Digitally cool, Lakdi ka Pul

By Aastha Joshi

The digitisation of financial transactions in Lakdi Ka Pul was the first thing that appealed to me when I visited my fieldwork site. Lakdi Ka Pul is one of the oldest junctions of the historical city of Hyderabad. I would like to highlight through my blog how the oldest part of an ancient city has transitioned with technology and matched the pace of digitisation in terms of financial transactions. We talk about formal and informal economies, and measure them through different parameters. Transaction of money is one of the basic components of trade. This article will focus on incrementality in terms of technology and economic inclusion of informal economies in the mainstream through digital transactions.

Nowadays, the use of technology has become ubiquitous in every sphere of modern life. Hyderabad is the hub of the nation’s information technology boom. And its spillover effects are highly visible in other sectors too.  It has helped the economy in several positive ways, by checking unaccounted money, filing returns, lower risks of carrying cash, etc… On the other side, it also raises concerns like cyber security, safety of money, difficulty for the technologically uninitiated, among others. Let us have a small GIF tour to understand digital payment through the LKP perspective.

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I came across the above GIF image when I stepped into Lakdi ka Pul area and went to buy a screen guard for my mobile phone.  While paying for the stuff I bought, I was amazed when the street vendor offered me multiple online payment options like Paytm, BHIM, Google pay, etc… Moreover, during a conversation with him, he explained to me how easy business has become for him after using such methods for trade. It helps him in saving money and he can keep track of his earnings with relative ease. Interestingly, he also mentioned that he felt like he was contributing towards the digitisation of the economy and working towards making the country more modern and youth friendly. Question that arises here is does incrementality is being ahead of others or coping with change. Sometimes change isn’t easy like difficulty in acquiring advanced knowledge. Street vendors like Salil Bhai who is in his late 60’s sometimes find technical operations on mobile difficult.

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The above GIF was captured on my third visit to the field. I met a young merchant who ran a shop that sold mobile phone recharge vouchers. We talked about how the online recharge system had taken over their business to some extent. He also offers online payment mode for his services for recharging prepaid mobile carriers. I saw a flock of birds sitting on the several wires that hung around the place and casually asked him, “Bhaiya in wires ki wajzah se dikkat to nai hoti, idhar udhar latakte rehte hai?” and he promptly replied, “Arey Madam, ye wire hi to duniya ko jod kar rakhti hai, isse se hi to internet chalta haii!” Despite not knowing much about the workings of the telecom business, he is making his contribution according to his own understanding. He is facing two difficulties one the online competition and the other is accidental risk of entangled wires. Here I experienced a gap between incremental progress in the system and required skill to match the progress.  The world is moving towards internet based services and leaving behind those who couldn’t catch the pace. This can be compared with cyber cafe businesses, which are losing their customers because of ease in accessibility.

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From very large establishments to a small vegetable seller, everyone was digitised in their own way. Yes, Lakdi ka Pul shows great parity in terms using digital modes of payment. From the lens of incrementality it can be termed as evolution or clearly shows the process of digitisation in the area. They cater to a different customer base, they sell totally diverge commodity, in fact they belong to two different worlds but united by progressive and transparent ideas.

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I took this image above when I visited the Financial District. A huge contrast can be seen: companies who develop, maintain and operate such transactions were adjacent to their most loyal customers. Allow me to clarify my use of the word ‘loyal’; I visited two shops in that area, one was a bakery where I stopped to buy mineral water bottles and the other was a small pan shop from where I bought some pieces of chewing gums. Both the shops accepted digital payments. While the first shopkeeper was sceptical about digital payment or any such transactions, the owner of the smaller shop casually said, “Madam jaise aapki marzi Hum aapki sewa mein hai idhar”. Digital payments are one of the authentic modes of transparent transactions or what we call White money and the question of unaccounted money is the biggest mystery in our country which can be resolved through such initiatives; But the bigger question is do we really want it to happen? The above quoted incident not only shows the faith of the poor towards the system but also ignorance of well off people. Vulnerable has seen the worst in his life and his life is like an open book and hence he welcomes any positive change happily and feels proud about his contribution.

Incrementality in terms of digitisation of Lakdi ka Pul has traveled a long journey from being an old age marketplace to modern shopping arena. People from almost all walks of life come here and contribute their bit. But the question is still the same. How everyone reacted to such incremental growth and till what extent it is profitable for them?  Did digital incrementality was successful in bridging the gap between rich and poor, across genders?

