Monthly Archives: August 2014

Weighed down childhood

by Srishti Birla

Rags, clothes and dirty dishes
a tiny heart, waiting for just three wishes.
Sand, pebbles and sticks are his best friends,
unaware of the modern world’s trends.

His tiny dirty hands
unclaimed by watches and wrist bands
broken toys, headless dolls
drowned in a mother’s unheard calls.

Carrying bags of weight around
sweating, playing and sleeping on the same ground.
Bent, malnutrition-ed, burned and lost,
paying his childhood’s cost.

Walking barefoot on this heated earth,
food and water, a capitol dearth.
Slaves of their own birth,
lost calls and unsaid worth.


Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) – a national mission on financial inclusion

The Prime Minister of India has formally launched Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) on Thursday, 28th August, 2014. The PMJDY is launched as a national mission on financial inclusion with the objective of covering all households in the country with banking facilities, with having a bank account for each household. Financial literacy has been accorded priority under the PMJDY. A standardized financial literacy material has also been prepared in vernacular languages to create awareness about the Yojana. It is estimated to cover 7.5 crore households with at least one bank account under this Yojana.

The Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana lies at the core of the Government’s development philosophy of Sab Ka Sath Sab Ka Vikas. With a bank account, every household gains access to banking and credit facilities, receive cash transfers such as G2Ps under several welfare programmes, particularly the poorer sections of the society. Access2Finance is expected to enable households benefit from a range of financial products (such as savings, insurance and pension), manage to keep away from financial vulnerability caused by emergent needs, and most importantly, enable them to come out of the grip of moneylenders. As a first step, every account holder gets a RuPay debit card with a Rs.1,00,000/- accident cover, and an overdraft facility in due course.

The Mission will be implemented in two phases:

Phase-I from 15th August 2014 to 14th August 2015 envisages
· Universal access to banking facilities for all households across the country through a bank branch or a fixed point Business Correspondent (BC) within a reasonable distance;

· To cover all households with at least one Basic Banking Accounts with RuPay Debit card having inbuilt accident insurance cover of Rs.1 lakh. Further an overdraft facility up to Rs.5000 will also be permitted to Aadhaar enabled accounts after satisfactory operation in the account for 6 months.

· Financial literacy programme which aims to take financial literacy up to village level.

· The Mission also envisages expansion of Direct Benefit Transfer under various Government Schemes through bank accounts of the beneficiaries.

· The issuance of Kisan Credit Card (KCC) as RuPay Kisan Card is also proposed to be covered under the plan.

Phase-II from 15th August, 2015 to 14th August, 2018
· Providing micro – insurance to the people.

· Unorganised sector Pension schemes like Swablamban through the Business Correspondents

The major shift in this programme is that households are being targeted instead of villages or population density based parameters as targeted earlier. Moreover both rural and urban areas are being covered this time as against only rural areas targeted earlier. The present plan pursues digital financial inclusion with special emphasis on monitoring by a Mission headed by the Finance Minister. The PMJDY is expected to bring the financial literacy under a campaign mode to spread the awareness of financial products, inculcate banking habits and build credit information of the masses

Slums are ‘normal’?

Source: Mail and guardian Africa

In southern Africa, although slum populations are relatively low, and living conditions in informal settlements somewhat better than in the rest of Africa, inequality at city and national level is staggeringly high, indicating that even though the poor in southern Africa are “doing better” than in the rest of Africa, the rich are far, far richer.

African urbanism needs to be rethought “from the slums”, UN-Habitat says, arguing African governments should re-frame informality for what it really is: a door by which modern cities are built. When the state retreats from the public sphere, as has happened in several African cities, informality becomes the framework by which urban areas are administered. In this sense, “informality has a greater claim to legitimacy than the state itself.”

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Welcome to the Billion-Man Slum

by Joel Kotkin,

As megacities (urban areas with more than 10 million people) mushroom across the globe, we need to start thinking about how to make cities better, not simply bigger.
When our urban pundit class speaks of the future of cities, we are offered glittering images of London, New York, Singapore, or Shanghai. In reality, the future for most of the world’s megacities—places with more than 10 million people—may look more like Dhaka, Mumbai, or Kinshasa: dirty, poverty- and disease-ridden, and environmentally disastrous.

Harvard’s Ed Glaeser suggests that megacities grow because “globalization” and “technological change have increased the returns to being smart.” And to be sure, megacities such as Jakarta, Kolkata (in India), Mumbai, Manila, Karachi, and Lagos—all among the top 25 most populous cities in the world—present a great opportunity for large corporate development firms and thrilling treasure troves for both journalists and academic researchers. But surely there’s a better alternative to celebrating misery, as one prominent author did recently in a Foreign Policy article bizarrely entitled “In Praise of Slums.”

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Governance of Planning in India today

By Rajesh Tandon, Founder-Presdient, PRIA

In his speech from the Red Fort on August 15, the Prime Minister of India made it clear that the Planning Commission in its current form would be wound up soon; he informed the citizens that a new institution would be set-up through broader consultation and wider partnership with a mandate relevant to our times.

Ever since the new government assumed office in Delhi, there has been much speculation about the future of the Planning Commission. Many seminars have been held to deliberate upon ‘reinventing planning commission’ since ‘business-as-usual’ was perceived to be untenable.

Set up through a resolution of Parliament in 1950, the Planning Commission was a driver of macro-economic and development planning in the era of Jawaharlal Nehru. It gradually became an agency for preparing (and reviewing the implementation of) Five Year National Development Plans. In the last decade, under UPA regime in Delhi, it became a more active vehicle for allocating public finance to various centrally sponsored schemes as well as state governments.

