Open Space

Free To Stop Being Poor

The Huffington Post, 31 August 2015

What is the difference between the rich and the poor? Some say, it is not so grand. On a daily basis, poor individuals face a set of constraints. Alleviate those constraints, and they will behave–make choices for themselves and their families–just like the rich do. This contrasts with the view that somebody else (preferably rich and foreign) must make good decisions for the poor. It empowers those whom development lingo calls “beneficiaries.”

In line with this understanding, part of the assistance to the poor has started coming as no-strings-attached cash, instead of mosquito nets or used sneakers. Researchers have studied the fact that the poor are extraordinarily stressed out, all the time. Relieving some of that mental burden, they saw, helps them wrangle savings and jobs much better. Political regimes that deny citizens economic, political, and other rights have been condemned as incompatible with long-term growth and development. The refrain goes like this: The poor could surely use some help. In particular, removing obstacles to their own success would be very helpful.

If certain obstacles act as poverty magnets, what are some apt ways to remove them? Unconditional cash transfers can be useful. They simultaneously eliminate a financial constraint and relieve emotional pressure. However, not everyone in need receives those, and the timings can be very ad-hoc. Presumably, the policies of one’s own government are a comprehensive way to make the poors’ lives easier. Local leaders are closest to the problem and their actions cause direct impact. Yet, leaving aside cruelly autocratic regimes, even a well-meaning government’s policy could turn out more restrictive than freeing and make it harder to escape poverty.

Parth J. Shah, economist and founding president of New Delhi’s Centre for Civil Society, researches restrictive economic policies as an artificial hurdle for the poor. The licenses required to be micro entrepreneurs–street hawkers or cycle rickshaw drivers–are one such policy. A government might be aiming for better quality of goods and services, or for improved urban space management. But if the licensing process is tedious, corrupt, or the government office is overflowing with applications — illegal businesses will flourish instead.

A street vendor or a rickshaw driver without a license is a rather benign part of a developing country’s economy. For the entrepreneurs themselves, this situation is far from benign. Shah points out that frequent police raids always keep unlicensed hawkers on their toes. Their stock of goods cannot be larger than what they can gather at a moment’s notice and still make a swift escape. Their business, he says, can never grow “beyond the reach of their arms.” Even after paying the monthly bribes to the police, the hawkers remain illegal. It is this illegality or informality that keeps the size of their business the size of their arms’ reach, and forces them to live a life of subsistence. The “License Raj,” as Indians call it, was removed for the formal sector but remains destructive for the micro entrepreneurs.

Another example is environmental policies, which are costly for everyone but most painful for the poor. Removing old taxicabs from the road with one sweeping legislation reduces pollution. As a bonus, it also helps passengers move on to cushier seats and air conditioning. But in one sweeping gesture it also takes away a heap of jobs and assets. In Mumbai, a law passed in 2013 made illegal all of its iconic Premier Padmini taxis past 20 years of age. This cars are spacious and sturdy, but also not very comfortable and long discontinued. In 2013 most black-and-yellow Padmini taxis were at or around the cutoff age. Their number on the road dropped from 10,000-11,000 when the legislation passed to only 1,500 by 2015. None of the professions affiliated with the soon-to-be-extinct car are very financially secure. That includes drivers, but also mechanics, parts dealers, and even makers of the infamous stickers to fit the car’s rear window. (For the latter think bumper-sticker slogans, but instead of a neutral “Proud pet owner” or “Harvard University parent” here you have “Love is sweet poison” and “Don’t miss me”). All members of this Padmini economy will now have to reinvent their livelihoods. Junkyards are the only small Mumbai businesses to benefit — Premier Padmini parts are versatile enough to fit other cars. But that will only last a short while, until all Padminis retire.

Real, small, struggle-filled livelihoods are the theme of Jeevika: Asia Livelihood Documentary Festival, an annual festival by New Delhi’s Centre for Civil Society. Its slogan is “Lift Licenses, Lift Lives!” Jeevika is in its 12th year of chronicling the narratives of the poor who make a living among limiting policies and regulations. “Padmini My Love” told the story of the retiring bee-colored taxi at the 2014 festival and won best student documentary award. Other films put the spotlight on farmer widows, street performers, garbage pickers, surrogate mothers, and more.

