Ebenezer Howard’s vision of garden cities comprised of a central residential area surrounded by places of work. He suggested that people could live in the centre of each garden city, in nice houses with gardens and then go to work in the factories and industries that would be located along the periphery. Around that, there would be green belts of farmland, which would insulate each garden city from the next. This way, he said, the benefits of rural and urban living would be abundantly available for residents. As soon as each garden city reached its population limit – 32000 people, he said, was appropriate – the next garden city, again based on a nucleus of residence and a cell space of commerce and industry bounded by a cell wall of green fields, could be built.
We curse the pollution, fret at the traffic jams, worry about the safety of our children, and rue the lack of reliable water and electricity supply, yet do not move out from our urban cages. The thought of moving to rural areas, or even smaller urban areas might cross our minds, but except for a few of us, we rarely make the actual move. Let’s face it; much as we might dislike living in cities, many of us, particularly those from the middle class, know that it is only here that we can surge ahead, in terms of wealth and career growth. While the pursuit of both might be questioned, from a practical standpoint, these are still prime drivers of ambition.
As I sat in my car, fuming at the delay, I reflected upon what had happened to my adopted home, Bangalore. I had first come to the city when I was sixteen years old, in the mid-seventies and was struck by its charm. Fourteen years later, Bangalore still was a beautiful place, but priced beyond my modest pocket. Read more »
My previous blogs had dwelt on the successes of the poverty eradication approach of Elapully and Nedumbassery Panchayats in Kerala. However, I had also questioned the completely local approach to poverty reduction and wondered whether that might succeed in all conditions.
The experience of Elapully Panchayat in Kerala, which tweaked the NREGA programme to ensure that scarce labour benefited both from agriculture and wage employment in the off- season, indicates that local governments can effectively implement anti-poverty programmes, finely tuned to the needs of their citizens. Kerala abounds with such examples.
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I ended last week’s blog with asking the question whether it might not be better to repackage NREGA into two parts, namely, a largely untied grant for infrastructure building to the Panchayats, and an unconditional cash transfer to the poor. The infrastructure building component would reduce the temptation for Panchayats to divert NREGA funds by preparing false attendance records. The cash transfer would be a simple substitute to the complex process of paying people wages for unskilled work, and enabling them to use that financial cushion for further progress, such as upgrading their skills and becoming more employable. Read more »
A lot of people, particularly in the NGO world, look upon the idea of cash transfers in India with deep suspicion. They see this as a suggestion emerging from neo-liberals, aimed to make poor people lazy and blow up easy money on things that the rich make, to sell to them.
This week, I intended to write on India’s experience with cash transfer programmes. However, last week’s blog triggered off some vigorous debate and I think I must dwell a little longer on explaining the idea of cash transfers, lest we continue the debate while harbouring entirely different ideas of what we mean by it. Read more »
Nearly three years back, I was invited to make a presentation at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, on Indian fiscal federalism and anti-poverty programmes. Read more »
Last week’s blog ended by seeking answers to three questions. First, is it possible to substantially increase the pace of poverty reduction? Second, is it possible to better target approaches to the poorest of the poor? Third, is it possible to make poverty reduction a one-way street? Read more »