The Only Workable Way

Dilip D’Souza, 29 January 2008:

Among other interesting jobs he held in the Indian bureaucracy, my late father was Mumbai’s municipal commissioner – the equivalent of a mayor – from 1969 to 1970. Low-cost housing was always his great interest, and for the last 14 years of his life, he ran a low-cost project in Mumbai’s northern suburbs founded on the cross-subsidy principle. It has about 5,000 subsidized flats, plus about 1,100 others and commercial space for sale at market rates.

My father died last September, but the project goes on. Why does it work? Because the subsidy is small, so residents pay close to market rates for their little flats, and because it has taken so long to complete – nearly 25 years. The slow progress troubled my father and his colleagues greatly. But they understood that in the convoluted world of Mumbai, this remains the only workable way to provide livable, sustainable housing for the poor.

Dilip D’Souza,20 August 2005:

“The only way”, they’ll say confidently, though often in sepulchral tones. “This is the only way to tackle poverty, there’s no alternative.” They’ll point to Singapore and Taiwan and other Asian tigers, saying, “Look at them! They followed it!” And they’ll sit back, sure that they have proved the worth of “the only way.”

Free markets, they mean.

And me, a faint alarm goes off. Not because it’s free markets — not at all — but because “the only way” smacks a little too much of faith, cuts a little too close to religion.

Dilip D’Souza, 15 April 2005:

Anecdotal evidence, those proponents will say, supercilious smile spreading on their faces because they believe they know better. Anecdotal evidence doesn’t count. You have to look at the numbers. If you do, you will understand what we’ve been saying: the move to free markets is bringing more people out of poverty faster than anything else ever has, at any time in our history. In fact, it’s a proven fact that free markets are the only mechanism there is to truly address poverty.

So just give it some time.

Oh yes, time. After all, who would expect an end to widespread poverty overnight? It must and will take time.

Then again, the reforms have been in place nearly 15 years. That’s over a third of the time from 1947 till liberalisation began. By any standards, that hardly qualifies as “overnight” any more. By any standards, after 15 years during which droves of people escaped from being poor, I should see around me some perceptible decrease in poverty.

On this trip, I didn’t.

Dilip D’Souza, 29 August 2005:

This stopped me in my tracks. After fifteen years of liberalization, the poor eat one extra egg every two months, and that’s “better off”? As I wrote to Aadisht, this seems to me to be a damning of liberalization and the reforms themselves

Dilip D’Souza, 12 September 2007:

It left me bewildered. The reforms have done many things, yes. But here’s one of the true believers in the process, and what does he pull out to trumpet its success?

That the poor eat one extra egg every two months.

By any reckoning and putting it kindly, a damp squib. Even if this represents a dramatic increase in the consumption of eggs, what does it say that fifteen years of reforms have bettered the lives of the poor to the extent that they can buy one additional egg — all of two rupees worth — every two months? To me, making such a claim is in itself a damning of the reforms.

Dilip D’Souza, 29 August 2005:

Of course EGS has failed in places. [referring to a scheme where 4.5 paise out of every rupee reached the poor.]

All words his, all emphasis mine.

18 thoughts on “The Only Workable Way

  1. Two good catches:

    – ‘only way’ and ‘only workable way’
    – 15 yrs and 25 yrs

    I dont quite see the point about the 6-eggs-a-year and its relevance to the rest though. I’m hoping free-marketeers are as underwhelmed by that stat as those who are criticizing the reforms.

    I thought I should link to this on dcubed but I see its been discussed threadbare already in 2005, and sometimes unnecessarily edgy and adversarial (‘previous comment’?) tones thats probably better not repeated so I’m not.


  2. If a free marketer had touted 5000 flats in 25 years, or even 14 years as an achievement, would Dilip have been as understanding of it as he is of his dad’s “achievement”? Or would he have mocked the achievement in the same tone as he mocked “six eggs a year”?

  3. I did not have to “unearth” of course. Every word I’ve put here is seared deep into my heart. BTW, paging Vivek… you had asked about my history with Dilip… Hope this answers your question 🙂

  4. Ok I got the idea abt the relevance.

    But I’m not sure he ‘mocked’ six-eggs as much as expressed surprise at that underwhelming number and maybe expected some acknowledgment of that.