In 2015, Jeevika invites creative submissions from all Asian countries until September 15th. The screening will take place in New Delhi on October 30th, 31st, and November 1st. Through film, Jeevika hopes to help viewers understand and support the struggle for livelihood freedom, the struggle out of poverty.

Source: The Huffington Post



Informal workers, making up 90% of workforce, won’t get a good deal till netas notice them

In a room of a jhuggi colony in Delhi, women sit around, painstakingly snipping extra threads off newly-minted denims, made by a large multinational. The company making these jeans has outsourced the cleaning up work to contractors, who, in turn, have farmed out the job to these women. The women do not earn a fixed salary. Instead, they are paid a few rupees for every piece of garment that they clean up.

If they, or their kids, fall ill and they take the day off, they earn nothing. They get no medical benefits, insurance, pension or Diwali bonus. They are India’s informal sector: a vast workforce that powers the economy, but flies under the radar of each and every political party. The courier who rings your doorbell with the books you ordered online is an informal sector worker, likely hired on a contract and liable to be fired at a moment’s notice.

Construction workers, among the most hazardous jobs anywhere in the world, fall in this category, as do private security guards, household help, drivers of cabs, dabbawalas, presswalas, shoe shines and the chhotuswho scurry around teashops serving tea and cleaning up the bartans.

The informal worker is so ubiquitous that we’ve stopped noticing her. Just how large is India’s informal economy? This year, Neelkanth Mishra, chief strategist at brokerage Credit Suisse (CS), and his team tried to answer this question.

Their report, published in July, offers a stunning conclusion: half of India’s $1.85-trillion economy is informal. With 55%, only sub-Saharan Africa has a larger unorganised economy than India’s.

And it is possible that much of sub-Saharan Africa doesn’t have much of an organised sector anyway. The average of most transition economies, or emerging markets, is a little over 20%. This below-radar economy is mostly urban: concentrated in the big cities, but widespread in smaller towns and mohallas as well. CS reckons that as much as 84% of the non-farm workforce in India is informal.

No Sweat over Sweatshops

Once you think about it, this seems obvious. Formal workers work for companies or governments, the vast majority of Indians don’t. India’s businesses, like the sweatshop cutting loose threads from jeans, are also largely informal.

According to the CS study, only 13% of industrial companies and 12% of materials businesses are listed. That’s a quarter of all enterprises. So, 75% of all businesses in India fall in the unlisted and informal category. Mishra and his team also say that over time, Indian companies have started hiring fewer and fewer formal workers, even though the number of companies has been shooting up. Based on the periodic Economic Censuses of the government, they show that in 1980, India had 19 million enterprises, with each employing around three people.

By 2005, the number of companies had increased to more than 40 million, but by now, each employed only 2.4 people. So, informal workers perform the additional new tasks on hand. Given all this, Mishra and his team believe that India’s GDP is badly underestimated, perhaps by as much as 15%. Hence, they believe that there are big investment opportunities in companies with exposure to the informal economy.

There are large political possibilities to be tapped here as well. Workplace safety is unheard of: for example, women working in brick kilns have unusually high levels of urinary tract infections, possibly the result of working long hours in intense heat, with little downtime and scarce drinking water. There are no welfare measures, or holidays. Informal workers have no bargaining power with their employers.

Onsite accidents or deaths go largely unreported, with meagre compensations paid out to family. Even in organised manufacturing, workers get only a few minutes off per shift to go to toilets or eat.

All this can change for the better with sustained political campaigns. But parties have to first take note of the vast informal sector as a vote bank within their reach. Narendra Modi campaigns only in cities and towns. With his burqas and skullcaps, his is a broad-brush communal rant. Rahul Gandhi campaigns only in villages. He speaks in terms of broad-brush welfarism.

No Account in Vote Bank

Mayawati speaks to her Dalit and downtrodden brethren. The DMK and AIDMK talk of Tamil pride. Akhilesh Yadav broke with his father’s socialism, spoke of laptops and bicycles, and has turned out a dud. Mamata Banerjee rouses her Trinamool hordes to frenzy with talk of Ma, Mati, Manush. Nitish Kumar says he deserves special treatment from the Centre. Naveen Patnaik does not speak.

