Monday, August 20, 2012
Here’s an article I found on “The Independent” website (loving the word “verminator”):
The verminators: On the frontline of Mumbai's battle with 88 million rats
Andrew Buncombe joins Mumbai's hardy army of 44 pest controllers with the task of exterminating the city’s 88 million rats
Monday 20 August 2012
There is something of a swagger about Vilas Ubhare when he sets about killing a rat.
His stick comes down fast, the rat is dispatched and then in a fluid, unbroken motion Mr Ubhare hooks his toe under the rodent’s tail, flips the corpse into the air and catches it neatly in a sack. It is like watching a footballer perform tricks in the park.
Mr Ubhare is among a 44-strong team that represents the frontline in the battle against an estimated 88m rats besieging India’s largest metropolis. Every night he and his colleagues endure filthy conditions and the risk of disease to kill rats with nothing more than a metal-tipped stick and a torch. Should they fail to meet their quota of 30 rodents by the time the sun comes up, they have 24 hours to make up the shortfall or lose a day’s pay.
Yet these rat catchers – deemed essential by the city authorities and recently the subject of a documentary shown at Cannes – are under threat. Animal rights activists want to put an end to the rat-killing, saying it is inhumane. Officials say the matter it is being considered.
Sometimes it seems rats are everywhere in Mumbai. They scurry in the quiet, tree-lined streets of Colaba and pause late at night on the platform at Churchgate station as the last, weary commuters make their way home to the suburbs. The damp, cramped conditions, with rubbish and litter strewn in the streets, creates an ideal environment for vermin and a report earlier this year estimated the rat population was growing annually by 10 per cent. Slum areas such as Dharavi and Govandi are said to be home to the most.
The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (BMC) employs various ways of tackling the issue, including traps and poison, but insists that the night rat killers (NRK) play an essential role. Yogesh Naik, an official with the sanitation department, said he only wishes there were more.
“We only have 44 rat killers. They can cover from Churchgate to Dadar. We’d like to enlarge the area we cover. We need 200 to cover the whole city,” he said, saying that they were currently filling 92 more positions. “The problem is red tape.”
Indeed, despite the unsavoury aspects of the position, competition for the positions, which come with the benefits of a government job and a monthly salary of around 160GBP, is intense. When the authorities last advertised for 30 positions they received 2,000 applications, including that of a college graduate. “It’s because unemployment is going up,” said Mr Naik.
Shortly after midnight on a recent, humid weekday, Mr Ubhare and two other night rat killers, Milind Ganapat and Tushar Tirai, pulled up on their scooters outside a block of apartments in the Lower Parel neighbourhood. Apart from their sticks and torches, they had no equipment and dressed in normal clothes and sandals.
“We have the torch. When we see a rat, we flash the light at its head,” said Mr Tirai, who completed his secondary education “The rat gets a shock and for a few seconds it freezes. It is in those seconds that we have to hit it. If we miss, it runs away.”
Yet killing rats was not a simple or straightforward task, Mr Tirai said. A stunned rat could bite or jump at the ankles and the waste and urine carried disease. [While there has not been an outbreak of plague for decades in the city, it has occurred in neighbouring states and every day the dead rats are tested by scientists.]
With Mr Ganapat nursing an injured hand and holding the bag for the bodies, Mr Tirai and Mr Ubhare set off into the darkness looking for rats, trying not to slip on rotting garbage. To the right, Mr Tirai’s torch flashed dimly, followed by a soft whack and he soon appeared bearing a dead rat. Mr Ubhare poked at a hole on the side of some exposed concrete and soon he had his first kill. Within a matter of minutes, they had killed half-a-dozen.
There was a pride and professionalism about their work and Mr Ubhare, in particular, was confident about his abilities. He said his record haul for a single night was 210, a figure that he believed had not been bettered by anyone within the department - at least not for many years.
The men talked about a piece of sanitation department lore relating to an employee from the early 1990s. “He had this special skill. With just the sound of his whistle he could attract the rats and then he could kill them,” said Mr Ubhare.
Yet some activists want to stop the rat killers. Earlier this summer, the Animal Welfare Board of India, a statutory body that advises the government, wrote to the BMC asking them to stop clubbing the rats and instead catch them and euthanise them humanely.
