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  • Do the Poor need a Poverty line?

  • Fish Vendors finally win space for vending — Congratulations Matsyagandha Co-operative

  • Poor uprooted for Urban Development

  • Recognition for Surendranagar SEWA Co-operative, salt workers and agricultural labourers

  • Education is important

Side Divider
No. 36 | September 2011
H2 Side Do the Poor need a Poverty line?

Recently, the Indian Planning Commission filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court declaring that the poverty line was fixed at a daily expenditure of Rs 32 ($ 0.70) per day per person for urban areas and Rs 26 ($0.55) for rural areas. This means that a person consuming Rs 33 per day and above in a city is no longer poor!! So at today's prices, if people consume more than 2 gms of pulses and 5 gms of vegetables per day, and spend more than Rs 49 per month on rent or Rs 29 per month on education, they will not be counted as poor!

The discussion on the calculation of the poverty line has come into the public domain. It has come out of the hands of experts, economists and policy makers and has gone to those with real knowledge--- the common people. For last 20 years, the experts have written books and studies about poverty and have devised complicated tools for measuring it and most people did not realize they were being measured!

SEWA welcomes this open and widespread debate on poverty measurement.

SEWA members are asking: we see over 70% of families in India, live with continuous income insecurity and social vulnerability, are they not poor? Most workers in India are in the unorganised sector with insecure, low earnings, and no social security. Some days they may get work and earn, and many days they do not. Their expenses for health care and education are often higher than their earnings and lead them into debt. Do they not need support? No, says the Government. They must prove that they consume less than Rs 32 a day or Rs 26 in rural areas. It is not only the figures which are absurd, but also the "poverty line" which divides society into "poor" and "non-poor".

The poverty line is a device through which Government targets its benefits only to the poor. But this line is rather arbitrary. So, in Ahmedabad city, 8% of population are below poverty line ! Only they get the benefit of Government subsidies as most subsidies to the poor are intended only for those below this very low, rather arbitrary poverty line.

Everything is wrong with this targeted approach. Studies show that 50% the really poor do not have a BPL card. Even for those with BPL cards the subsidies, which are intended for them do not reach because of the clogged pipes from corruption. Rising inflation, is rapidly making everyone poor, declaring an amount like Rs 32 every ten years, is hardly the way to approach dynamic poverty.

SEWA believes that we need another approach. Not a targeted BPL approach, but a more integrated one, drawing on peoples own strengths. First, recognize that over 70% of the population has benefitted less from growth. Those with high education and capital have benefitted tremendously but benefits decline as we go down the occupational and income scale. All are growing at different speeds, with the rich experiencing very high-speed growth and the poor experiencing lower and lower speeds. So, the first recommendation let us have growth which involves all. That is growth which is decentralized and draws on local resources.

At present, incomes are very low. Although minimum wages have been declared, it is rare for anyone to get them. In some occupations workers earn barely half the minimum wage! Self employed earn even less. We must work on ways to increase incomes and productivity.

Health costs are today the single highest reason for exploitative debt. It is most important that affordable and high quality health care be available to all. We need a good quality universal, low priced health system.

Food security is a basic need. Certain basic foods like grains, sugar and vegetables should be made available at steady and affordable prices to all.

Educational opportunities, are open to well off families, but poor families either have to go into debt or send their children to low-quality schools. School level education and skill training of good quality too should be made available to all.

Finally, it is better to localize benefits. Rather than Government of India deciding who is poor, the village itself, or the urban local community (mohalla) can identify those that need special help.

H2 Side Fish Vendors finally win space for vending—Congratulations Matsyagandha Co-operative

September 7 was a day of double celebration for Matsyagandha fish vendors Co-operative. Elaben Bhatt, Founder, SEWA inaugurated vending place for the fish vendors in Chamanpura under bridge along with inauguration of warehouse at Kalapinagar.

Elaben, Founder, SEWA shared, 'Fish vending requires neat and clean environment. The buyers should feel encouraged by the quality of fish and good surroundings. Our aim should be to organize more and more women associated with Fish business and contribute to the progress of the Co-operative. The Fish business will grow provided there is direct linkage between the fishing and selling women. And it will be beneficial to all. The co-operative will strengthen with unity, transparency and hard work.'

While recollecting the history of struggles of Matsyagandha Co-operative, Suruchiben Mehta shared that in the year 2009, the Co-operative purchased a bungalow at West Punjab Society, Chamanpura. The plan was to provide vending place to 100 women and also manage office and warehouse from the same place to facilitate the Co-operative members.

The society opposed the fish market and filed a court case. Though we won the court case in the lower court but they appealed in Tribunal court which would take long time and so we were forced to sell that place. On the other hand, the harassment from corporation was increasing day by day but the women stood their ground and asked for other place in the same area.

Ultimately, due to our organizing strength, corporation gave 7 warehouses to women and asked them to shift. The vendors went to the new place and discovered that there were no light, gutter, water, toilet, etc and thus returned disappointed. Later, after repeated meetings with Deputy Commissioner and with the loan from Federation, the basic facilities were integrated. In spite of various pressures, the women won the vending place as their Co-operative was active in the area. And now the vending place at Chamanpura and warehouse at Kalapinagar is inaugurated, it is indeed a big achievement for the Co-operative members!

Lalitaji, President, Federation shared, 'It is important that the producer and trader work hand in hand for the progress of the Co-operative. Various trainings provided to the members contribute in improving their skills. We have also made a documentary 'Matsyagandha ni Sugandh'. We have also joined members with other services provided by sister organizations. Continuous efforts are made for their overall development. It is essential that the market is clean and equipped with modern facilities.'

