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Saturday, February 14, 2004

Noted columnists Thomas Friedman, with tongue firmly in his cheek, queried: “Was your grand-mother playing bridge with the Frenchmen on the internet in 1900?” This simple question encapsulates the world that we are living in. There is growing integration and the interdependence of societies and economies across the world, which we call as globalization. However much some of us may despise it and however much one may argue against it, we cannot wish away the fact that we are living in a globalized world.

Globalisation provided us with opportunities, which were unthinkable a decade ago. Look around and look at our own city, the impact of globalization are evident. Cyberabad, one of the software capitals of India, would not have come into existence had it not been for globalization. Our city is teeming with young men and women working hard and having a decent life style. New residential localities and glitzy shopping arcades adorn the city landscape. This is not something unique to Hyderabad. As the UN-Habitat statistics demonstrate that in the past decade, the period of the greatest wealth creation in history, cities recorded largest ever growth. But there is a catch here; the global economic forces are unregulated. As a consequence their benefits are limited to only those sections of society which can compete at global level and the rest, who are not equipped with good social and physical infrastructure, get left out. The poverty in rural areas and glittering lights of the city beckon many to urban areas where the opportunities are limited, which propels many to live in squalid slums enduring acute shortage of basic amenities.

To condemn globalization for exacerbating inequalities in cities, which is the easiest thing to do, would do little in finding a fair solution. On the other hand, to see globalization as panacea for all the ills of the society would be foolhardy. It is the inherent nature of global economic forces to exacerbate inequalities, as they are propelled by profit motives rather than by the desire to promote larger common good. It is the state that should offset the pernicious effects of globalization through its creative interventions by ensuring that the benefits of globalization percolate to all sections of society. This involves proper deployment of a society’s resources to ensure that basic amenities are provided to the underprivileged and opportunities for vertical mobility are available to all. Tragically, this is not a case with our government. A few illustrations will underscore the point.

The government has been spending crores of rupees on beautifying the precincts of Tank Bund. Nothing wrong, but contrast this with government efforts in saving water bodies in and around Hyderabad. Hyderabad once had 532 lakes or water bodies. Today, as per ‘government statistics’ only 170 water bodies have survived. It is only after judicial intervention that the government has started making some half-hearted attempts to save these lakes from encroachments. The consequence of this myopic obsession with one mega project and the callous disregard for others has resulted in acute water shortage in the city. To cite another example, the government’s proactive approach in facilitating mega housing/construction projects should be appreciated but, contrast this with the approach towards shelter-less people in the city. It is estimated that there are approximately 60,000 - 70,000 homeless in the city. So far, the government has not made any credible attempt to provide public-shelters or night-shelters to protect this segment of population from biting cold or scorching heat. The only ‘approach’ the government has been adopting towards the shelter-less has been to clean them off the streets whenever there is a visiting dignitary. This reluctance to address the concerns of the poor will only increase their deprivation. This deprivation, in the context of ostentatious life styles of the few, will become a fertile breeding ground for crime and violence. Already the evidence suggests such possibilities. For instance, in 2000 there were 1,161 burglaries in the city, which witnessed a quantum jump in 2003 with almost 2000 burglaries.

Indeed, the arrival of multi-national corporations and software firms in the last decade did generate wealth in our city. However, the experience of last decade also demonstrates that the government needs to take steps to help large sections of population to share the benefits of globalization. It is only the fusion of the global economic forces and high quality urban governance, which will make our cities true wealth creators and heavens of opportunity.

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