Delhi: External Beauty, Internal Suffering

Delhi has been going all out in its effort to clean-up the city, in the run up to the Commonwealth Games, to be hosted in the capital in 2010. Take for instance the goal of making the national capital beggar-free. It seems like a fairly high-tech intervention – with video cameras and biometric fingerprint scanners and all this to keep the beggars off the street [via Business Standard]

Intensifying the anti-begging campaign in Delhi, authorities have picked around 100 beggars, including women and children, in the last three days and sent them to the homes meant for their rehabilitation.

He said the beggars are being produced before respective magistrates and to prove their case the department have done videography of the beggars seeking alms. “To ensure that the beggars do not start begging again, we are taking their finger-prints through bio-metric system installed at the beggars’ homes,” he said.

However, there seems to be little information on what would be done to rehabilitate the beggars. May be some of this advanced technology can be used to help the beggars re-build their lives. I guess the external beauty of the nation’s capital matters, but at the same time, the merits of technocratic initiatives like this are quite questionable. Initiatives such as these do not address the root-cause of the problem, and actually cause more pain for people who have already been subjected to extreme suffering. Well, at least the city will look pretty!

TC-I Tidbits

  • Health:
    • Soon, every mother that registers at a primary health center will receive a smart card with their photo ID that tracks the medical history of their family.
    • India is among the worst hit by the health worker shortage that is occurring around the world. Moreover, the gap between urban and rural areas is even wider. According to the article, “a Planning Commission document had recently said India was short of six lakh doctors, 10 lakh nurses and two lakh dental surgeons. For every 10,000 Indians, there was one doctor.”
  • Education: The Government of India is planning to set up seven Regional Innovation Science Hubs for Inventors (RISHI) to promote innovation and encourage youngsters to take up a career in science and technology. [Source: iGovernment]
  • Housing: Over the next five years, over 500,000 low-rent homes will be built in the Mumbai metropolitan area under the Slum Prevention Programme.

Forget Goa, Dharavi is the new tourist hot spot

The Times of India carried an interesting piece this morning, by Brigida Viggiano, who chronicles her experience as a slum tourist venturing into Mumbai’s famous slum – Dharavi. You can add it to your list of things to do in your next trip to India, the ” The Dharavi walk” would cost Rs. 800 (which ironically also includes air-conditioned transfers to and from the entrance of the slum)

Honestly, I was slightly disgusted when I first heard about this global phenomenon (other slum tourist hot spots include Rio, South Africa and Mexico City). Having spent a couple of my weekends in Dharavi during my stint in Mumbai, I come to believe that the tourists are (hopefully) interested in seeing a little more than the pathetic living conditions. The article for instance mentions the unique economic aspects of the slum:

There were two figures that Girish kept repeating during the tour: 10,000, which is the number of small-scale industries operating in Dharavi, and USD 665 million, which is the annual turnover Dharavi’s residents are estimated to generate. What thrilled me the most, personally, was that I could not find even one person who wasn’t working: the slum dwellers were so engrossed that most failed to even notice that a group of foreign tourists was in their midst.

What also changed my perception of ‘slum tourism’ a little-bit is also the words by a member of an organization working in Dharavi for thirty years, quoted in the piece

I asked her whether she thought her slum-dwellers would have been offended by tourists walking around their houses. Her answer was rather surprising: “Sometimes people come with us to see what a slum means and how we work to improve living conditions. Slum-dwellers are already used to and, indeed, even welcome visitors, since they want them to understand how things have changed over the last few years. They want to shed the label of ‘slum-dweller’ or rather the negative connotation it has.”

So, whats your take on ‘Slum Tourism’. Is it an innovative idea that could bring about better living conditions in these communities or just a smart entrepreneur making some money?

Recycling and Redevelopment

BBC’s One Planet focuses on Dharavi, a Mumbai slum that is the largest in Asia, and the thriving recycling industry that resides within its streets. With the “Vision Mumbai” plan to revitalize the city by 2013, however, shelters in Dharavi will be demolished to make way for high-rises. The redevelopment project will have a ripple effect on how the currently unorganized, but effective, recycling system in the city works.