Nobody has bothered to address something right under their noses: the largely urban, informal economy and its denizens. So, where does that leave nearly 90% of the Indian workforce that produces half its economy? It leaves them leaderless and abandoned. It’s as if informal equals invisible. Yet, they will also vote on polling day. It’s time our leaders noticed them.

Source: The Economic Times



Tribals finally get land rights, using GPS technology

Last week I visited tribal areas in Gujarat to see how technology and an activist NGO could empower once-powerless tribals to get their full land rights under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

The Act provided for land titles to be given to tribal plots in cultivation in December 2005. Earlier, government takeover of forests had converted forest dwellers into encroachers on land they had occupied for centuries. Their villages and farms were always at risk of demolition by forest departments. The Act was supposed to end this inequity. Many state governments soon claimed, falsely, that they had implemented the Act, empowering lakhs. In fact implementation was terrible. No proper maps or land records existed in most areas. Semi-literate villagers were supposed to fill long forms and file claims. Forest Departments contemptuously vetoed most claims.

Under the Act, gram sabhas certified which plots were cultivated by individual families in 2005, and forwarded the documents to the state government. But 128,000 of the 182,000 claims filed in Gujarat were fully or partly rejected. Even in the accepted cases, only part of the claimed area was approved. ARCH (Action Research in Community Health and Development) and other NGOs appealed to the High Court. The Court pulled up the state government and decreed a review of claims, allowing many sorts of evidence (including panchnamas, case records, official receipts and satellite images from Google Earth as well as the National Remote Sensing Agency) to establish ownership.

This opened the path for redress. Yet the traditional survey method of triangulation to establish the boundaries and area of each farm plot was onerous. Then ARCH came up with the idea of using GPS (global positioning system) hand-held devices costing Rs 12,000 apiece. Holding a GPS device, a tribal simply walked around the perimeter of his plot and pressed some buttons. The device automatically sketched a map of his farm, with the right latitude and longitude and exact area.

This enabled every family to produce a map of its holding, and get it verified by the gram sabha. All individual maps were then superimposed on a satellite image of the village dating from 2005 (the deadline under the Act). This produced a detailed map showing the exact size and ownership of every plot. Land disputes arose if two villagers walked over the same area, and disputes were settled by the gram sabha before certification. Any encroachment on forest land after 2005 showed up clearly after superimposing today’s maps on the 2005 satellite image. This assuaged the Forest Department’s fears.

Thus a simple technology promoted by activist NGO provided a quick, elegant solution. The overall village map was then uploaded onto the internet, empowering any villager to go to an internet café in a nearby town and print out a copy. This ended tribal dependence for land documentation on government departments or NGOs. Tribals are willing to pay Rs 60 to ARCH for this service, roughly enough to cover all costs. So, the project can be expanded without limit with no subsidy or donations.

The new approach yielded far better outcomes. When tribals re-filed claims using these maps and additional evidence like panchnamas and receipts, government acceptance of claims went up to 61 out of 63 in one village, and 96 out of 112 in another. ARCH hopes to average 90% success. Early project villages are training their neighbours in using GPS, speeding up tribal capacity. The project has so far covered 150 tribal villages, just one-tenth of the total. It may take 18 months to cover all villages.

The Gujarat tribals say formal ownership makes a huge difference. They are no longer treated as encroachers, and so are entitled to all government schemes for agriculture, including land leveling and well digging on their lands under MNREGA. Earlier, the forest department banned the entry of tractors into forest land. But after getting ownership recognition, tribals say they use tractors on 90% of plots, because these are faster and cheaper than bullock ploughing. They want to modernize fast.

There is an urgent need to spread this approach to all forested states. The Liberty Institute and ARCH are trying to do so (see www.fra.righttoproperty.org) by contacting NGOs everywhere. Some Marxist and “romantic pastoralist” NGOs oppose the very notion of individual plots, or of modernizing tribals. But less ideological NGOs are co-operating . A massive country-wide effort is needed to empower of millions of tribals, making them masters of their own plots and community land.

