Home > Environment, History, India, Indian Economy, Media, Politics, Uncategorized > Infrastructure for the poor? What’s that!!

Infrastructure for the poor? What’s that!!


In 1661, the Portuguese handed over Mumbai to the British in dowry. However, Mumbai was ruled not by the government but a corporate entity, the East India Company, with its headquarters at Vasai. Being a trading company, its entire effort was in protecting its trade with the outside world. Surat and Vasai were always vulnerable to attacks and plunder. It was therefore decided to shift the headquarters to Mumbai in a fortified area, now known as Fort. (via The future of Infrastructure).

Rise, Sir Drake!

Rise, Sir Drake!

The infrastructure of piracy

Till 1857, piracy was legal – and the British crown gave permits for pirates to operate on high seas – through, what were known as, letters of marque. Admiral ‘Sir’ John Hawkins and his more famous nephew, ‘Sir’ Francis Drake, Anne Bonney, Henry Morgan were all celebrated pirates.

After the grant of duopoly to Spain and Portugal, vide the Papal Bulls, by the Church Of Rome, England (France and Netherlands, too) declared open season against Spanish ships. The Spanish Armada was assembled by Spain to end British piracy.

With the sanction of the English State, high seas piracy became a national pastime in Britain. Pirates like Sir John Hawkins made money on slave trade and piracy. Queen Elizabeth, apart from knighting him, also participated in these criminal enterprises. Of course, further on, these pirates and privateers became heroes.

Dutch pirates like Maarten Tromp, Piet Hein (also Heyn), were made admirals. Thin lines divided pirates from official naval forces. Michael de Ruyter , another Dutch pirate became notorious for his raids across the Canadian coastline. Recently, Netherlands named an underground tunnel after Piet Hein – and ditties were written and set to music for Piet Hein. Piet Hein’s became famous when he captured booty worth 1 million sterling or 12 million guilders in gold, silver, and expensive goods like indigo, cochineal, etc from Spanish ships.

De-legitimization of piracy

In the best Anglo Saxon propaganda tradition, books soon started a ‘white wash’ of slavery and piracy – like Mr.Midshipman Easy, by Captain Frederick Marryat (Retd. Royal Navy), in 1836. Descendants of Admiral ‘Sir’ John Hawkins, recently ‘apologized to Africans for his ancestors ‘crimes’. Piracy was outlawed by The Declaration of Paris, in 1856, ratified by various powers. Initially by Austria, France, Great Britain, Prussia, Russia, Sardinia and Turkey – but not by Spain, Portugal and the USA.

Increased stranglehold of Indian economic output, after the 1857 war in India, gave British a fresh impetus to de-legitimizing piracy. In 1858, Rep. HL Underwood, on June 10th 1858, on the subject of ‘Increase of the navy’, in the US Congress stated that

United States would be the first to resist the unauthorized use of her flag by vessels of other nations fraudulently to carry on said trade, as Great Britain asserts is being done.

Kanhoji Angre - Statue at Alibaug

Kanhoji Angre - Statue at Alibaug

Of course, today British historiography claims that Maratha Navy under Kanhoji Angre – which levied taxes on British ships, was a privateer and /or a pirate. Before that, Mughal armies removed the Portuguese from Daman, for attacking a royal ship, Rahimi, carrying the Mughal Queen, Maryam uz Zamani,  to the Haj in 1613.

So, the forts, Mr.Ubale were built to protect British pirate ships which plundered Indian shipping – and not the other way round. Get your facts before you shoot your key board off.

What about the poor

Since, you are talking of infrastructure, why are you not talking about some infrastructure for the poor. I have always wondered why the rich, the powerful and the famous never talk of infrastructure for the poor.

For instance, all the glitterati and the chatterati were at the Bandra-Worli sea-link, did anyone talk about better infrastructure for the poor.

1. In no road broadening proposal, are public toilets included in the infrastructure, in any city. The rich don’t need public toilets – and hence none are built.

2. While the Government puts its most powerful bureaucrats, tramples on all and sundry to acquire land for large industrial projects, how come such resolve in never seen in acquiring land for landless agricultural labour?

3. Instead of giving various tax-breaks and crafting municipal laws for large malls and shopping plazas for the rich, how about building reserving some road space for hawkers. After all, hawkers are the lowest cost retailers – and will drive even a Walmart out of business. Indians consumers love hawkers – and hawkers resist all Government attempts to kill hawking.

4. How about temporary housing ‘infrastructure’ for poor, migrant workers, who pay exorbitant prices for shanties in slums. How come no rich lobby ever talks about such infrastructure?

5. How about some increase in public transport? Why does everyone talk about more road space – and so little about public transport. Instead of the Bandra-Worli sea-link, Mumbai could have put some 3000 electric buses on the road. Mumbai traffic would have been vastly better off with these 3000 electric buses instead of the Bandra-Worli sea-link.

6. Why is Bangalore still without a decent rail based public transport system? Why is Bangalore bus service so sparse – while everyone talks about the traffic jams in Bangalore!

Bandra-Worli Sea linkAll these ‘infrastructure’ projects will lower the urban costs, make urban economics low capital, and benefit the poor. Is it that I am afflicted by selective amnesia that I don’t see media coverage of such ‘infrastructure’ or is it that the poor don’t matter anyway. Of course, Government sponsorship of such projects will immediately increase costs and bureaucracy. Such ‘infrastructure’ should be funded, built and based on users’ payments.

Return of the Raj

Your barely concealed longing for a return of the Raj, Mr.Ubale, hides a deeper malaise. The need for an Asuric Raj, which will build gleaming towers, glass and chrome plazas, shopping malls for the rich. After all, all that your co-columnist, wanted to conserve was Colonial buildings! May Mumbai’s Buddhist caves go to ruination.

The one thing that you are right is that the Raj built more ‘edifices’ in their last 60 years – which hides the enormous poverty and misery that it created.

But don’t let that bother you!

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  1. October 3, 2011 at 8:34 am

    But anurag ji.. how come you dare question these infrastructure projects? After all, cities like mumbai was built only for employees of british east india companies to live comfortably (& luxurily).. how do you expect an anti-corporate infrastructure, in a city meant only for corporates and corporate mercenaries (also called as professionals or employees)..

    The answer lies NOT in cities, but in rebuilding gramas and nagaras, and rebuilding the society around it.. we need local rulers and kings to take onwership.. we need to abandon private property, and infact promote commune holdings..

    What you are advocating is patch up work for victims of urbanisation.. where does the hawkers come from? Shouldnt they have right to resettle in their home places?

  2. October 3, 2011 at 10:09 am
    1. Cities that are expanding due to impoverishment of villages are blight on the Indian economy.

    2. But cities have always been part of the Indian economy – and are essential, too.

    3. But these issues cannot be solved overnight. We need a road-map to get out of the damage done by Desert Bloc rulers to India in the past.

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