labour protection measures. No longer. Non-standard employment arrangements have become common features in what are now cynically called labour markets, no matter where they are – Argentina, Micronesia, Scandinavia, sub-Saharan Africa. Work has become unstable and frighteningly insecure for families. Work has in fact been deliberately caused to become chronically unpredictable.

A concerted assault on the domination of our societies by this putrid but dangerous financial aristocracy is needed. For this enemy is determined to maintain its stranglehold through violence and through the punishment of poverty. This grip over our economic and political lives must be broken, for only when our societies are based on public ownership and democratic control of the forces of production and the means with which to safeguard ecology, natural resources and cultural values can genuine ‘development’ (a grossly abused term) take place.

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.]