The same GPS technology could be used to help update land records across India. This may require prior work on dispute settlement, since disputes are furious and widespread. Still, the methodology has much potential.

Source: swaminomics.org



Ministry of environment and forests wants states to free bamboo grown on private land

NAGPUR: Considering the role of bamboo in livelihood security and its ecological importance, the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has urged all states and union territories not to require transit pass (TP) for transporting bamboo grown on private lands.

At present, no permission or licence is needed to grow bamboo on private land. However, permission is needed from revenue department followed by a TP from forest department to transport it. In a letter to all principal secretaries (forests) on May 14, 2013, the MoEF has asked them to revisit these requirements. The MoEF has said bamboo represented very important group of plants that provide ecological, economic and livelihood security to a large number of forest dependent communities.

It further said bamboo had multiple uses from construction material, handicraft and furniture making, raw material for paper and pulp industry and as food. It also has a very important role in addressing climate change concerns in addition to providing safety net and building resilience of forest dependent communities who are most vulnerable to climate change.

MoEF said, in this light there was an urgent need to encourage planting of bamboos in areas outside forests including private lands. The Centre was promoting bamboo plantations through various schemes with the involvement of public, especially in rural areas. The ministry received suggestions from various quarters for considering exemption of bamboo grown on private lands from requirement of felling and transit pass permissions in order to encourage farmers and other land owners for taking up bamboo plantations in a big way.

To ensure success of these efforts, it was important to provide enabling environment that includes a simplified regulatory regime so that the interest of growers could be sustained. MoEF said some states had already freed bamboo grown on private land and it had yielded good results.

However, experts cautioned that the issue needed to be handled with care. When illicit felling from forests was rampant, bamboo taken from forests could easily be passed as one from private land. Already a lot of damage had been done by those extracting bamboo illegally from sanctuaries and parks and reserve forests, they said.

Praveen Pardeshi, principal secretary (forests), said, “we have removed the condition of TP on bamboo grown on private land across the state, except in nine districts of Vidarbha where bamboo in forest may be illicitly felled and mixed with bamboo grown in farms. As of now, no state has removed all TP restrictions.”

“We are examining how to identify farm bamboo from forest bamboo, so bamboo could be freed in remaining nine districts too,” Pardeshi added.

Source: The Times of India



Vendors apprehensive about Street Vendors Bill

Some of legislations on the cards is the issuing of vending certificates to the nearly one crore street vendors in the country.

From eatables to fruit juices, soft toys to precious stones, garments to iron tools – you name the product and street vendors in the city are selling it. But useful as they are, there is no legislation yet to provide immunity to the vendor community.

However, a Bill is waiting in the wings to provide resistance and existence to street vendors. Approved by the Union Cabinet, the Street Vendors (Protection and Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill, 2013 awaits a Parliamentary nod.

A brainchild of the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI), the Bill aims at enhancing the rights of street vendors. Among the important legislations on the cards is the issuing of vending certificates to the nearly one crore street vendors in the country. This would help to give them an identity as well as protect them from harassment by law enforcement agencies.

The Bill also endeavours to put in place a strong grievance redressal mechanism for the vendor community. It proposes the setting up of Town Vending Committees (TVCs) which will be responsible for deciding vending zones and the number of vendors that each zone should have. The TVCs will have to conduct at least one survey every five years to keep a close check on the number of vendors. To prevent exploitation, transfer of vending certificates will be prohibited, hence ensuring that only vendors themselves can have access to them.

With an estimate of around two lakh street vendors in Delhi, different opinions were expressed by vendors when asked about the Bill. Shivam Kumar, who operates in INA market and has some idea about the Bill said, “I read about the Bill in the newspapers, it would really help street vendors like us, if passed. More importantly it would save us from the police and local authorities.” The Bill ensures that the police cannot exercise Sections 283 and 431of IPC without specific reason on vendors having certificates.

Sundar Lal, an employee in a garments shop at Sarojini Nagar market, while appreciating the provision of non-transferable certificates, said, “As of now we work under a person who doesn’t do anything but takes 50 per cent of the net profit. He has left the shop to us to run and has three such shops.”

