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Invisible citizens: Empowering the Urban Poor

A common misconception is that urban equates to rich while rural means poor. Visible proof of this fallacy is the widespread prevalence of slums in all major cities of the country. Migrants move to cities in pursuit of a better life but lack of awareness and education make them prey to indiscriminate employment practices like bonded labour and the like. Their children are born into this despair and the vicious cycle repeats.

  • As per Census 2011, there are 13.7 million slum households in India i.e. 76 million urban poor.
  • 68% of street children are illiterate and 35% of them deal with substance abuse.
  • 29% of girls in urban areas are victim to child marriage
  • In Mumbai, over 50% of the population live in informal settlements. The current population density of Mumbai is 10 times that of New York.
  • Nearly one in 6 urban Indian residents lives in a slum.
  • Nearly one in 8 urban Indian children lives in a slum.
  • Around 47% of children of urban Indian poor are malnourished.
  • Urban poor account for 47% of the poor in the country

Main causes for the victimisation of urban poor is the lack of access to necessities, nutrition, education and technology.

How can this widespread malaise be tackled to ensure the betterment of the lives of the urban poor and children, in particular?

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Jai Kisan: Drought free Maharashtra

Maharashtra is one of the worst drought-hit states in the country, especially the Marathwada region. Vidarbha has become synonymous with drought. Despite various schemes, the result isn’t as expected. The agrarian crisis that Maharashtra is facing knows no end.

2012 was the worst year for Maharashtra farmers. Inadequate rainfall coupled with poor selection of crops, inefficient means of irrigation and imbalanced use of ground water created a man-made drought. Four years on, the repercussions still haven’t abated.

This year, incessant rain in the months of September-October has created a flood like situation in the same Marathwada region. These vagaries of the monsoon cause a devastating effect on crops and the farmers’ livelihood.

The domino effect of crop failure has led to increasing number of farmer suicides and the never-ending cycle of indebtedness.

How can technology be harnessed to bring an end to this misery? What are some of the success stories on combating drought and how can these be aligned to suit the Maharashtrian landscape?

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Leap of faith: Bridging the digital divide

There are over 2 crore people in Maharashtra who do not have access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT), which is one of the main driving forces of modern civilisation.

ICT enables interactive communication through fixed telephone, cellular phones, internet and broadband use. The inability to access ICT deprives people of its vast benefits. This has led to a digital divide between those who participate in this ICT revolution and those left in its lurch.

OECD defines the term ‘digital divide’ as “the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographic areas at the different socio-economic levels with regard to their opportunities to access information and communication technologies and their use of Internet”.

There are multiple divides within the State, between men and women, young and elderly, rich and poor and most importantly, rural and urban.

Delve into the key reasons behind this divide and how we can overcome this. What are some success stories that can be replicated in Maharashtra?
Provide sustainable and practical solutions that can provide a quick and visible bridge to this divide.

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Launchpad: Start-up Maharashtra

While Mumbai has been termed the ‘city of dreams’, the booming start-up ecosystem in the State has still not reached its potential. Maharashtra is ranked 3rd in terms of facilities for start-ups after Karnataka and Delhi.

The start-ups are concentrated in the Pune-Mumbai belt and are now emerging in Nagpur. However, most areas of Maharashtra are not known for fostering the entrepreneurial spirit.

Start-ups tap the inherent business-mindedness of the youth and are a great source of training and employment.

Maharashtra is home to several small and medium sized businesses that have thrived and gone on to become immensely successful. However, that trend is not seen with this generation of entrepreneurs.

Maharashtra has a good labour force with a good work ethic. Maharashtra is host to most major financial institutions and high net worth individuals who are typically the promoters of start-ups. Maharashtra is also extremely well-connected with the world through various means of transport. These too have not been a major draw.

Study the various factors that aid in creating a conducive environment for start-ups to thrive in the State and policy changes that must be taken to effect the same.

What, in your opinion, would encourage entrepreneurs to set up base in Maharashtra and improve the economic scenario especially in Tier-II cities?

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Smart & Smarter: Development of sustainable & liveable cities

Cities today are characterised by little greenery, a paucity of open spaces, terrible roads, inadequate transport facilities, horrendous traffic jams and bad air quality along with burgeoning house rents.

While they are still the haven of dreams, there will be no shortage of people moving to cities in search of opportunities. Due to this trend, there is a pressing need to develop more cities in a planned manner.

According to a report, by 2040-50, urban India will constitute 50% of the population and contribute 75% of the GDP. At present, urban India constitutes 31% of the total population.

What, according to you, are the key necessities for a smart city? Suggest some prospective regions in Maharashtra where one such smart city can be set up. How can technology be used to predict and resolve urban problems? What are some of the practices that are in place in developed countries across the world that can be replicated in our own State?