The organisation’s vice chairman, Chinny Krishna, said if there was a less cruel way of killing the rats it should be used. He added: “It’s not just that it’s cruel. We asked them to stop because it desensitises the human beings who are doing it. We have no business desensitising people in this way.” A spokesman for the BMC said a committee would be formed to look into the request.
Earlier this year, audiences at Cannes were shown an award-winning documentary, The Rat Race, which details the lives the night rat killers. It was subsequently shown at cinemas in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Among those featured was an employee with 37 years’ experience.
The director, Miriam Chandy Menacherry, said she did not believe the men had become traumatised by their work and said they were performing an invaluable task. “The rat killers should be given better facilities when they are sick or get hurt on the job and better equipment to do their job,” she said. “Most importantly, they should be recognised and given the respect they deserve as they work past midnight when the rest of the city is asleep and no one even knew about their work until my documentary.”
The rat killers themselves say they are proud of the work they do and their roles.
Sometime after lunchtime the day after the trio of rat killers had been working in Lower Parel, Milind Ganapat answered his phone with an update on the night’s haul. “It was not easy,” he said. “But we each met our quota.”
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Here are two articles about the recent unrest in India. The first is from “The Telegraph” (UK) & the second is from the “New York Times”:
India bans mass text messages to stem panic among minorities
The Indian government banned bulk text messages on Friday in an attempt to halt the exodus of thousands of migrant workers from Bangalore and other major cities following false warnings of attacks on them.
People from India's northeastern states crowd to board a train back to their homes at the railway station in the southern Indian city of Bangalore Photo: Reuters
By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
3:39PM BST 17 Aug 2012
An estimated 15,000 people from Assam and states in north-eastern India, many of whom suffer racial abuse and discrimination in other parts of the country, have fled India’s IT capital and other cities including Chennai, Mumbai and Pune, after receiving text messages warning them of imminent attacks.
The messages spread panic among the north-eastern minorities who were already fearful following recent clashes between members of Assam’s Bodo tribe and Bangladeshi settlers in in the state. More than 30,000 are reported to have fled the area following the clashes which continued on Thursday, but their effect has been felt throughout India.
Tensions spread after north-eastern students were attacked in Pune last week and riots erupted at a protest against the violence in Mumbai where two people were killed. A member of the Bodo tribe working as a security guard in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh was attacked and told to “go home”.
By the time a series of text warnings went viral on Wednesday thousands of migrant workers from the North-East besieged city train stations in Bangalore and other cities.
Two special trains were deployed by Indian Railways to help about 6,000 people return to their homes.
The Hindu newspaper reported one text message received by a girl from Nagaland (on India’s border with Burma) working in Bangalore which warned her not to leave her house.
“People from your community are being beaten. Seven women have been killed,” it claimed.
The tensions, panic and exodus which followed appear to have their origin in a recent false news website report in Pakistan which presented a photograph of Tibetan aid workers among the bodies of 2010 earthquake victims as Burmese Buddhists who had killed members of their country’s Muslim Rohingya minority in recent clashes. Other false claims include rape, kidnap and intimidation.
Manmohan Singh, India’s prime ministr, intervened in the crisis to appeal for calm on Thursday when he said people should “work together to ensure that all people from other states do not feel threatened by rumour-mongering and SMSs [text messages].”
But as the rumours proliferated and panic continued yesterday the government intervened again to ban bulk text messaging for two weeks.
Bubumoni Goswami, an Assamese civili rights campaigner said the text warnings are the latest example of discrimination against people from India’s North-East.
“A deliberate rumor campaign was launched in Bangalore, Hyderabad and other cities that North-eastern residents will be attacked, which led to their immediate exodus to their native places. There were a few attacks but these cannot force an entire community to leave a city unless one creates a fear psychosis among them. People of North East are racially discriminated in other Indian states and even a rumor can instill fear in them,” he said.
August 17, 2012
Panic Seizes India as a Region’s Strife Radiates
By JIM YARDLEY
BRAJAKHAL, India — Like a fever, fear has spread across India this week, from big cities like Bangalore to smaller places like Mysore, a contagion fueling a message: Run. Head home. Flee. And that is what thousands of migrants from the country’s distant northeastern states are doing, jamming into train stations in an exodus challenging the Indian ideals of tolerance and diversity.