In the context of the federal structure of our constitution, and growing disagreements between central and state governments on how to use public resources, the resource allocation and performance reviewing roles of the Commission received considerable criticisms. Increasing bureaucratisation of the staff of the Commission also implied that it began to be deprived of top-end technical and professional expertise. Hence, it was generally assumed that the new government of Prime Minister Modi will significantly alter its mandates and compositions.

In all these deliberations, arguments and counter-arguments, the focus has been only on the national level institution of the Planning Commission. There has been no discussion about the planning activity at state, district and local levels. It is clear that planning for socio-economic development becomes necessary when resources available for the same have to be mobilised and utilised to achieve certain developmental goals. So, the need for planning socio-economic development is very much there. The questions are at what level such planning should be undertaken, by whom and with what capacities?

In the promotion of ‘cooperative federalism’, the new government in Delhi may develop consensus on key socio-economic goals over a term. By galvanising collective agreements, it is possible to not only agree on over-all GDP growth targets, but also specific achievable goals in agriculture, education, health, water, sanitation, skill-development, etc. Since the starting points for each state on these goals may be different (and some regions of the same state may also differ, like Marathwada and Konkan in Maharashtra), it may then be left to state governments to undertake more conrete goal-setting over a five year period, say. This goal-setting by state governments may also require setting targets for resource mobilisation (in addition to what is available from the central pool of public funds).

Do state governments have appropriate institutions to undertake such planning, monitoring and re-planning? On paper, all states have some version of a State Planning Board (chaired by the Chief Minister). But, most such institutions have been non-functional; several do not even have members, and/or professional staff to assist in its functioning. Can then re-structuring of the national institution, the Planning Commission, be accompanied with some concerted, collective approach towards strengthening of State Planning Boards?

The Constitution of India, however, provides for only one institution for planning; the District Planning Committee (DPC) is enshrined in section 243Z of the Constitution. It mandates that DPC should undertake planning for ‘promotion of economic development and social justice’. The Constitution provides for a composition of the DPC chaired by the Chairperson of Zila Parishad, Mayor of the largest municipality in the district as Vice-Chair, other elected leaders, experts and officials. The DPC came into the Constitution at the time of 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments in 1992-93. As a consequence, the governments in Delhi and state capitals had got used to highly centralised, top-down, and sectoral/departmental planning based on mere spending of allocated budgets. The entire focus was on spending budgets allocated from the above; there was no attempt to demonstrate outcomes and achievements of goals established in advance. Whatever could be achieved was stated as goal, post-hoc.

As a consequence, DPCs in most states are neither properly constituted nor competently resourced. In 2006, after much pressure from civil society, the Planning Commission became strict to demand district-level plans before approving annual state plans. It also assisted several state governments by demonstrating how such plans could be prepared (PRIA itself was involved in six states).

However, the DPCs continue to be weak and under-resourced to undertake bottom-up, inclusive and inter-sectoral integrated planning; this is despite the fact that they are the only mechanism that can integrate rural and urban aspects of a district, focus on each Gram Panchayat and ward, consolidate at each block and taluqa, include non-state actors (like business and NGOs) in the identification of needs and gaps, and devise locally implementable and sustainable plans. In addition, 95% of more than 4500 towns and cities of the country do not even have urban planning institutions and competencies.

Hence, it is important that the next steps in redefining the mandate and structure of this new institution in lieu of the Planning Commission should also include developing a consensus on how to strengthen planning functions at state, district, block and city levels. A holistic approach to governance of planning for ‘economic development and social justice’ must be taken to ensure that re-structuring doesn’t remain confined to national level alone

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Ray of hope for sewerage workers struggling for safety and dignity

Praxis India

Safety and the importance of following government mandates emerged as the topmost priority at the national consultation on issues faced by sewerage workers organised at Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi on Friday, August 22, 2014.

The consultation, which was hosted by the National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers (NCDARSAW) and Occupational Health and Safety Management Consultancy Services (OHSMCS), began with the screening of Gutter Mein Zindagi, a participatory video made by the sewerage workers with support from Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices. The video showcases the daily risks and plight of sewerage workers, the contractual nature of employment and the resultant life of drudgery and uncertainty they get pushed into. The consultation also saw the release of two publications –‘Down The Drain’, a study on the occupational health hazards and the perils of contracting faced by sewerage workers; and ‘Voice for Change – Sewerage Workers Negotiating Caste, Dignity and State Apathy’, a narrative based on the experiences of sewerage workers in Delhi.

The consultation saw sewerage workers share the hazards they faced in terms of lack of safety mechanisms, absence of an accountable authority they could turn to in case of emergency and the undignified way in which the work was carried out. “We don’t even have a place to wash after cleaning the drains,” said Chetan in the video shared at the consultation. “We don’t even know the name of the contractor,” another worker said.

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Ray of hope for sewerage workers struggling for safety and dignity.

Links to the video Down The Drain (Gutter Mein Zindagi):

Exposing the great ‘poverty reduction’ lie

by Jason Hickel, Aljazeera

The UN claims that its Millennium Development Campaign has reduced poverty globally, an assertion that is far from true.

The received wisdom comes to us from all directions: Poverty rates are declining and extreme poverty will soon be eradicated. The World Bank, the governments of wealthy countries, and – most importantly – the United Nations Millennium Campaign all agree on this narrative. Relax, they tell us. The world is getting better, thanks to the spread of free market capitalism and western aid. Development is working, and soon, one day in the very near future, poverty will be no more.

It is a comforting story, but unfortunately it is just not true. Poverty is not disappearing as quickly as they say. In fact, according to some measures, poverty has been getting significantly worse. If we are to be serious about eradicating poverty, we need to cut through the sugarcoating and face up to some hard facts.

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