Kerala: Another tale to tell

Posted: December 16, 2022 in Uncategorized
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by Tikender Singh Panwar

KOCHI, India, the name describes itself. A city of ports where the Dutch, Portuguese, Jews and British, all of them have left their imprint, is now governed by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and led by its mayor, Anil Kumar of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The metropolitan area of the city has a population of over 2.1 million and is spread over an area of over 95 square kilometres.


A recent visit to the city to meet the elected councillors belonging to the LDF revealed a new model of a compassionate city. A city that has been planned with modern tools of inclusivity, carving out a new plan called ‘Samridhi’ that was championed by the elected council of the city.


10 Rupee Meals


It all started during the COVID 19 period when there was a lockdown and the poor, particularly the daily wagers, were finding it difficult to sustain their livelihoods. So, a new initiative was taken by the city council under the LDF. The city council started providing free meals to the destitute and to those who lost their means of livelihood. The practice continued during the COVID 19 days. As the lockdown was lifted, it was felt that the free meal service of the municipality must stop.


The mayor and the city council thought otherwise however, and initiated another scheme, called the Samridhi 10 rupees scheme, where a full meal is provided to the residents for just 10 rupees, which is worth around a penny in the UK. It started with one meal and now there are three meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – served under the Samridhi scheme.


A single meal costs 10 rupees; however, even those who do not have the capacity to pay are given a meal. Rice, sambar (a vegetarian stew), another vegetable dish, papad and achar pickles are provided in the meal, and there is no limit to getting another helping. The residents can have multiple refills and there is also a parcel service for those who wish to carry food to their homes.
There is also an add-on to the 10 rupees meal. Those who wish to have fish, chicken or beef can pay extra and have added items.
A day’s visit revealed everything. The poor were there, and the middle class was also there. On asking a young student as to why she was having a meal in a 10-rupees canteen, she said that the food is very good, very hygienic and full of variety.


The entire cooking is done by a women’s self-help group, Kudumbshree. There are now nearly 48 women workers here. The kitchen is clean and hygienic, and the staff was provided training before the scheme was commissioned.


Every worker in the Samridhi is getting a minimum wage of 650 rupees per day, with some overtime they land up getting nearly 750–800 rupees per day. In a month the net salary comes to around 20,000 rupees per person.


She Lodge


Along with the Samridhi meal scheme, the next project that will be operational in a week’s time is ‘She Lodge’, which is within the same precinct. As the name suggests, ‘She Lodge’ will be a facility for women to find a place to stay in Kochi at very reasonable rates. The total cost per person is kept at 100 rupees per day. The plan is to accommodate around 200 women in the lodge with all modern facilities and a 10-rupee meal. Those women visiting the city to take exams, work interviews or other work can find a safe place to stay. There is a provision for both dormitories as well as cubicles for the women to stay in. All this is being done by the Kochi municipality under the LDF governance model.


The current urbanisation model, which is an extension of the 1990s model of transformation of cities from ‘city managers’ to ‘city entrepreneurs’, has shown how perilous this whole idea is. The idea of treating cities as entrepreneurs and one city competing with another to attract investments for ameliorating their problems has fallen flat.


Various redevelopment projects from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) to the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and finally to the SCM (Smart City Mission) are not in sync with the ground realities existing in the cities.


The reality is that the cities have become centres of a massive surplus generation of capital and accumulation in the hands of the few. The whole process of city development, unfortunately, is leading to this phenomenon. The city development plans are prepared not by cities but by parastatals – the development authorities across the country – that are guided by big consulting firms, both national and international, with huge business interests. These development authorities are not even under democratic control.
The plans made by these development authorities are in fact a dictum on the people living in the cities. The basic ethos of these plans is for making cities financially sustainable by levying user charges; enhancing property tax collection; pushing for capital-intensive technologies in the making and running of utilities, thus passing on the burden on the common people.


Take, for example, solid waste management in the cities, something that can be done in a decentralised and democratic manner. Instead, the central government is pushing for more than 100 waste-to-energy plants run by private players. These private plants will either demand a tipping fee from the cities or will seek a ‘buy back energy’ model. Either way, this will mount a burden on the common people, whereas the people have not even been considered for such technologies.


All of this is contributing to the widening of the already existing massive gap between the rich and the poor in the urban centres. The shift from the conventional form of capitalist production systems to more information-based technologies and informalisation of the urban economy is adding compounding problems. This is making large sections of the urban working populace, who are losing control over basic assets such as housing, poorer and further marginalised.


A recent Oxfam report pointed at this gap existing in urban centres. The difference between the top 10 per cent and bottom 10 per cent of asset holders is 500 times in rural India, whilst it is 50,000 times in urban India.


It is in such a background that interventions such as the 10 rupees meal scheme or and the ‘She Lodge’ by the Kochi municipality must be seen as a direction trying to restrict the trend of growing pauperisation of the urban populace.


What India requires, is not ‘smart cities’ guided by interests of large capital in the IoT (Internet of Things) field; India requires cities that are compassionate, that are able to provide some basic facilities to its people, such as water twice a day, proper social infrastructure, health, education, safe cities for women, children and the elderly; and liveable cities that generate employment and creativity.


People’s Democracy (India)

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