What began as an isolated communal conflict here in the remote state of Assam, a vicious if obscure fight over land and power between Muslims and the indigenous Bodo tribe, has unexpectedly set off widespread panic among northeastern migrants who had moved to more prosperous cities for a piece of India’s rising affluence.
A swirl of unfounded rumors, spread by text messages and social media, had warned of attacks by Muslims against northeastern migrants, prompting the panic and the exodus. Indian leaders, deeply alarmed, have pleaded for calm, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appeared in Parliament on Friday to denounce the rumor mongering and offer reassurance to northeastern migrants.
“What is at stake is the unity and integrity of our country,” Mr. Singh said. “What is at stake is communal harmony.”
The hysteria in several of the country’s most advanced urban centers has underscored the deep roots of ethnic tensions in India, where communal conflict is usually simplified as Hindu versus Muslim, yet is often far more complex. For decades, Indian leaders have mostly managed to isolate and triangulate regional ethnic conflicts, if not always resolve them, but the public panic this week is a testament to how the old strategies may be less effective in an information age.
Last week, the central government started moving to stabilize Assam, where at least 78 people have been killed and more than 300,000 have fled their homes for refugee camps. Then Muslims staged a large, angry protest in Mumbai, the country’s financial capital, on the western coast. A wave of fear began sweeping through the migrant communities after several people from the northeast were beaten up in Pune, a city not far from Mumbai.
By Wednesday and Thursday, the exodus had begun. So many people were pouring into train stations in Bangalore and Chennai that the Railways Ministry later added special services to certain northeastern cities. By Friday, even as some of the fears eased in the biggest cities, people were leaving smaller cities, including Mysore and Mangalore.
To many northeastern migrants, the impulse to rush home — despite the trouble in Assam — is a reminder of how alienated many feel from mainstream India. The northeast, tethered to the rest of the country by a narrow finger of land, has always been neglected. Populated by a complex mosaic of ethnic groups, the seven states of the northeast have also been plagued by insurgencies and rivalries as different groups compete for power.
Here in Assam, the underlying frictions are over the control of land, immigration pressures and the fight for political power. The savagery and starkness of the violence have been startling. Of the 78 people killed, some were butchered. More than 14,000 homes have been burned. That 300,000 people are in refugee camps is remarkable; had so many people fled across sub-Saharan Africa to escape ethnic persecution, a humanitarian crisis almost certainly would have been declared.
“If we go back and they attack us again, who will save us?” asked Subla Mushary, 35, who is now living with her two teenage daughters at a camp for Bodos. “I have visited my home. There is nothing left.”
Assam, which has about 31 million people, has a long history of ethnic strife. The current violence is focused on the westernmost region of the state, which is claimed by the Bodos as their homeland. For years, Bodo insurgent groups fought for political autonomy, with some seeking statehood and others seeking an independent Bodo nation.
In 2003, India’s central government, then led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, brokered a deal in which Bodo insurgents agreed to cease their rebellions in exchange for the creation of a special autonomous region, now known as the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts. It was a formula long used by Indian leaders to subdue regional rebellions: persuade rebels to trade the power of the gun for the power of the ballot box.
Now the Bodos dominate the government overseeing the autonomous districts, even though they are not a majority, accounting for about 29 percent of a population otherwise splintered among Muslims, other indigenous tribal groups, Hindus and other native Assamese. Competition over landownership is a source of rivalry and resentment: the land rights of Muslims are tightly restricted inside the special districts, even though they constitute the region’s second-largest group, after the Bodos.
“This whole fight is about land and capturing power,” said Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, a member of Parliament and a Muslim leader in a neighboring district. “It is not a religious fight.”
These resentments exploded in July and early August, after an escalating cycle of attacks between Muslims and Bodos. Soon entire villages were being looted and burned.
The authorities have made few arrests, and each side has blamed the other. The Bodos say illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh are streaming into the autonomous districts and taking over vacant land; Muslims say such claims are a smokescreen intended to disguise a Bodo campaign to drive out rightful Muslim residents in a campaign similar to so-called ethnic cleansing.
