Thursday, July 24, 2014

Food for Thought-A matter of concern

Food for Thought-A matter of concern                                                            July 24, 2014

For India’s rich , a new motto: To have, but not to hold              
Along a small secluded stretch off the Yamuna Expressway outside Delhi is a 24 storey apartment block billed as the future of hyper luxury. With one private residence to a floor, each 12,000 square foot flat is equivalent in area to the main hall of Vigyan Bhawan. Its eight bedrooms, dens and entertainment rooms come fully furnished along with a 30 foot pool, six servant ‘residences’ and a car lift that raises your Jaguar to your floor. Conceived by an Italian designer, furniture is manufactured in Singapore, with air conditioning and kitchen equipment from Germany. The apartment is encased in a sophisticated solar shield and protected from the harsh summer sunlight with louvers that rotate on a computer programme. The sale, naturally, is by invitation only.

If you stand on the high parapet on the 24th floor and look beyond the place, your vision will quickly take in the temporary encampments and tarpaulin slums that rise in the near horizon; human forms moving about in the mud are the thousands who made the luxury apartment possible. Such extremes encourage a growing divide; the air conditioned school that mollycoddles the child with weekends in London, at one end and at the other, a broken ruin of a public school with no teachers, and no toilets for girls.

How do you even begin to reconcile these unfortunate extremes? For the most part, the poor in our cities are treated as residue; they live in leftover spaces under flyovers, over city drains and sewers; their needs of health, education, commerce are performed by an undergrowth of spurious services and half baked professionals who see profit in the large numbers.

Where are the schools without air conditioning but with teachers; where are the health clinics with committed doctors; or housing schemes that innovate for the poor? Without basic facilities, the concentration of wealth into a single act of philanthropy becomes sadly misplaced. After the industrial revolution, the health of most western nations evolved in cycles of shared wealth. Irrefutable proof from there says that collective prosperity became possible only when private funds were directed through philanthropy or taxation to benefit the poor. Sweden’s high taxes funded health care and education. Having made his millions. American Andrew Carnegie promoted public libraries.

If the Indian city is to gain anything from private largesse, tycoons and business houses will need to open their eyes to the more difficult conditions of urban reality, and directed a more compassionate gaze to their less fortunate citizens.

Extract of an article by Gautam Bhatia TOI, 20 July 2014

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