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Anirudha Dutta
I tell you stories beyond the numbers

In search of a house (and dignity)

Parvati works in homes as a part-time help and ours is one of those homes. Some weeks back she asked my wife for a loan to make part-payment for a house that they were planning to buy beyond the distant Virar. My wife asked a few questions, asked Parvati to get the documents for the proposed house that she has and asked me to give my opinion whether Parvati is doing the right thing.

So one evening I found myself in a discussion with Parvati and her husband, who had brought the documents with him. As I perused the documents and asked a few questions, I was shocked. Parvati booked a room with a toilet to be constructed by a builder named Austin Constructions from Mira Road a few years back. His construction site is in Thane. She had to make a down payment of Rs2 lacs, for which she borrowed money at 2% interest rate per month by mortgaging her jewellery to the local moneylender. For two years now she has been paying interest at 2% per month on the borrowed amount and also paying rent in the one room tenement she stays in a Worli slum.

The builder has given a document on his letterhead, which states that a particular tenement has been allotted to Parvati and her husband for Rs6 lacs. There is no commitment on the delivery date etc. It also goes on to say that on possession of the apartment, the builder would have granted an interest free loan of Rs4 lacs to Parvati (the balance cost of the apartment). The loan is to be repaid in 24 monthly instalments starting from the month of possession of the “apartment” and default for even one month would mean that the builder can repossess the flat.

The poor live in such uncertainties that they have accepted these terms and conditions where they have no rights and they can be dispossessed of their apartment very easily. The story doesn’t end here. Apparently the two brothers who own the construction firm had a fall-out and one of them vanished. The second brother, who claims he is honest, intends to meet all the commitments.

So he offered Parvati an apartment somewhere beyond Virar – this time one room with a kitchen and toilet. But even this project is stalled for some reason or the other. Meanwhile Parvati is losing her patience and presumably also coming under increasing financial strain. So the builder offered her another place somewhere in Thane (different from the first one), which is ready and available for possession.

The catch is that the price went up by Rs2 lacs, which Parvati has agreed to. Of the Rs2 lacs, Parvati has to pay an additional sum of Rs1 lac immediately before registration of the apartment and her interest free loan amount will go up by Rs1 lac. This is where we come in. I am not sure whether Parvati will get her apartment even after paying this money because someone is staying in this apartment. The builder has assured them that this person is his representative and will vacate immediately.

Let’s assume everything goes well. But there will be relatively limited opportunities to earn what they are earning now while staying in Worli.  Therefore, her ability to service the loan will be limited and at risk. What do we do? We will most likely give 50% of the additional loan amount but once she moves we have no way to ensure that our loan is repaid or written off over a period of time when she works with us. We have asked her to arrange the balance loan from one of the other households she works in. None of this is easy for Parvati and very time consuming. Meanwhile the meter on her loan from the moneylender keeps ticking.

To add to my concerns, I feel that this new construction may not be entirely legal. The recent collapse of a building in Mumbra has further raised my concerns. But Parvati and her husband are convinced about it and say they have asked around and people have been staying here for the last ten years. Assuming that everything was legal indeed, then can Parvati get a loan from a bank? The entire family has got their Aadhaar cards but not a bank account. And without any steady source of income (I am sure no bank will consider household work as permanent employment), the chances of a loan are close to zero even if the bank account gets opened some day.

My next question was on the Aadhaar card (a pet subject of mine, as regular readers would have realised). Parvati has no idea what it is for; it is just another card. Shilpa, from Dharavi, daughter of an auto rickshaw driver and a bright student in Class X that Tina and I met, also has no clue about what the Aadhaar card means for them. She knows that it could help her parents to open a bank account but so far all banks near their house have turned them down! Time has come for the Government of India to ensure that services promised by use of Aadhaar are delivered.

Will a day come when Parvati’s dam of patience will break? We should not forget that Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva, also has many wrathful incarnations and is not always benevolent.

Aside from the above, I wonder about something else. In spite of all the hardships Shilpa smiles radiantly through our conversation of over an hour. Parvati’s daughter is also always cheerful. Whereas in our upmarket residential complex, I see quite a few unhappy children, always wanting something more, always feeling that they are entitled to more, always feeling that they do not have something (you may find this article interesting: India’s elites have a ferocious sense of entitlement). Where are we going wrong as parents and as a society? I do not profess to have any answers, but look forward to some interesting thoughts and insights. And I do hope that Parvati and her family get their home without any further mishaps.

