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Thousands Protest Against Asia Development Bank at Annual Meetings in Hyderabad

  • Anjana Pasricha

Thousands of activists rallied in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad this week to protest against the Asian Development Bank, which held its annual meeting in the city. Protesters say policies of the ADB and other multinational lenders are making poverty worse in countries like India. Anjana Pasricha is in Hyderabad for VOA, where she reports the buoyant Information Technology sector there has brought enormous benefits for the middle classes, but left many behind.

The protesters rallying against the Asian Development Bank in Hyderabad beat drums, sing songs, march and display banners asking the bank to get out of India and other developing countries.

But the thriving Information Technology Center here barely notices the thousands of activists, as it goes about its daily business.

This is no surprise. In less than a decade, the once-sleepy town has been transformed, as India's IT boom ripples through the high-tech city, and creates a huge, new middle class.

Shoppers cram markets and restaurants, although summer temperatures are reaching 42 degrees (Celsius). Cars clog the roads. Property prices have more than doubled in two years. Gleaming new houses line suburban areas of a city, which has attracted companies like Microsoft to establish huge research centers.

The supervisor of Pantaloons garment chain, Mahender, says business has never been so good.

"Lifestyle has changed. Income has grown. Everybody is spending their money. Earlier it was not like that, a lot of young crowd coming in," said Mahender.

The manager of a swank supermarket, Uma Maheswar Reddy, testifies to the surge in spending power of the new middle classes. He says a host of new competitors have entered the fray, but the chain is still in the midst of frantic expansion.

"You go to every bylane, there is one supermarket. Still it (business) is keeping increasing. Already, we have opened two stores recently, another seven to eight stores are in the pipeline in coming months," said Reddy.

But glimpses of the poverty that the protesters want to highlight are also not difficult to find. Hyderabad is the capital of Andhra Pradesh state, where people in vast rural areas live in dismal poverty.

On the road to the city's high-tech center, the only shelter from the scorching heat for construction workers are flimsy huts put together with sticks and tarpaulin sheets. These workers, like 28-year-old Anjuma trickle in from hundreds of impoverished villages that lie on the fringes of Hyderabad.

Anjuma says she earns about three dollars a day helping to lay pipelines in the city's roads.

She says she and her husband have no permanent home. They leave their village for at least eight months every year to work at construction sites in different parts of the country. She says they have no choice - there is no work, no food, and no money in her village. Their meager savings sustain their aged in-laws in the village.

The People's Forum Against ADB is an umbrella group for dozens of non-governmental groups, which want to highlight the plight of the working poor. The Forum's spokesman, Souparna Lahiri, argues that free market policies, supported by lenders such as the ADB and the World Bank, hurt farming, on which two-thirds of India's one billion people depend.

"These reform policies, after 15 years, what we are seeing, the agriculture sector is in crisis. It is only the stock market economy, which is booming," said Lahiri. "We had our traditional agriculture practice. At least, even if you did not get a good market price, you sustain from what you have cultivated. Today, the marketization of agriculture is leaving them with no produce, and, if there is one crop failure, farmers are committing suicide."

The ADB acknowledges that rural areas do need more attention, but notes the recent economic boom in India has lifted tens-of-thousands out of poverty.

ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda says Hyderabad highlights the challenges and successes in many Asian countries.

"The city is booming, very vibrant, very famous IT city, and the state economy is growing quite fast. But, still, I think, India, including this state, need further investment in infrastructure, education and various social sectors," he said.

The ADB and other lenders say more investment in the rural sector is the answer to cutting poverty, and hope that the boom in the cities will eventually trickle down.

The People's Forum insists such policies are not working, but have driven millions to a point where survival has become a daily struggle.

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