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Connect the dots: Improving Mobility in Cities

Traffic is one of the banes of urban life in India. While in developed countries, even the richest of the rich use public transport, in India there is a class divide when it comes to using public transport. This has led to an exorbitant increase in the number of private vehicles leading to an increasing number of traffic snarls.

Maharashtra had 22.4 lakh vehicle registrations in 2015, second only to UP in the country. Maharashtra has 2.56 crore vehicle registrations in total as on 31 March 2015. Most of these are private vehicles and about 75% are two-wheelers.

Share of cars, jeeps and taxis are 14.93%. Percentage of buses reduced from 2.93% of total vehicles in 1971 to 0.42% in 2015.

Study the current scenario in Maharashtra and suggest the best way to clear the roads and improve last-mile connectivity and mobility. Assuming there are no policy restrictions, how can private entrepreneurs be encouraged to invest in the public transport space and people are encouraged to switch to more eco-friendly modes of transport?

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Clean Slate: Swachh Maharashtra

‘Cleanliness is next to godliness’

Despite the devout nature of most Indians, we are a dirty people. We think nothing of littering without a care for our surroundings. While we follow the strict restrictions on littering that are imposed abroad, in our own backyard, on our streets, such rules do not apply.

Open defecation and urination in public are an accepted way of life for Indians. 48% of Indians practice open defecation.

While most Indians are aware of the health risks of such practices, they take no major steps to correct their behaviour. This lackadaisical attitude towards something as important as one’s own surroundings defies logic.

How can behavioural change be brought about to cure Indians of their casual approach to cleanliness? What policy change will ensure that people abide by the Swachh Bharat Mission and increase its efficacy? Who can be recruited as change agents to spearhead this revolution and turn a new page?

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Looking Glass: Zero Corruption Maharashtra

In 2015, India was ranked 76th out of 168 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index with a score of 38/100.

Corruption in public life is a malaise and must come to an end. There is a need for transparency and accountability right from citizens to the Government.

The anti-corruption movement in recent times was spearheaded by the youth and mobilised them to take charge and demand answers. How can this momentum be sustained for the future?

The trickle-down effect of banishing corruption in the upper echelons will be felt down even in the grassroots.

How can technology be used to improve accountability and transparency? How can behavioural change start to replace the inherent ‘jugaad’ in dealings in our daily life? What are the avenues most in need of change? Where can citizens make changes in their everyday life to curb this menace?

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By the People: Citizen Engagement in Governance

Democracy is defined as ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people’. Yet today, citizen engagement in governance is low.

While there is no shortage of criticism of the Government, steps taken to constructively contribute towards making the system better is missing. With increasing media coverage of the actions of the Government, there is greater transparency and freer flow of information.

As it is not possible for everyone to be part of the core Government, citizens must express their views and provide sustainable solutions to the problems plaguing the State from the outside. From this perspective, citizens may have more neutrality and their life experiences will be an invaluable asset to a Government that is willing to listen, heed to change and encourage a sense of cohesiveness with the public.

How can interested citizens be mobilised to guide and advice the Government? How can citizens be watchdogs of governance? How can citizens affect decision-making and policy change for the greater good?

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Balancing the scales: Expediting Justice through Technology

Justice delayed is justice denied.

Nearly 27 million cases in Indian are caught in a legal logjam. According to estimates, this will take a startling 466 years to clear. India has only 17 judges for every million citizens as compared to 151 in the US and 170 in China. There are over 5000 vacancies in the judiciary across the country.

Maharashtra builds a backlog of 100,000 cases every month. Total pending cases in Maharashtra are 31.64 lakh.

How can technology be used to expedite justice? What policy changes will be instrumental in ensuring swift justice? Hand-in-hand, how can we ensure greater safety in all walks of life that prevent the need for criminal and civil prosecution?

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Moulding the future: Reforming Rural Education

The literacy rate in Maharashtra is only 82.34%. 77.01% in rural areas while it is 88.69% in urban areas.

Under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education, all children are guaranteed education under Std. 8. However, the quality of education in rural areas is not at par. According to the ASER 2014 report, only 48.1% studying in Std. 5 can read a Std. 2 level text and 26.1% can solve a three-digit division by a one-digit number.

Post-primary education is woefully inadequate, according to DISE, at an all-India level in 2012-13, 83% of schools in the country offered primary schooling until Std. 5, 40% offered Std. 6-8, 11% offered Std. 9 & 10 and only 6% offered Std. 11 & 12. 33% of rural households did not have any secondary school within a 3-km distance.

India has over 87.41% net enrolment at the primary level but this disappointingly falls to 60% at the secondary level.

There is a pressing need to bring about reforms in the education system, especially in the rural areas which are mainly run only by the Government with minimal private enterprise. The Government is looking for an effective revolutionary way in which the system can be rebooted and the discrepancy between rural and urban education mitigated so that every child is on an equal footing.

How can the system undergo quick and effective change? What role does technology play in this? How can the urban youth contribute towards this change? What is the responsibility of the haves towards the have-nots that cannot be ignored?

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