Monday, May 11, 2009

A peek into reality

If you haven’t read the earlier post, I suggest you read the post titled “Beginning of an unforgettable experience” as they are related.

It was around 3 p.m when I approached a NGO – SPARC located at Byculla Mumbai, after telling them what I am there for, he took me to cycle chachaji who is the local leader of the slum called "Thandi gali”. His name was so coined because he had a small cycle repair shop. I spoke with him for roughly 25 minutes .The people staying there are migrants from Eastern India. Very few of them had bank accounts, chachaji told me about the difficulties people faced there while opening a bank account.
As per RBI, banks can relax certain norms while opening "no Frills account”, hence any Identification proof should be accepted by the bank while opening bank accounts. However the banks nearby accepted the Ration card as proof only if some one who already has an account in the bank introduces the new member. Sounds simple right? But it's always the case that such guarantees (who have the luxury of a bank account) exploit such people, demand fees for introducing the poor to the bank.
The place which was home to 700 families was nothing but houses made of aluminum sheets or plastic sheets on the pavement. I wandered why the road was named “Thandi Sadak” meaning cold road, perhaps as people are deprived of the various luxuries which we are gifted with ,they became cold with fear, frustration . Chachaji told me that in the past 10 years 3 fake societies had collected money around Rs 500 from people living there – money which means a lot to them. These people earn hardly 3000 a month, and this sum is used to feed a family of four, roughly 750 per person for a month that’s it – That is all they need.
People like me spend 8 thousand for a descent life of course it includes 3500 PG rent, yet that means 4500 I spend on myself and right there in front of me there were 750 families who spend half of what I spend to feed 4 times more people. The value of 1 rs can be felt only at such places.
The fake societies after collecting INR 500 from each of these families simply fled, vanished in thin air and along with them went Rs 375000 (750 * 500), money which could have been used for a child school fees or for the medicine which could have saved a life.
Chachaji asked me one question, " Babuji humara paisa leke who bhage to kisi ne kuch nahi kia, police ne complain likh li , but aaj tak kuch nahi hua, lekin babuji agar hum mein se koi aap jaise logon ka 100 rupaya bhi churay to humeh jail bhi hotih hain aur humeh peeta bhi jaatahain , esa kyun? " ( Sir, they ran with all our money and yet no one did anything , we did lodge a complain with the police , but nothing has been done , but if one of us steal even a mere INR 100 from people like you , We would not only be in jail but we would also be thrashed – why is this so? ) - When I heard this a cold shiver ran through my spine – I was blank , I did not know what to answer to this, very conveniently I changed the topic back to the survey I was suppose to do. I wander if I could have done something more than empathize. I could feel the coldness in his eyes when he spoke.
As I walked further, I saw a scene which flashes in my mind every now and then since I visited the place, there was this lady in her 30’s washing clothes at the roadside, a petty normal scene right? but right in front of this lady there was a small girl- age 4 years , hair all wild, dirt shining on her cheeks , and covered by only a small piece of cloth around her waist , there was a shirt in front of her and a brush in her hand, with the small hands which should be playing with a doll she was struggling to clean a shirt trying to remove the dirt on the shirt, hardly bothered about the dirt on her face , I wonder if any once can ever remove this pain from her childhood. This was a stark contrast to the way we are bought up isn’t it? It was really disheartening to see so many infants losing their childhood. I truly believe in destiny, and this was an perfect example, did these kids chose to be born to pavement dwellers in Mumbai - Where 2 meals a day is a luxury, well all of us am sure would agree that it truly is something much powerful and visionary than our choice that decides this- why? How? I don't know, but surely there has to be some reason for this, one of my friends always says that “just because we do not understand or see the logic behind something, doesn't mean that it is illogical or irrational. It could also be the case that the logic is so complex that it is far beyond our understanding”. The moment I saw those children doing mundane tasks and as I was pondering over there destiny I could only think of these words.
These people were also efficient civil engineers that too without a formal degree, they engineered a two floored hut. The hut which is made of things like aluminum sheets and plastic was divided into two floors – miniature version though.
There was however something strange , people were constantly asking my if I was from income tax department, It really did not make sense to me at first, a man who claims that he earns less than 3000 INR a month , is tensed about having a income tax raid, this really did not make sense . Later on, my guide told me that there are some people living in the pavement who earn much more than what they claim and the people who fear income tax department could be one of such people.
The survey took me 4 hours, I was there asking people questions and the problems they face while opening a bank account. Very few of them had bank accounts , those who had were those who were lucky enough to have both a permanent ration card and a ID proof like voters card , and these proofs were made long time back somewhere in 1995, so invariably men and women aged 40-50 had such proofs and hence bank accounts ,the people aged 31-40 , did not have bank accounts for two reasons , first many of them did not have a photo ID card and secondly since they had no photo card they required a introducer- a person who already has an account in the bank and thus introduces this new member. However such people often charged for introducing, that is just for saying that he knew Mr.X, he was charging a hefty fees thus encouraging financial exclusion.
Very few people had actually tried opening a bank account; rest simply assumed that it was a next to impossible task to open a bank account. There were people who earned very little thus need not feel the need of a savings account., but there were also those who were savings 500-1000 INR monthly but did not open a bank account thinking its a very difficult process. Hence such people saved their money with NBFC's (non banking Financial Companies) or informal co-operations/ NGO’s.
I was happy however to find one thing that the people who did not go to school did send their children to municipal school, and hence at least the path for a literate India has been made. As the poor have understood the importance of education yet at the time when they don't go to school they are mostly doing house hold chores.
The NGO located at this place had done a lot for these people , from providing informal savings deposit to providing them credit in times of need , apart from the financial needs, the NGO also worked to rehabilitate thee people to a proper place, and provided those who remained with the basic facilities like a public Toilet , drinking water .