During the worst violence, the state government in Assam seemed paralyzed. One issue is that many former Bodo rebels never turned over their automatic weapons; some Muslims driven from their homes say Bodos scared them off by firing AK-47s into the air.
To visit some of the affected villages is to witness the eerie silence of lives brutally interrupted. In Brajakhal, the entire Muslim section was burned and looted, while the homes of non-Muslims were left untouched. In the nearby village of Chengdala, each side apparently attacked the other — both the Bodo and Muslim homes are destroyed, with a handful of others left standing.
Sumitra Nazary, a Bodo woman, said her elderly father was bludgeoned to death with an ax.
“He was paralyzed,” she said. “He couldn’t run away.”
It is uncertain when the people in the refugee camps will be able to return to their villages. Paramilitary units and Assam police officers have erected temporary guard posts outside many of the destroyed or looted villages, promising security.
Assam’s chief minister ordered refugees to begin returning to their homes this week, even as new violence was reported in some areas.
At the camps, life is increasingly miserable. This week, two members of the National Commission for Minorities visited the region and documented problems with sanitation, malnutrition and living conditions at different camps, particularly those inhabited by Muslims. One camp had 10 makeshift toilets for 4,300 people. At another camp, they reported, more than 6,500 people were crammed into a converted high school, including 30 pregnant women.
The scene was little different at a Muslim refugee camp created at the Srirampur R.M.E. School. More than 5,200 people were living on the grounds, crowded under the shade of trees to hide from the broiling midday sun.
Goi Mohammad Sheikh, 39, brought his wife and five children to the camp, but was returning to their village at night to protect their home. It had been looted but not burned, he said, and he and a group of other men were standing guard.
“We want to protect our houses,” he said. “In some villages, it will not be possible to go back. It is too dangerous. But we will not leave our village. If they kill us, let them kill us. How do we leave our motherland?”
Hari Kumar contributed reporting.
Found this article on the “Daily Mail” website:
Teenage boy saves himself from forced marriage by texting Indian authorities to report his family
PUBLISHED: 20:13 GMT, 15 August 2012 | UPDATED: 12:29 GMT, 16 August 2012
Prakash Prajapat, 16, contacted authorities when his parents tried to force him to marry a 13-year-old girl
A teenage boy escaped being forced into an arranged marriage in India by reporting his own family to the authorities.
Prakash Prajapat, 16, from Jodhpur, in western Indian, was due to marry a thirteen-year-old girl from a neighbouring town who had been chosen by his parents.
Prakash was only told of his impending marriage the week before the planned ceremony and contacted a charity asking for help.
The young couple had never met and Prakash begged his family not to force him into the marriage but they refused to relent.
He then contacted the Sarathi Trust for child marriages, which then sent a police team to put a stop to the illegal ceremony just moments before Prakash was due to say his vows.
Child weddings are still rife in rural India despite the marriage of a girl aged below 18 or a boy aged below 21 being illegal under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006.
Kriti Bharti, who heads Sarathi Trust, a campaign group against child marriages, said: ‘When I first met Prakash, he cried and pleaded for my help. He was desperate not to marry.
'I met his father in a bid to stop the marriage but he lied and told me his son was an adult. He ordered me to stay out of the family matter.’
The families got apprehensive about Kriti’s involvement and decided to move the ceremony to a different date in a secret location.
But as Prakash was led to marry the young girl he had never met just days later, he texted Kriti his whereabouts from his mobile phone and she organised a team of police officers to stop the proceedings.
Apprehended: Prakash's father pictured being confronted by police officers over the arranged marriage
The family members then attempted to trick the police by presenting a fake groom but they were still arrested.
The parents were taken to court and banned from marrying the young bride and the groom for five years.
Despite this, the following day they attempted to marry the boy and girl again but Prakash again contacted Kriti who arrived at the ceremony with a team of officers.
She added: ‘The police took them to court again and again they were warned and banned from trying to marry the children. But I suspect nothing will stop them.
'These are very illiterate families who only know to follow tradition, no matter how illegal.
‘I can only hope Prakash continues to message me if they try again. I keep in touch with him every day to be sure he’s okay.’
