Friday, October 30, 2009

Building Towers, Cheating Workers

"Please don't go....I will give you even more discount from 200 Dh". When the receptionist in the hotel said this we got shocked.
A discount for a hotel room in Dubai? That too when the prestigious and much advertised IT exhibition (GITEX) is going on ? Is it the same Dubai where all the hotels were booked in advance for 6 months ? My memories quickly went back to the time when I was here a few years back. Dubai was "growing" in an unprecidented pace and fashion. Entire Dubai was being transformed to a pile of skyscrapers. At that time, 25% of world's construction cranes were operated in Dubai ! Every thing was going up. The rent, clost of living, salary for the upper class, government charges for services and anything else which could be charged. Every newspaper and every government official was talking about the "development" and "boom" being witnessed by Dubai. Real estate and construction were in the vanguard of the boom. The atmosphere was always buzzzed about something huge and amazing. Every project was prefixed by something like 'tallest' , 'biggest', 'largest' etc..

Behind the glittering facade, the boom was a euphemism for a recipe of neo-liberal development model with most inhuman treatment of working class, environmental degradation, unsustainable development and above all a complete lack of transparency in any process.

There was a mad rush to be something which Dubai was not and could never be. Dubai was busy in burying its core identity and culture and was eager to embrace an artificial identity taken from the realm of the rulers fantasies.
But no voice of discontent was ever heard in the media or public. Everyone was asked to be in line and follow the herd. Nobody questioned the sustainability of pumping in 400 million gallons of water to the newly created Tiger Wood golf course per day to keep up the green color(This was while human right organizations were complaining the lack of enough water in the labour camps).
Nobody talked about the grave environmental threat posed by an artificial "all air conditioned island" to be built for the super rich. Nobody questioned the idiocy in having mega development projects for an amount many times more than the GDP of the country itself. Nobody discussed the abhorrent condition in the labour camps which shelters the employees who were actually doing this development projects. They were treated with utter contempt and were only tolerated as a "necessary nuisance" to bear with untill the city is developed enough and they are not needed any more. Rules and regulations were carefully tailored to exploit the working class to the maximum and increase the already huge profit margins of these engineering corporations(Not surprisingly, most of them owned by the rulers)

People were paid based upon the skin rather than the skill. I remember having read the words of an american girl who was in Dubai in an article published by London daily Independent, "All the people who couldn't succeed in their own countries end up here in Dubai, and suddenly they're rich and promoted way above their abilities and bragging about how great they are. I have never met so many incompetent people in sitting in such senior position. A philippino girl doing the same job as a European girl is paid a quarter of the same salary. The people who do the real work are paid next to nothing while the incompetent managers are paid 40,000 pound/month."

Actually Dubai's fixation for 'qualified expatriates' (read white and rich Europeans) is what put these incompetent managers at the helm. All these urban development projects are squarely aimed at these 'qualified expatriates' or their super rich Arab counterparts. Their policy and vision of development have resulted in this catastrophe. Working class and labour class, who were mostly Asian origins like Indians, were driven away from Dubai to the outskirts so that they are kept outside the gazes of super rich. These poor people were forced to live in so called labour camps bereft of any necessities like proper sanitation and good drinking water. The condition in such camps were so inhuman and gruesome that it resulted in an unusually high rate of disease, death and suicide in the camps. As their passport is taken away by the employer at the very first day of landing up and having paid a huge sum of money for securing the visa, they have absolutely no option other than going through this abject condition. Either there is no rules to protect the human rights or whatever rules does exist are conveniently not enforced by the authorities.

Now everything in Dubai has hit rock bottom. The prices, rents, traffic congestion and above all the confidence in economy and government have plummeted. We could see the luxury Jumeira residential area full of "TO LET" boards. There came a spectacular end to a few decades of credit, environmental degradation, slavery, suppression and human right violation. The gamble which had paid off for some time has come to an end. Dubai is a metaphor for a world of neo-liberal globalized country that is going to be trashed out in to the dust bin of history.

The government has not learned anything from this at all. News papers are not allowed to cover the recession or the reasons behind the collapse. A new draft law makes it a crime to damage country's economy or reputation, punishable by 1 million dirhams. This law effectively do the censorship on any news not white washing the government. Straight denial and outright suppression are the means adopted by the government to counteract the issue. When respected journalist, Johann Hari had a detailed report on the collapse of the economy and the human right violations in London daily Independent , he was banned from the country and report was made inaccessible in Dubai. Consolidation of power is so obscene that the ruler of Dubai is the vice president as well as prime minister of the country !

The collapse of Dubai shows some important insights to the mode of development in vogue in modern era. It shows that development does not mean having a lot of super highways or skyscrapers. This is especially true in the case of India as we are trying to emulate the Neo-liberal model by means of SEZ (in farm lands) and driving out the poor from their inhabitants in the name of development. Infrastructure is useless until and unless every element of society is equipped to make use of it and contribute it to the progress of the society. Development without providing prosperity to every body in the society is useless and counterproductive. Its even more important to have great degree of transparency for the government. Or else, there is a good chance that we witness similar situation in our country too. Already we are facing unrest in many part of our country because of the skewed development process.

While packing off, I saw the leading daily in Dubai and it is all about the new excitement in the business community and signs of 'strong recovery' in the economy. Excuse me, haven't you told us the same things a few years back too ?