    Ravi, ignoring all the history on this, is that number something that commands your respect?

    He had a post somewhere in there that said an egg-a-week mattered enough in some poor district in Bihar/Bastar? to nourish some 500 kids, to the extent that it would save some of their lives. It seemed to me that he was setting his sights closer to that kind of a number.

    Not much aware of the background here, but you’re saying ‘seared into the heart’ etc. and I saw the hard-line stuff over there so theres some history.


  5. “If a free marketer had touted 5000 flats in 25 years, or even 14 years as an achievement …”

    want to be clear – you are making the case that this above “achievement” is comparable to the achievement of raising the diet of the poor by six eggs a year in 15 years?

  6. Comment that contained scurrilous libel against the late J B D’Souza and which violated Dilip D’Souza’s copyright removed.


  7. SlaveEmp, please note that on my site, I may be liable if someone libels respectable and incorruptible civil servants. Therefore, even though I generally do not delete non-spam comments, I had to remove yours.

  8. “Comment that contained scurrilous libel against the late J B D’Souza and which violated Dilip D’Souza’s copyright removed.”

    i see sadly that you are a liar. such pity that a sharp mind has to also lie.

    from memmory, what i wrote, was this, reference to your “the above achievement is much worse than the achievement of raising the diet of the poor by six eggs a year in 15 years”

    goi raising diet of 500m poor by six eggs/yr in 15 yrs, vs private organzation building 5000 lower-income flats in 25 years.

    ie goi raises diet by equivalent of about Rs 10/yr (cost of 6 eggs) per person in 15 yrs.


    private org building 5000 flats for 5m lower-income (mumbai target population), i.e. 1/1000 of cost of one flat, about rs 800 per person (8 lakh apprx flat price).

    so to be clear, you are saying second “achievement” above is “much worse” than first?

    i also said, thanks for taking down dcubed. i hated his post (i quoted it before but i won’t again so you dont have any excuse to delete).

    what is libel, where is copyright violation?

  9. Oh I have no objection to these idiotic calculations that you are thrusting at me. I am referring to your irresponsible allegation that Dilip’s dad ran a private housing scheme. I refuse to believe that an upright and honest civil servant like J B D’Souza would do something like that with so many conflicts of interest.

    Dilip mentions in that post that his dad believed that the best way – the only workable way – to help the poor was to hoard land and release it in a trickle, thereby keeping housing prices artificially high, and then give a small discount on this artificially high price to the relatively poor. If a private builder had done such a thing, we would have called the activity by its correct name – black marketing.

    I like to assume the best of people, so I believe that what Mr. D’Souza did was a sincere, but misguided attempt to help the poor, but which achieved the opposite of what it set out to achieve. But to suggest that he did that activity as part of a private agency, which actually benefited from those high prices is quite shockingly irresponsible.

    Also, Mr. D’Souza, in his lifetime fought many cases against government attempts to redevelop mill land. The delays caused by those cases and the policies that were adopted as a result of the cases kept land prices in Mumbai higher than they ought to be. It would have been a terrible conflict of interest if at the same time as he was fighting those cases, he wa also running a private agency that benefited from the supposed “public interest litigation”.

    I have a great deal of respect for Mr. J B D’Souza. I grew up in a Maharashtra Housing Board house that my dad got at a low price, thanks to Mr. D’Souza’s vision. I disagree with that vision, and I have come to believe that his actions did more harm than good… but I refuse to believe that he did those things for personal gain.

  10. “I come to bury Caesar not to praise him”

    more like “when you stopped beating your wife??”

    the insinuations of a fellow who is too chiken to say what he actully wants to say. so he pretends someone else said it.

    anyways, what abt the idiotic calculations? on what ground you say the one is much worse than other?

  11. Fair point. I don’t like insinuations, so I’ll say it:

    J B D’Souza’s policies of hoarding land and releasing it in a trickle kept house prices high, hurting the poor.

    J B D’Souza’s court cases and activism, by locking up land, kept house prices high, hurting the poor.

    If J B D’Souza did this at the same time as he was running a profitable housing scheme, then it constituted unacceptable conflict of interest, even if he did not personally benefit from it.

    If he hurt the poor for entirely selfless reasons, it is still quite misguided and should be condemned.

    >on what ground you say the one is much worse than other?

    Already answered.

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