 

 

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Dear Anirudha, Well written as always. I am thinking from a different angle. I have been in same situation. What if we buy a dish washer and a dryer (like developed countries) in our homes? The work available for people like Parvati would be drastically reduced and their salaries as well. Education and/or vocational training is very low among these people and they will have to face tough time. I believe that the so called 'demographic dividend' would only be an asset if we empower the demographic through education. I wish that a Parvati is in a much better position in years to come. Regards, Manav Choksi
Dear Anirudha, Detail information on Aadhar could be handy. I am of the opinion that Aadhar is going to benefit the nation in a big way. But after reading views written by senior editors / journalists, who have been talking negative things about Aadhar, have raised doubts in my mind. Whether AADHAR is going to be a win-win situation for the nation.
Anirudha Dutta
Thanks, SM. I am a strong believer in Aadhaar and have written about it in one of my first few blogs. My concern now is that in sear h for an electoral slogan, the Congress is rushing through DBT without UID enrolments haing reached adequate levels. Also turf wars have resulted in the responsibility for data collection now being divided along with NPR. Blames for failure of DBT due to inadequate planning and thinking may unfairly tarnish Aadhaar.
Mukesh Kamath
(a pet subject of mine, as regular readers would have realised)- This is confession from anirudha jee that his mind is preoccupied with aadhaar project. I request him to write more on aadhaar. I would not mind sir if all your articles revolve around aadhaar. Despite the unconventional and improvised technique being used in the project writing about it is nothing to be ashamed of. One topic that i suggest you to write about is how DBT will affect the farmers if PDS comes under it. I read an interesting paper about In-kind transfers having an anti-inflationary effect.
Anirudha Dutta
Thank you, Mukesh. I will try and do that.
Believe me, the Indian poor have enormous patience. When I see violence in other parts of the world caused by lack of entitlements or just plain social friction between have and have-nots, their forbearance can well be understood. In no other society this will be tolerated. It would have been burnt down. We have to just take a walk thru the nearest slum to understand it. Well written Anirudh.
Anirudha Dutta
Thank you, Ramanan. Some day that patience will give way, if things do not change, and people have nothing to lose.
Suresh Mandan
Anirudha As always your blog makes an interesting reading, always something from Indian life..... so much of earthiness. It is here that the poor make mistake, by borrowing money from sources which charge something like 24% p.a.Parvati may even get that desired house but would always remain indebted.There are many more Parvati's who have borrowed money from unscrupulous sources, invested money in ponzi schemes like shradha and many more in the past. As regards Aadhar card, I believe that there was some wrong publicity or word of mouth mongering that Aadhar card is a gateway to many govt. facilities et all. Some two years ago when I saw a que for registeration of Aadhar card in a certain town, all about 30 to 40 people in Q were poor or lower middle class families. The rich do not behave differently here in US. India has a license raj or as Balraj Sahani said in "Garam Hawa" Nayi Nayi Azadi Milli hai Sab ko apna matlab nikalney do" The indian rich is still in delirous and irresponsible mood.
Anirudha Dutta
Thank you, Suresh.
In a country where even middle class people earning good salaries struggle to create an abode, it is simply too much to even think that people in the lower class will be able to live like a human in a city like Mumbai...
Anirudha Dutta
Yes, coolsap. And that is a real tragedy for our country. Some people like Ramesh Ramanathan and Jerry Rao are working towards providing decent housing to low income families, but there is a long long way to go
The poor doing menial tasks, I have come to realise, are not too shocked (and almost seem to expect!!) to get cheated and fleeced; and are rather pleased when things pan out as promised! With that as a starting point, we can almost see the fraud elements smacking their lips in glee. Over the years, there seems to been some improvement, thanks to TV serials, media and, perhaps, education. And their community-bonding does seem to protect them from cheats and fraudsters, even if their documentation does not meet our elitist, pedantic expectations!!
Anirudha Dutta
Thanks, RM. Very valid observations. They (the poor) do indeed depend on the community bonding... and they are immensely patient, unlike PLUs. Wonder when that patience will give way.

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Anirudha Dutta
Anirudha Dutta is former head of research at CLSA India Limited, a leading foreign brokerage house. While every number tells a story, there are many stories beyond numbers and both are equally important. This blog will attempt to tell some of these stories.
 
 
 
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June 18, 2013 15:57 pm by Manav Choksi
Dear Anirudha, Well written as always. I am thinking from a different angle. I have been in same situation. What if we buy a dish washer and a dryer (like developed countries) in our homes? The work available for people like Parvati would be drastically reduced and their salaries as well. Educat...
May 07, 2013 21:54 pm by Anirudha Dutta
Thanks, SM. I am a strong believer in Aadhaar and have written about it in one of my first few blogs. My concern now is that in sear h for an electoral slogan, the Congress is rushing through DBT without UID enrolments haing reached adequate levels. Also turf wars have resulted in the responsibility...
May 02, 2013 13:28 pm by SM
Dear Anirudha, Detail information on Aadhar could be handy. I am of the opinion that Aadhar is going to benefit the nation in a big way. But after reading views written by senior editors / journalists, who have been talking negative things about Aadhar, have raised doubts in my mind. Whether AADHA...
May 01, 2013 14:06 pm by Anirudha Dutta
Thank you, Mukesh. I will try and do that.
May 01, 2013 14:04 pm by Anirudha Dutta
Thank you, Ramanan. Some day that patience will give way, if things do not change, and people have nothing to lose.