According to UNICEF Child marriage negatively affects a child’s development, education, health and future.
Children in India who marry young are more likely to drop out of school, have a low paid job, and limited decision-making power at home.
Child marriage is widespread all over India, affecting all social groups, but it’s more common in rural areas and among excluded communities, castes and tribes.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2188881/Teenage-boy-saves-forced-marriage-texting-Indian-authorities-report-family.html#ixzz23yHm4YBh
Found this article on the “Daily Mail” website:
Think you've got a bad job?
Indian 'sewer diver' paid just £3.50 a day (plus a bottle of booze) to unclog Delhi's drains
PUBLISHED: 23:52 GMT, 18 August 2012 | UPDATED: 23:52 GMT, 18 August 2012
If you think your job is the pits then spare a thought for Devi Lal.
The 'sewer diver' from Delhi, India, is paid a measly £3.50 a day to wallow in filth unclogging the city's drains.
Devi, 43, is provided with a bottle of bootleg booze to dull his senses before he begins his odious chore.
Dirty job: Devi Lal, a sewer diver from Delhi is paid a measly £3.50 a day to unclog the city's filthy drains
Scandalously the city does not bother to provide protective clothing so Devi and his colleagues are forced to spend hours a day in the filthy water in just their underwear.
According to Harnam Singh, the chairman of the Delhi Safai Karamchari Commision, (Delhi cleaners commission) almost 70 per cent of the manual scavengers die on the job.
An estimated 61 sewer divers have died in last six months alone.
Scandalously City bosses do not provide protective clothing and Devi, 43, works in just a pair of pants
Wallowing in filth: Devi Lal, 43, works to unclog blocked drains in Delhi, India
Even though India banned the practise in 1993, government agencies still use thousands of people like Dev to clean drains through out India
India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. But poverty remains widespread with an estimated 42.5 per cent of the children suffering from malnutrition.
According to 2010 data from the United Nations Development Programme, an estimated 37.2 per cent of Indians live below the national poverty line with 68.7 per cent surviving on less than $2 a day.
Earlier this week Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced his country will be spending £52 million on a space mission to Mars.
Tragic: An estimated 61 sewer divers have died in last six months alone
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2190251/And-thought-bad-job-Indian-sewer-diver-paid-just-3-50-day-plus-bottle-booze-unclog-Delhis-drains.html#ixzz23yKEp684
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Today is India’s Independence Day.
It was on this day back in 1947, that the present-day country of India was born & gained its independence from Great Britain.
Pakistan became independent on the 14th of August.
Prior to this day (also known as “Partition”), it was part of the greater British Indian Empire, encompassing what is now Pakistan, India & Bangladesh (well...technically East Bengal at first then East Pakistan up until 1971).
The partition of India & Pakistan was a traumatic experience for both countries.
In what has been said to have been the largest mass migration of all time (estimates put the number of people to have moved between the borders to be around 10 million to 12 million), the resulting violence saw somewhere between 700,000 to 1 million people killed (these are estimates – no-one knows the true number !!).
The violence created hostility & suspicion between Pakistan & India that persists to this day.
Happy Independence Day
Friday, August 10, 2012
Here’s a collection of articles I found in the papers today. My favourite are the ones about comments from Shivpal Singh Yadav.
India's servants bear brunt of callous rich
Date: August 11, 2012
A still from the film showing an upset maid.
ONCE in a while, the Indian media carry stories of rich Indians abusing domestic servants.
A teenage girl bludgeoned to death for trying on her employer's lipstick; a maid left for a week with no food and locked in the flat by a doctor couple who have gone to Bangkok; a boy punished for over-salting his employer's food by having a hot spatula pressed against his face.
But the daily indignities of staff are known only to the victims, and it is these experiences that film director Prashant Nair portrays in his film Delhi in a Day. A satire on Delhi's nouveaux riches, the film lampoons their conspicuous consumption, endless socialising, narcissism, social one-upmanship - and mistreatment of staff.
Director Prashant Nair.
''My characters do charity work and engage in philanthropic activities but the moment they get home, they can't treat the staff with civility or dignity,'' said Nair, 35, an engineering graduate who turned to making films a few years ago.
