Delhi Metro and the Middle Class

The New York Times ran a glowing article (and accompanying slide show) about the Delhi metro last week.  The article describes the metro as “miraculous” and waxes optimistic that “it offers new hope that India’s perpetually decrepit urban infrastructure can be dragged into the 21st century.”

If everything in the article is true (a fairly good bet) and no major concerns have been omitted (that’s the hard part when forming narratives for the news), then this seems like a great accomplishment for the Indian urban middle class.  More infrastructure improvements like this could keep them from moving to the growing number off-the-grid private communities that provide the comforts and services that the government doesn’t currently guarantee (e.g. clean streets, consistent power, &c.)  These private communities are very comfortable and I totally understand why a family would want to move to one.  (full disclosure: I’m writing this post from one right now.)  However I worry that as the growing middle class – the target of those India Shining campaigns – moves into these communities, the government will receive less pressure to improve city services and infrastructure.  And that will prevent the poor and lower middle classes needs from getting served.

So I hope this is a step forward.  Have any Delhi based TVFC readers tried the new Metro?  If so, did your experience align with the NYT’s description?  Loyal TVFC reader Kat Likkel sent in this recent photo of the in-progress metro, which should be completed in the fall:

  1. Interestingly, NPR just finished up a series called Riding The Trunk Road, India to Pakistan. Great series. They also talked about the metro and interviewed some of the laborers who’ve come from the countryside to work. According to NPR the workers are getting around 250 rupee a day. The NPR reporter noted that this is below the government mandated minimum wage. And also noted that this less than government minimum wage is being paid by the government.

    It’s a great series and, particularly after visiting India, it gave me some great perspectives. Be interested to hear what you –with much more experience — would think about it, positive or negative.

    • nraman said:

      Hi, We’ll definitely look up that series. The government pays the workers less than the minimum wage because no workers are actually hired directly by them — the government hires contractors to build sections of the road, and then the contractors hire teams of construction workers as needed, all of whom are in the informal sector. Also, one thing that’s interesting is that Delhi has been pretty successful in building the Metro — but they have a lot of capable people, and they sunk a huge amount of money into it. But now all these other cities are trying to build Metros who have significantly less planning and management capacity, and they have less money. Metros definitely have a cachet that, say, buses, don’t have, but I really wonder whether the results in other cities will be anything like Delhi’s. — Nithya

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