H2 Side Poor uprooted for Urban Development

SEWA's membership comprises of informal sector women workers. Most of our members are affected with the current development in the name of mega cities. Instead of adapting to diverse socio-cultural needs our present urban planning is displacing the poor out of the city. While planning various infrastructural changes like broadening of roads, building under or over bridge, building public convention centres, malls and parks the poor are left out.

Development doesn't mean displacing, uprooting and relocating the poor away from the city. Development doesn't mean increasing the struggle of people to survive. Development doesn't mean making the poor, poorer. Development doesn't mean benefiting one section of society at the cost of other. Development should ensure benefit to all sections of society.

Indore is moving rapidly towards development. The poor people are removed from their place to built 4 lane roads to connect one city to other. Mega-structures are being built and changes are taking place in the name of beautification. This change has grave impact on poor working class. When mills closed down in Indore, people started small vending businesses. The wives of millworkers make Bidis and are SEWA members. When the roads were being broadened for city's development, they were asked to vacate their vending place and where not allowed to vend there again. The roads near their houses were also being developed for which 40-45 houses were razed.

Rajkumariben, Katiyar used to sell vegetables on the footpath corner. She lived with her husband and two children. She shared, 'some days back, my husband suddenly fell ill. The government hospital doctor gave some medicines and advised my husband to rest for some days. All the responsibilities of home and vegetable vending came on my shoulder. The government officials stopped all of us to vend from our usual place. My husband is ill and our only means of earning is also lost. I do domestic work to run household expenses and to arrange for my husband's medical expenses.'

Chayyaben, Bhagalpur is a rag picker since past 20 years and resided within the city. It was decided to build a children's park on the place of our residence. We struggled a lot as the new place allotted to us was out of the city. Every day we leave at 4 in the morning as it takes 2-3 hours to reach the city. We feel scared to travel alone.

Rinkiben have built house from polythene after their house was demolished. There is drainage besides her house which overflows during monsoon. Insects come in the house. She angry asks, 'Do we have right to live? Why are poor people like us not considered during the city planning?'.

Kakariya Lake Front, Sabarmati River Front, BRTS Janmarg, Convention Centres, Over bridge, Under bridge, C G Road, S G Road, Cineplex, Malls… development?! 13.4 % slum dwellers and vendors are affected due to various development projects. 15 % vendors' earnings have affected. Traditional Gurjari (sunday) market is displaced for River Front.

Before she was displaced to Ganeshnagar, Kamlaben resided at Dani Limda for 20 years. Ganeshnagar is a very filthy area without any basic necessities. Besides, there is no transportation available.

Savitaben Patni, vendor shared, 'Vendors are directly linked with land. Vendors are loosing their vending space, markets are destroyed, and means of earning are lost. The city has provision for Janmarg but not for vendors. Development doesn't mean destroying means of livelihood of the poor. All we ask for is a vending place of two baskets! And which is returned at night.'

In the year 2000, historical market behind Red Fort was removed. Thousands lost their means of earning in the name of development. The women of Raghuveernagar seek help of SEWA. After 4 years of continued struggle, in 2005 the market was revived at North Velodrum Road. In the year 2009, the market was once again closed citing security reasons and within a week the work of Flyover was initiated. The struggle to reestablish the market is ongoing.

Informal sector workers are part of the city, state and country's development. Development doesn't mean building hospital, schools, parks, roads or providing electricity, water and sanitation while adversely affecting the source of poor's employment. The market, school and hospital should be near the residence of poor and within the city. The development of the city should be inclusive of informal sector workers.

H2 Side Recognition for Surendranagar SEWA Co-operative, salt workers and agricultural labourers

Surendranagar Mahila Bal Vikas Co-operative, was awarded with prestigious Skoch Digital Inclusion Award 2011 at New Delhi. The members of the co-operative—salt workers and agricultural labourers-- are perhaps the most exploited and poor of Surendranagar, a semi-desert of Gujarat. The women salt workers labour in salt fields under the hot sun, knee deep in salt water. "Our skin is corroded with salt and it even gets into our bones so that when we die, our bones do not burn". In spite of such hard work, the workers earn a pittance and are perpetually in debt.

Surendranagar Co-operative has made its members the owners of the salt fields so that for the first time, their earnings have become enough to eat well and to send their children to school. The Co-operative also provides child care so that mothers do not have to take their small children with them to work under the desert sun.

We congratulate the Co-operative on its success!

H2 Side Education is important

SEWA Academy celebrated World Literacy Day on 8 September. Around 140 women of Rabari Vasahat, Odhav participated in this celebration. The celebration was part of two-month long campaign to spread awareness on literacy classes among women. The main aim of this programme is to emphasize on the importance of education among informal sector workers, which is useful in their day to day life. A documentary film 'Literacy Campaign' was screened.

Champaben Parmar shared, 'I was an illiterate but after joining Literacy classes I can write my own name. I have also enrolled my daughter in Literacy classes along with me.'

SEWA's various efforts strive to motivate children to attend school regularly. We also facilitate linkages with various educational institutes for further education of our member's children. One such opportunity recently benefited SEWA's daughters. 31 girls received scholarship from Shreyas Foundation with the help of SEWA.

Shweta, 11-year old shared, 'I study in Shreyas Foundation. Till Standard 6, I studied in my old school. We were not taught anything in the school. My friends used bad language during fights. But here in my new school, we all are good friends. I have mingled with everyone. I aspire to be a Doctor but had never seen a laboratory before. I go to my new school's laboratory and also carry out experiments.'

Sheetal, studying in standard 5 shared, 'I want to become a Pilot. I live in Ambedkarnagar. My father is a mason and mother is a domestic worker. I want to study a lot. We learn swimming at the school, which I enjoy a lot. We are taught to make toys from clay. I enjoy going to my new school.'
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