However, a section of the vendor community was sceptical about the ultimate outcome of the Bill. Arun Kumar, a chaat vendor in Chandni Chowk, has neither a license nor any idea about the new Bill. He doesn’t expect much to change either. “Bhai saab, bahuth saare kanoon bane huye hai, par inka koi fayda nahi hai.”According to the chaat-selling vendors, they pay Rs. 200 to the police every day, Rs. 500 to the Municipal Corporation every month and Rs. 10 to the sweepers regularly. Other vendors, too, expressed their fear of what the Bill might bring.

“We have tried to make a Bill which will benefit our vendors to a large extent,” said Arbind Singh, national coordinator of NASVI. According to him, 40 per cent members in TVCs would be vendors themselves and one-third would be women vendors. Emphasising the need for organising, he said, “Organising without law or law without organising both are failures, organising plus law can only bring about change”

The Bill, Mr. Singh explained, is designed to protect the livelihood rights and social security of street vendors and regulate urban street vending in the country. “In a society like ours, anybody can give you a law but you have to stand for your own rights; nobody can gift you your rights.”

Source: The Hindu



Centre to come up with NULM policy soon: Ajay Maken

The Central Government would soon come up with a new policy of National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM) to alleviate poverty in urban areas, Union Minister Ajay Maken said here today.

Maken, Union Minister for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, is on a two-day visit to the Andhra Pradesh capital to study and review the urban poverty alleviation programmes in urban areas implemented by the state government.

He visited the Indra Nagar Slum at Kapra Municipality here and interacted with Urban Self Help Groups and Town Level, Slum Level Federation Members and also the office of Mission for Elimination of Poverty in Municipal Areas (MEPMA), an official release said.

The minister reviewed the Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojana (SJSRY) programmes and interacted with the women members.

He said he was impressed by the way women members belonging to slum areas have been organised.

The model developed by Government of Andhra Pradesh can be replicated in the entire country for the empowerment of women and Socio-Economic development of the families of poor people living in urban areas, the release said.

The Centre would pass a legislation in ensuing Parliament session on Street Vendors Livelihoods Protection to benefit 95 lakh street vendors in the country.

The street vendors will be provided free vending places of 2.5 per cent of the urban areas and they will be supported with financial linkage through the banks and protection given to make business without any harassment, the minister said.

Another important programme of the Centre will be Rajiv Awas Yojana, under which urban infrastructure will be developed and housing provided to the occupants in the slum areas, the Union Minister said during the interaction.

Andhra Pradesh Minister for Municipal Administration and Urban Development M Maheedhar Reddy highlighted the number of steps taken for urban poverty alleviation and requested the Union Minister to support the state by allocating required funds for effective implementation of Rajiv Awas Yojana and other programmes, the release added.

Source: Business Standard



Hawk land

Sameera Khan on the large scale hawker evictions in the city

I have a serious confession to make. I am middle class, I have a master’s degree, I live in a comfortable 3-BHK, and I regularly patronise hawkers. I frequently buy vegetables, fruits, books, chappals, dangling earrings, vada pav, balloons, kebabs, mogra gajras and other such essentials and frivolities of everyday life from them. These are people now only described as a “menace” and a “nuisance” but whose continued presence on the streets comforts me – especially late evening and night – in familiar and strange parts of the city.

I doubt we are the only middle class family dependent on hawkers in Mumbai – though the way the mainstream media in recent weeks has framed the story of large scale hawker evictions, it seems as if the only relationship between the urban middle-class and hawkers is one of antagonism and intolerance. There’s no mention of the Andheri man upset that his neighbourhood bhajiwala has been evicted, forcing him to buy vegetables from Food Bazaar at Infinity Mall. Or of the harried working woman who prefers the late evening convenience of the hawkers outside Santa Cruz station, reassured by the warm light of their petromax lamps.  And what of the old woman near Pali Hill grateful for the threedecade long presence of the same bhelpuriwala at the end of her lane? Why don’t we hear these middle-class voices supporting the people who provide daily essential services, access to cheap goods, whose existence they depend on and whose non-appearance causes them distress?

