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Profit-sharing scheme helps Indian slums

In India, over 300 million people live with less than one dollar per day swissinfo.ch

The Indian capital of New Delhi is home to tens of thousands of poor families, most of which have not benefited from the region’s booming information technology (IT) sector.

This content was published on November 20, 2003 - 14:56

But some of the city’s poor are seeing their lives improve thanks a profit-sharing scheme launched by a high-tech company.

The initiative was started by a group of Indian businessmen who wanted to come to the aid of New Delhi’s slums and shanty towns, without relying on outside donors.

So they created Panther, an internet solutions company that aims to use some of its profits to fight misery and poverty.

“At least 20 per cent of our profits go towards education, health and employment projects for four shantytowns in New Delhi,” Panther’s Swiss director, Sam Berthoud, told swissinfo.

“That amounts to tens of thousands of Swiss francs per year.”

Social outcasts

One of Panther’s projects supports a school for around 500 immigrant families from Bangladesh – a largely Muslim country with a history of difficult relations with its powerful Indian neighbour.

“The local Indian population totally ignores this group of Bangladeshis,” said Berthoud. “In fact, officially, it doesn’t even exist.”

According to Berthoud, growing Hindu hostility towards Muslims is also making problems worse for immigrant communities and migrant workers. He cites the exploitation of migrant construction workers as an example of how many groups are treated as social outcasts.

“In many cases, migrant workers simply don’t get paid,” Berthoud explained. “They live with their families at the construction site and they don’t have access to education or health facilities.

“Their bosses tend to feed them well, but when payday arrives, there is no money in sight so they are forced to take a loan which they often have to repay to their employers,” he added.

Huge task

In a country where more than 300 million people are estimated to live on less than a dollar a day, such exploitation is not uncommon.

And it’s one of the reasons Switzerland spends around SFr36 million per year on development projects in India.

“Our work is mainly aimed at reinforcing civil society in India,” said Kurt Fögele, the head of the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development’s New Delhi office.

“Meanwhile, local non-governmental organisations are helping to bridge the gap between a prosperous India and a poor India.”

But local businessmen such as Basheerhamad Shadrach believe it’s time that India’s private sector followed Panther’s lead and start profit-sharing with local communities.

Call to action

“A few Indian companies, led by Tata Consultancy Services, are donating some of their profits towards social initiatives or the creation of charitable foundations,” said Shadrach, who heads up the South Asia branch of Oneworld.net.

“But that’s just a drop in an ocean of misery,” he added. “And in order to fight against the disparities that are crippling our country, we need to mobilise the entire nation.”

For Ranjit Mathew, the deputy director of Panther, improving the economy is key to India’s development.

“Even if the information technology sector is booming, we still need a few more years for the rest of the economy to catch up,” he said.

swissinfo, Frédéric Burnand in New Delhi, India (translation: Anna Nelson)

Key facts

Around 35 per cent of India’s one billion-strong population live on less than a dollar a day.
India’s information technology sector is booming, but only ten to 25 per cent of the country’s population are reaping the benefits of this economic growth.
A third of the population lives in urban areas, including New Delhi, which is home to 1,200 slums.
Switzerland provides SFr36 million in development aid to India each year.

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