The next day I went to Chamunda Nagar slum.

I reached the place by 8 am, and found that in many ways it was similar to Thandi sadak but also drastically different in many other ways. People here generally worked as sweepers or house maids.
Speaking to them I came up front with the harsh reality. People there were in abject poverty, there was a temple in the same compound and it had the name of " Chamunda nagar Trust" . When I enquired further with the people there, I was shocked to hear that the trust people who at the face of it should be helping the poor slum dwellers actually add to the problems.
The dwellers told me that, people give a lot of donations to the trust at the temple right in front of these people in the hope that the necessary help is provided to these poor people., but the trust generally do not provide any help from the donations to these people, and if at all they do then the person who has the privilege of getting the monetary support or food is subjected to grave insult .
When I enquired about the office of this trust, they were not in a position to tell me.
This was in striking opposite to the byculla slum, where NGO had done a lot for the people there, but here the very people who should facilitate the donations to such people are depriving them of this facility. Often due to various reasons , they are compelled to take loan, and the only option available to these people are the local money lenders , who charge 150 % interest rates from the dwellers of chamunda Nagar, the people completely ignorant of the high interest rate charged pay this huge interest as the formal institutions failed to provide them access to formal credit.
They fetch drinking water from the nearest railway station, and when there is a sudden need of water at midnight , they cross the railway tracks at the darkest of hours for a bottle of water, many have paid for this right to drinking water by their life.
Ladies had to wait till dark to relief themselves as there were no toilet, the station nearby did have a toilet but it charged 3 INR per usage, and they could not afford this luxury. 3 Rs was all they needed to get relieved, I could never have understood the value of 3 rs , better than here. When I was walking towards this place, I had seen that one side of the road men were taking bath, and right opposite to them , the women tried to cover their modesty while taking bath, its such a shame that while we boast of women empowerment, powerful women CEO's ,these women have only one objective – protect their modesty, they may not be the most powerful CEO but the fight they pursue daily is nothing less.
The people here reflected the spirit to upgrade, they wanted to move up the social and monetary ladder . Out of the 37 families I had spoken to at least 15 families told me that they did try opening an account in bank, but they could not succeed as banks demand a photo ID card like "Voters card or Employee Id " or something of similar kind , but they did not have these documents at most they had a ration card that too a temporary one . Banks often asked for someone who already had a count with the bank and could introduce the new member which is a huge hassle for the poor .
Those who had all these documents, faced another problem , their ration cards had the addresses of other areas, but banks specifically wanted ration card denoting their address where they were staying .When they went to apply for a fresh ration card or change the address then they demanded bank account proof , thus they were caught in this unbreakable loop of bank account and ration card.
There was one more thing common between these slums- the shine in their eyes., it truly is remarkable that these people who are surviving with the minimum are still happy ,and their eyes reflect joy, which they see in their loved ones. in the one plate of rice they eat after a tiring day, cherishing the taste of each grain because it take may take many days or weeks before they have this luxury again .

Children were happy playing in dust, there nose wet, half naked, they were enjoying themselves – satisfied with what they had- quite the opposite of the urban kid who wants the latest car or Barbie.