Instead, we hear the chorus of zealous “citizen” groups expressing great displeasure at hawkers. Some have put up large banners congratulating the police for their relentless anti-hawker drive. Others no doubt are waiting to download the new Hawker Tracking System, an android phone application planned by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation so that concerned citizens can report a hawker’s location for faster eviction.

So much easier to target the hawker as the villain – who messes up the city and stubbornly “encroaches” on its public spaces. So much more difficult to take on your own middle-class comrades who often have more than one car and park on the pavement or the shopkeepers/restaurant owners who unashamedly extend their shopfronts or the builders who deliberately encroach on open spaces.

These are also illegal acts but somehow only the hawkers get seen as “illegal” and of course, most are “illegal” as the BMC has not issued any new hawker licences in Mumbai since 1978; only about 15,500 of the 2.5 to three lakh hawkers in this city are licensed. Hawkers desire legal status – their illegality makes them vulnerable to extortion and harassment.

Unfortunately we see the hawker question as a beautifying pavements issue and not as an employment concern. Hawking provides our urban poor a legitimate livelihood. Since hawkers often sell goods of small-scale or home-based industries, the impact of street vending on employment is even larger. Research reveals that many vendors hawk due to a decline in formal low-skilled jobs such as those in the textile mills. A street vending study by Sharit Bhowmik of Tata Institute of Social Sciences in seven Indian cities showed that around 30 per cent of hawkers in Ahmedabad and Mumbai and 50 per cent in Kolkata were former workers in the formal sector.

Looks like the formal sector has come back to claim its pound of flesh. Just observe who stands to gain once the hawkers are unemployed – big retail malls and supermarket chains like Reliance Fresh, Hypercity, Foodland, and others are all gainers in the process. The losers are the poor: as marketers and also as consumers. Everyone doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to shop at a supermarket and maybe you can drink a R80 coffee at CCD but for your domestics and other poor workers, the chaiwala on the street is a necessity.

Eventually the hawker’s issue is about who has rights to the city – “from whom” are we protecting our public spaces and “for whom” are we protecting them? It exposes our general indifferent attitude towards the working poor. We need policy and regulation but it has to be based on tolerance and acceptance of the others’ right to be there. I too want a clear pavement to walk on but just as I want my rights as a pedestrian respected, I also want to acknowledge the rights of other citizens to public space.



Business School for Rural Women

The Mann Deshi Business School for Rural Women (MDBS) is a new program that provides training in technical, financial and marketing skills to women with no formal education and to girls who have dropped out of high school, allowing them to start and improve their own small enterprises. HSBC is founding sponsor for Business School for Rural Women. As on July, 2010, there have been 27,543 Women’s Business School graduates. Of these graduates, 60% have gone on to start their own businesses.

One of the main criticisms of Microfinance is that it only helps the “economically active” poor, while excluding the “poorest of the poor.” The Mann Deshi Business School for Rural Women helps to make microfinance available to all women by providing not just business capital but also skills, knowledge and motivation. With the support of Mann Deshi Mahila Ltd. Bank, the business school guarantees suitable loan options to its graduates for seed capital to start micro-enterprises.

Most courses are offered in a classroom setting located in Vaduj, which opened in December 2006, although some classes are also offered in Mhaswad and in smaller villages through the Mobile Busines School. We have inaugurated business school in Satara on 21st September, 2010 and in Hubli on May, 2010.

The courses are designed to provide the skills needed to start and run a successful enterprise in the local market. The levels of the courses range from basic to advanced, to meet the varied needs and skill levels of women. Courses last between two and eight weeks, and are offered on at least a two-year rotation, ensuring that the market will be able to absorb new graduates.

The British Asian Trust supports Mann Deshi business school for rural women.   This will enable the rural women to start the business and become a successful business entrepreneur.  The British Asian Trust was founded in July, 2007 by a group of British Asian business leaders at the suggestion of HRH, The Prince of Wales. It aims to serve as a ‘social fund’ to support high impact charities within the areas of education, enterprise and health in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the UK.

For more details click here.



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