In his first feature film, Nair has chosen not to portray the worst crimes committed against domestic help. Depicting brutality would have worked against his intention to use humour and to generate debate among Indians about mistreatment of servants. Also, too dark a film might have run the risk of being rejected outright by Indians.
Delhi in a Day shows a rich, loudmouth socialite who leads a frou-frou lifestyle with her wealthy businessman husband in a mansion in south Delhi. A semi-alcoholic cook, butler, two drivers, and a maid minister to their needs. The socialite routinely calls them ''idiots'' or waves them away in front of guests.
The event that serves as a catalyst to expose how the rich view servants is the visit by a British friend who comes to India seeking spiritual inspiration and finds only the family's rank materialism. His money is stolen. The family assumes automatically that one of the servants is the thief. They are given 24 hours to replace it - or else.
While choosing a location, Nair looked at about 40 sprawling farmhouses in south Delhi.
''In every one, the servants' quarters were pathetic,'' he said. As a French-Indian director, Nair brings a dual perspective: he is an outsider who has lived all over the world with his diplomat parents before settling in Paris but is also an insider who was born in India and used to spend childhood summers in Delhi.
In these holidays, Nair saw a far greater contempt for poor Indians than any shown by the white Mississippi women towards their black maids in the film The Help, with which his film has been compared.
''I used to see children kicking elderly staff. Once I saw a servant being slapped in front of 80 to 90 people for forgetting something. My aim is to get people to … realise that such behaviour needs to change,'' he said.
The film is not the first to portray this lack of humanity. In 2008, Mumbai director Raja
Menon, in his film Shortchanged, showed how when a driver tries to borrow money - the equivalent of what a family would spend on a pizza - from the tenants in the building where he works, they brush him off without a thought that he needs it for his son's medical treatment.
But Delhi in a Day focuses on the routine and casual cruelties meted out to servants every day. ''I don't see things getting better. If anything, the younger generation are even more selfish and materialistic,'' Nair said.
This article was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/world/indias-servants-bear-brunt-of-callous-rich-20120810-23zxi.html
Indian minister says bureaucrats 'can steal a little'
A provincial minister in India's most populous state has sparked a scandal after suggesting to bureaucrats that they could "steal a little" if they performed well in their duties.
2:58PM BST 10 Aug 2012
Shivpal Singh Yadav, in charge of housing and construction in northern Uttar Pradesh state, on Friday hastily withdrew the offer he made a day earlier during a meeting with government employees, which was also attended by journalists.
Yadav is an uncle to the state chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, whose Samajwadi Party stormed into power on an anti-corruption platform in elections held in Uttar Pradesh in March.
"If you work hard, you can steal a little, but don't behave like bandits," the Press Trust of India quoted Yadav as saying at the meeting in Etah town, about 124 miles from capital Lucknow.
The comments drew flak from political opponents, prompting Yadav to retract his offer and accuse journalists of sneaking into the gathering.
"I have taken back those words," he told reporters in Lucknow on Friday. "Why are you raking it up? I don't know why the media is targeting me," he said.
The opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) condemned the minister's invitation to officials to steal.
"A minister's statement is like a policy of the government and if he says so then the government is offering a license to steal the public money," local BJP leader Lalji Tandon said.
"It is not appropriate for a minister to talk like this," he told reporters.
Shahid Siddiqui, who was expelled last month from a senior post in the ruling Samajwadi Party, also turned his guns on the minister.
"It is very unfortunate that a minister who is the uncle of the chief minister and who does not consider himself anything less than a chief minister talks in such a way," Siddiqui said.
"Now you are giving officers a free hand to steal," he added.
Yadav's dubious offer came a month after his nephew warned about corruption in the overwhelmingly poor and underdeveloped state of nearly 200 million people – a population larger than Brazil's.
Corruption has been one of the biggest political issues in India over the last two years, with a string of scandals hitting the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and sparking popular protest movements.
Activist Anna Hazare, who models himself on independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, and famous TV yoga guru Baba Ramdev have led hundreds of thousands in protests against endemic bribe-taking and corruption in India.
India to trigger economic boom by giving mobiles to the poor
The Indian government is considering plans to give millions of mobile phones to its poorest families to help lift them from penury.