The abandoned buildings in Lakdi ka pul

By Anmol Rana

While walking towards Lakdi ka pul it is difficult to ignore the odd wooden structure which supposedly replicates the real bridge that the name is derived from. There is no Lakdi ka pul; the name merely pays tribute to the legacy of the wooden bridge that once existed in its place. As you move forward along NH-9 you see yourself crossing the junction with busy traffic and ongoing commercial activities.

The one-way traffic that passes through, the huge building structures appear to have pushed the structures away; the noise of the traffic makes pedestrians stall while they’re walking. What is interesting is the contrast between the commercial activities reflected on either side of the road.

On the left side of the road, you can see parked vehicles, people walking in the limited space, while the traffic frantically passes through. The buildings on the left side facing the road present a picture of busy commercial activity. From hotels, furniture shops, travel agencies, khadi, you can find it all.

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Contrary to this, the right side of the same road has empty shops with their shutters pulled down. As one moves a little further ahead, with no space between the road and structures, the abandoned building comes into view prominently, bearing ‘to-let signs’ on them. Older sign boards still hang on the facades of these buildings, indicating that these used to be hotels or furniture shops earlier, but their names have been blurred out by the dust that has settled on them.

This contrast between the two sides of the road raises many questions. The abandoned buildings seem old and gloomy and appear to have left a prosperous past behind them. But it is not just the old buildings that have been left abandoned; more recent ones lay unoccupied as well. An interesting fact about this location is that the road has been expanded over time and even transformed into a one way to accommodate the increasing traffic.

While the road on the left has been expanded thrice, the one on the right has been expanded only once.  It makes one wonder why the left side of the road has parking space while the right side doesn’t. As one takes the NH-9 road, you realize that it goes uphill and then down, and after taking the turn through the triangle, you realize that the local railway station passes under the bridge (Lakdi ka pul). What this suggests is that the landscape of the place which is hilly has been changed or planned to appear as we see it today.

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It questions the circumstance that allowed such imbalanced planning and equally raises suspicion on the existence of potential influence, which resulted in certain group’s interests being favoured over the other’s. This might be speculative, but it does urge one to ask such questions.

While having a conversation with a very old resident whose family has been running a hotel in the area since generations, it became very evident. As the proud owner of café Victory, he talked about how the area has changed over the ages. He said ‘Kuchh nahi tha yaha pehle‘ (nothing existed here before). What you see now were residential buildings, but due to the location of Lakdi ka pul “aab sab business chaltha hai yeha” (now all businesses run here). This is why the road you see now has expanded so many times, even the area of my shop has been reduced. We do not know when the expansion will happen again. There was uncertainty in the manner he spoke. He told us that even after the road had been expanded, no one thought of parking space or footpaths for the shops. It was only after the people made some attempts to talk to the municipality with the help of influential people that the parking space was allowed on the left side of the road. He said that those with power and affluence had the connections in deciding who gets parking. While questioning indignantly on the legitimacy of such action, he took a sigh of relief as his shop coincidentally inclined with the side that has parking. This is why the shops on the other side keep losing business and therefore lie abandoned now, he explained. He can’t even remember how many shops have come and gone during this period. I asked him if no one ever protested against this unfair treatment. Someone must have, he said, but “koi chara nahi hai,” (No other choice) he sighed.

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The abandoned building in Lakdi ka Pul represents the ghost of planning that has failed to accommodate various stakeholders who are affected by those very decisions. This has led to ill-planned infrastructure development, resulting in disadvantageous conditions for commercial activities, thereby forcing business enterprises to change locations. The top-down approach often is so blindly goal-oriented that it fails to accommodate the landscape, people, business, or residents of the area into its planning design. If the aim is to expand the road to provide more space for traffic, then what about its impact on other activities in the area? The connections that could make a difference for some and not for others has at least allowed some voices to be heard. In this complex urban space, nobody knows where accountability lies and with whom. What lies ahead for the abandoned building is an undefined path, with no one to rent insight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COVID19 Essential Services Directory

This is the sixth layer in a Directory of Essential Services made by TISS as part of its response to combating the Covid-19 virus. It shows locations of all food distribution centres in Mumbai where the MCGM is distributing cooked food. This food is available for different vulnerable groups, including those who don’t have ration cards. This list was last updated on 18th April 2020.

