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Roti, Kapda, Makan Aur Mobile? or Mobile Mobile Aur Mobile? November 3, 2010

Posted by fredpereira in Uncategorized.
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Before it used to be “Roti, kapda, makaan” and now “mobile”, is the “Basic need.” In Independent INDIA? The Mumbai slum of Rafiq Nagar has no clean water, no rubbish vans pick up refuse along the rocky earth that serves as a road. There’s no power except from haphazard cables that are illegally strung overhead. Not forgetting there’s not a single toilet among the slum’s 10,000 people. Yet nearly every destitute family in this shantytown has a mobile phone, with some people owning three devices. What would be shocking is when US President Barack Obama visits India, he will find a country of perplexing disparities, where more people have mobiles than access to a toilet, according to the United Nations. Indian being a vast nation is a country buoyed by a vibrant business world of call centres and software developers, but hamstrung by corrupt government that has failed to deliver the barest of services. India’s estimated growth rate of 8.5 per cent per year is among the highest in the world, yet its roads are crumbling. The country offers cheap, world-class medical care to Western tourists at private hospitals, yet has some of the worst child mortality and maternal death rates outside sub-Saharan Africa. And while millions have benefited from India’s rise, many more remain in some of the worst poverty in the world. Mukesh Ambani, the world’s fourth-richest person, is just finishing off a new $1 billion skyscraper-house in Mumbai with 27 floors and 3 helipads, touted as the most expensive home on earth. Yet farmers still live in shacks of mud and cow dung. The mobile phone frenzy bridges all worlds. Mobiles are sold among the luxury stores in the soaring atriums of India’s new malls, and in the crowded markets of its working-class neighbourhoods. Bare shops in the slums sell pre-paid cards for as little as 10 Rs next to packets of chewing tobacco, while street hawkers peddle chargers for cars at traffic signals. There were more than 670 million mobile phone connections in India by the end of August, a number that has been growing by close to 20 million a month. Yet UN figures show that just 366 million Indians have access to a private toilet, leaving 665 million to defecate in the open. “At least tap water and sewage disposal – how can we talk about any development without these two fundamental things? How can we talk about development without health and education?” says Anita Patil-Deshmukhl, executive director of PUKAR, an organisation that conducts research in Mumbai slums. India’s leaders say they are sympathetic to the problem. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, an economist credited with spearheading India’s private sector by loosening regulation, talks about growth that benefits the masses of poor people as well as a burgeoning middle class of about 300 million. He describes a Maoist insurgency in the east, which feeds on the poor’s discontent, as the country’s biggest internal security threat. But the fact is that about 800 million Indians still live on less than $2 a day, even as Mumbai’s stock exchange enjoys near record highs.

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