By Dean Nelson, in New Delhi
11:43AM BST 10 Aug 2012
Officials believe the scheme, called *Har Hath Mein Mobile*, or A Mobile in Every Hand, could revolutionise government services to the poor by offering more than 200 million people without phone connections access to banking services and information sites which could help boost their incomes. They also believe it could help protect their state benefits from corrupt civil servants.
Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, a senior advisor to India's prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh confirmed the idea was aimed the millions of poor families in rural India.
Telecom ministry officials told industry figures the scheme will cost just under a billion pounds and will initially be targeted at six million 'below poverty level' families living on less than £63 per month. It is expected to feature in the Congress-led government's manifesto for the 2014 election campaign.
The scheme has been partly inspired by Kenya's M-PESA mobile phone banking system which enables poor people to transfer money and receive payments via sms text messages. Similar schemes in India have been hampered because millions have no official identity documentation.
The Mobile in Every Hand Scheme however will benefit from the government's ambitious unique identification project to record the biometric details of every Indian and issue them a secure number to help them access government services online. More than 200 million people have already been given new ID numbers.
India has undergone a mobile phone revolution in the last decade with cheap Chinese-made mobile phones and 'pay as you go' services encouraging millions of poor rickshaw pullers and domestic servants to subscribe.
Despite chronic electricity shortages, more than three-quarters of its 1.2 billion people have mobile phones and use them to boost their incomes.
Rickshaw pullers have established cellphone booking services in some cities, while small-holders use them to get text message weather forecasts which have helped boost crops.
Telecommunications analyst Anil Kumar, who runs the independent Telecom Watchdog, said government officials had discussed the scheme with him and that they expected it to be operational by the end of 2013 – just as election campaigning begins. "The idea is give all below the poverty line a mobile handset with 200 free talk minutes. They have yet to work out the details, but 2014 is an election year and it will take a year to invite tenders. It is mainly a political matter for them," he said.
Anti-poverty campaigners gave the proposals a mixed reception, welcoming it as an "empowering move" but also complaining that more pressing priorities had been overlooked. "We have already been tagged as a nation with more mobile phones than toilets. Basic facilities like health care and food security should be available to poor people before planning to give them mobile phones," said Harsh Mandar, activist and Supreme court's special commissioner for the Right to Food.
Professor Anil Gupta, one of India's leading experts on 'frugal innovations' for the poor, said the proposal was "potentially revolutionary" and could help reduce corruption.
"It could be used for mobile banking. Camera phones could be used to record whether [government school] teachers come to school every day – a way of monitoring the bureaucracy. People could use them to create markets for things they have to sell," he said.
Indian officials told they can steal a little, but 'don't be a bandit'
A minister in the country's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, was caught on camera telling officials they could 'steal some'
- Reuters in Lucknow
Officials have been criticised for corruption in a state where malnutrition and poverty are widespread. Photograph: Piyal Adhikary/EPA
"If you work hard, and put your heart and soul into it ... then you are allowed to steal some," Shivpal Singh Yadav told a gathering of local officials in comments caught on camera. "But don't be a bandit."
The comments made on Thursday were played on newscasts across the country. Yadav, a minister for public works who belongs to the state's ruling Samajwadi party, quickly sought to control the damage, calling a news conference to explain that the comments had been taken out of context and that he had been discussing how to combat corruption.
"In that event, the media was not allowed in, I don't know how they sneaked in. And if they had sneaked in, the whole discussion should have come out in the press, not just part of it," he said.
Uttar Pradesh, which has a bigger population than Brazil, was earlier governed by 'Dalit Queen' Mayawati. She has been criticised for spending millions of rupees on building statues of herself and buying diamond jewellery despite widespread malnutrition and poverty in her state.
Yadav's nephew is Akhilesh Yadav, Uttar Pradesh's chief minister, who came to power
earlier this year proclaiming an end to corruption in the state.
Foreign-educated Akhilesh Yadav, who is the state's youngest chief minister, had projected himself as an agent of change, even though members of his party have been involved in criminal investigations.
Last year, millions of middle class urban Indians protested against corruption in government. But even though prime minister Manmohan Singh's government has been mired in massive graft scandals, the anti-corruption protests have now lost momentum.
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