Map Production: Centre for Urban Policy and Governance, TISS, along with the M Ward Project and other civil society partners

Source: The data has been sourced from the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) with civil society support

What does the map tell you about the availability of resources? Do you sense a pattern? Do share your observations with us.

#TISSCOVID19Response

COVID 19 Essential Services Directory

This is the fifth layer in a Directory of Essential Services made by TISS as part of its response to combating the Covid-19 virus. It shows locations of all neighborhood level institutions that have been earmarked as quarantine facilities by MCGM. Here, close contacts of positive patients and positive asymptomatic patients will be kept for the quarantine period (2 weeks time, provided no new cases are registered). This list was last updated on April 24.

Map Production: Centre for Urban Policy and Governance, TISS, along with the M Ward Project and other civil society partners

Source: The data has been sourced from the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) with civil society support

#TISSCOVID19Response

Covid19 Essential Services Directory

This is the fourth layer in a Directory of Essential Services made by TISS as part of its response to combating the Covid-19 virus. It shows locations of all ration shops in Mumbai where food grains are being distributed to those with yellow and orange ration cards during the Covid-19 crisis. In addition to subsidized rice, wheat and dal, card holders are eligible for 5 kg of rice free for months of April, May and June.

Map Production: Centre for Urban Policy and Governance, TISS, along with the M Ward Project and other civil society partners

Source: The data has been sourced from the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) with civil society support

#TISSCOVID19Response

In conversation with Professor Amita Bhide

The Sabha interviewed Professor Amita Bhide, Dean, School of Habitat Studies, to gather insight on the distress experienced by migrant populations during these uncertain times, the hardships endured by communities living in M-East Ward, Govandi, and to know about the relief measures afoot in the area.

“…I think what has been exposed most is the neglect of entire informal settlements. Neglect of the entire Public Health system over a period of many many years so much so that today you have hardly any Primary Health care system. And if you don’t have a Primary Health care system, if you don’t have a good child care system, all of those things which have worked well in the case of Kerala. They could mobilize a very large force of volunteers on the ground. Today if this is happening in Mumbai, all of it cannot make up for all these defaults in the span of one month or 15 days and these are the fault lines which are visible now. We have completely neglected some of these departments, completely. There is no presence at all.”

You can read the entire interview here.

 

Community engagement during Covid 19

Here is our fourth community story, titled ‘Toy Story’. The lockdown and the quarantine can be a difficult time, especially for children, who miss the experience of going to school, meeting their friends, or playing outdoors. This can also adversely affect children’s mental health. To help children cope with the stress induced by lockdown, Srishti Jaitley from the Transforming M-Ward project came up with an idea. Using smartphones and internet access, she has been reaching out to students, encouraging them to create toys using household waste items, such as scrap paper or plastic. The children have been making paper toys, puppets and toy houses recycling waste from their homes. While this is a far cry from the experience of going to school or meeting friends, the Centre is hoping this restores some semblance of normalcy to their lives, at least temporarily.

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DIRECTORY OF ESSENTIAL SERVICES

This is the second layer in the Directory of Essential Services made by TISS as part of its response to combating the Covid-19 virus. It shows locations of all Shiv Bhojan Canteens in Mumbai that serves a lunch thali for Rs 5 during the Covid-19 crisis. Menu consists of dal, rice, 2 chapatis and 1 sabji.

Map Production: Centre for Urban Policy and Governance, TISS, along with the M Ward Project and other civil society partners

Source: The data has been sourced from the Aadhaar enabled Public Distribution System, Government of Maharashtra, with civil society support

#TISSCOVID19Response

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT DURING COVID19

In our continuing efforts to engage with distressed communities, we have another story that might offer some hope in these uncertain times.

Around 180 homeless individuals who live in Subash Nagar in Jogeshwari East and rely on the area’s community tap for water were restricted from accessing it by the area’s residents, for fears of Covid19 infection. Access to other neighbourhoods was also restricted owing to the lockdown and the mandate of social distancing. A local activist working with the M-Ward Project, Mr. Nitin Kubal, noticed this and pursued the MCGM to lay water pipes in the area. After much persuasion, the pipes were finally laid, much to the relief of these communities who are already battling poverty, homelessness, and other forms of urban exclusions.

CUPG and TISS are humbled to be able to publish stories of hope and resilience, directly from the ground, during these troubled times.

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