The next visit was to the Ganesh Nagar slum at borivali. This visit did not materialize due to various reasons and am again slum hunting. I think most probably I would be going to a slum near Bandra . So may be the next post would be about that visit and the banks I visited.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Beginning of an unforgettable experience

As a part of my summer internship I am suppose to do a survey of the slums in Mumbai. The survey is to find out extent of Financial Inclusion in Slums of Mumbai. Financial inclusion is defined as, "The process of ensuring access to financial services and timely and adequate credit where needed by vulnerable groups such as weaker sections and low income groups at an affordable cost."
Much has been done for the rural poor – not that the life of the rural poor is significantly better now, but at least at the level of policy making, there are a host of policies framed keeping the rural poor in mind. Since I am doing my summer at the central bank of India (RBI), I do not have much exposure to the implementation of such policies thus I limit my self here at the policy making stage.
Facilities like-
Business Correspondent (BC) -where bank send officials to provide banking services at the footsteps of the rural poor , such officials are BC's and they provide a host of services to the poor, ranging from Savings ( both deposit and withdrawal) , filling up forms of opening a bank account or applying for a loan . This has helped the rural poor to a great extend as now he need not travel to the bank branch.
Smart card - These are bio metric cards given to the rural poor, these are equivalents of ATM's, the difference being the access is not through a pin code but through finger print and which can be used through BC's.
There are a lot many such options available to the rural poor, however the urban poor has been neglected since a long time, the only privilege he has got is "No frills account" which RBI had asked all the bank branches to compulsorily open. These account have minimum balance in the range of INR 0- 500, also the host of documents required to open savings account( ID proof, Address proof,etc) are relaxed , thus encouraging the urban poor to open a savings account . Yet the urban poor are deprived of the basic access to formal credit and saving account.

My project is with respect to the urban poor, I am suppose to find out why is it that the urban poor are still financial excluded.
Last 2 weeks have been spend on identifying the slums where I would conduct the survey, and framing the questionnaire and finally today am going to begin my survey.

The slums identified are –

Chamunda nagar – Slum consisting of roughly 125 families, in Bhandup. People leaving here work mostly as maids, sweepers and daily workers. .

Ganesh Nagar – a slum located at Borivali, consisting of 175 families , and the most developed slum among the 3 that I have chosen ( By developed I mean, few men in these slums speak correct English and are working in banks, yet there are also house maids and sweepers living as their neighbours )

Pathadwadi – A slum located at Byculla, these are mostly pavement dwellers , and this slum is one among 8 slums located at the same place . These are mostly daily workers.

These 3 slums are chosen as it covers the 3 corners of Mumbai.

Bhandup being at North East Mumbai.
Borivali being at North West Mumbai
Byculla being at South Mumbai.

I have had a few visits to slums last week for identifying the slums for the survey, and the experience was unique in its own kind.It pains to see that 49% of Mumbai lives in the places called slum ( All India Average being 15%- That is 15% of the urban India lives in slums ) .

Yesterday I had gone to a slum named Sudan jhopri, it's in Colaba . For those who are not familiar with Mumbai, colaba is a posh area in south Mumbai .On my way to the jhopri I had to walk though colaba market, it is a place where one can see more foreigners than Indians, who come there to buy Indian jewellery, antique decorative items , Cloths with Gods/Goddesses printed on them and more of these .
There was a at least a dozed Brand outlets there in the same road, and ironically hardly 5 min walk from such a place is Sudam Jhopri where people live in make shift huts, and the few who are lucky to have a House made of Bricks share it with a dozen others making the huts look more spacious. As I walked in , and started speaking to a man in his 40's , the first question he asked me was " Mujhe kya faeda hoga" , he was asking me if he agrees to answer my question how would he be benefited, it took me a good 10 min to explain things to him . But isn't this what all of us think always – " our benefit" .

Inside I was spoke to 7 people in total, and Few myths which were there in my mind were broken few of them being

I always thought that since the urban poor do not have any Identification proof they are unable to open a savings account, but the fact is that they all had Ration cards ( which is accepted by banks as a proof to open "no frills account") , and out of these 7 people only 2 had a bank account .

I was told that the poor were denied access to credit , but I realized that they did not want credit, :) they prefer living with what little they had than taking credit, out of these 7 only 1 man had taken credit that too, to repair his house .

Those who did have a bank account were not aware of basic facilities like ATM, and those who did , were not given ATM's by the bank . Later when I did visit a bank ,I realized that though the bank claims that the "no frill account" holders can avail of ATM's , but it was given to them only if they requested for it. I wander how they expected the urban poor to know the usage and benefits of ATM .

These findings were based only on 1 visit. So PLEASE do not jump to any conclusion.
Once my survey is done I would share my experience and the findings in the blog space.
I am really looking forward the survey today, I am visiting Byculla today. I will share my experience of the survey soon.