The case presents a lot of paradoxes. On the one hand, redevelopment is a step forward because proper infrastructure can be built. On the other hand, the slum dwellers will probably be displaced and the government will most likely fail to properly rehabilitate them into new homes. Additionally, there is the paradox of the recycling industry. With the demolition of Dharavi comes the demolition of an active informal economy. In the article, slum residents claim that waste will now lie in the streets of Mumbai, while other environmentalists say that destroying the informal economy is good because it paves the way for proper recycling infrastructure.

These themes of displacement, rehabilitation, and restructuring informal economies are quite common in India. The challenge comes in finding a balance for all stakeholders and working with (or around?) government policies. New and innovative ways forward are needed since current solutions do not provide satisfying outcomes – especially, as in this case, for more marginalized populations.

TC-I Tidbits

Here is your daily dose of headlines about innovative or anti-innovative ideas from around the country:

  • Microfinance
    • ACCESS Development Services and Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development will work to build cooperation between Europe and India to assist 20 MFIs in the country.
    • SKS Microfinance and Bajaj Allianz will form a partnership to provide clients with insurance products.
    • Standard Chartered expects to ramp up its investment in Indian MFIs.
  • Global Trends
    • The lure of high salaries and chance of returning home has encouraged many non-returning Indians to become returning ones.
  • Central Government
    • Power Generation and Transmission
      • In order to address load demands between the two countries, India and Sri Lanka will build a power line between them to help each deal with supply shortages.
      • The centre’s support for private initiatives to produce and provide hydro-electric power has come under scrutiny for whether only the wealthy have enjoyed access to the energy.
      • The government also presented its report on the safety of its proposed civilian nuclear program at the Convention on Nuclear Safety.
    • Climate Change
      • Pushing forward on the way the country will tackle global warming, the federal government looked to split up the effort into three parts.
  • State and Local Governments
    • Andhra Pradesh
    • Maharashtra
      • Education: Proposed rules will prohibit private school teachers from providing tuitions outside of the classroom, in order to eliminate the chance that these teachers favor these tutees over their own students.
    • Pune
      • Health: A NGO here utilizes pets to bring about emotional stimulation in autistic children.
    • Visakhapatnam
      • Housing: The ‘Rajiv Swagruha’ scheme has finally become a reality — promising the ability to own housing for over 10,000 applicants has begun, with the first acquisition of land by the city.

Evening Edition

Just a few headlines for this evening:

  • Health: Another Planning Commission report reveals that India faces a shortage of doctors and nurses, but that the private sector can help remedy this issue, and accordingly, plan to set up hundreds of new medical education institutions as a public private partnership.
  • Energy: IT companies often consume a large amount of energy, especially in their data cooling centres. This has led to the creation of green data centres that handle data with “maximum energy efficiency and minimal environmental impact.”
  • Housing: The Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation approved 696 projects aimed at achieving holistic slum development by providing adequate shelter and basic infrastructure facilities to urban slum dwellers.

Apply for the 2008 YouthActionNet Fellowship

From the YouthActionNet Website:

Each year, YouthActionNet selects 20 young social entrepreneurs to
participate in its Global Fellowship Program. These accomplished young
leaders are distinguished by their records for success in achieving
positive change in their communities, by their innovative approaches,
and by their ability to mobilize their peers and community members in
support of their social change visions.

The program is open to all young people between the ages of 18 and 29.
Applicants should be founders of existing projects/organizations or
leading a project within an organization. Proficiency in English is
required; applications must be submitted in English. Applicants also
must be available to attend the full retreat, November 1-8, 2008, in
Washington, D.C.

One of the 2007 fellows is Abhishek Bharadwaj, the founder of Alternative Realities. Here is a note from explaining what the organization does:

Alternative Realities was started by Abhishek Bharadwaj in Mumbai to
address issues of identity, health, livelihood and shelter for the
homeless people in Mumbai. Using diverse methodologies such as street
theatre, studies, survey and research, Abhishek and his volunteers
sensitize the civil society towards the issue, negotiate with other
organizations and institutions to use their existing infrastructure as
night shelters, and arrange access to medical facilities for the

Abhishek Bharadwaj did not look for a job after he graduated from the
Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in 2004. Instead, he spent
time with homeless people living on the streets, under bridges, and in
makeshift shelters in Mumbai, India. According to him, Mumbai has at
least 100,000 homeless people.