Rajarhat: Labour in a Developmental Landscape

Calcutta Research Group January 18, 2011


Studies on globalization are concerned with the mobility of capital, labour and other resources across various geographical spaces. Proponents of globalization have focused on the shrinking of spaces and the increase of transnational flows of capital and social networks as one of the benefits of opening up economic borders. In other words, the myriad forms of mobility and the emerging social relations ‘from organization of work to formation of citizenship’ are some of the issues that studies on globalization have looked into. Studies on the sociology of mobility indicate the interrelations in the economic world where signs (information, symbols, images, aspire), space, and social subjects are considered to be mobile. For some, global technologies have replaced ‘place’ with ‘space’, and Information and Communication Technology (ICTs) has played a significant role. ICTs enable work units, work relations and workers to be mobile. The role and growth of ICTs has become synonymous with a new kind of development - a development that will ensure service jobs, in other words a jump to a post-industrial informational age. India has been no exception to this growth and expansion of IT - a new addition to the global production systems.

Global production systems have created new transnational work spaces across regions, cultures that have been responsible for creating new work opportunities for educated middle class youth. Global production networks have led to increases in the cross border flows of funds, goods, and services in various sectors of the Indian economy, Information technology services, Information Technology Enabled Services and Business Process Outsourcing sectors in particular, resulting in networked and transnational production systems. The marked growth of this sector is evident in the recent shift from low-end off-shore activities (e.g., customer care, technical support and data entry) to high–end services (e.g. transaction processes, R&D, and so on). What is significant to this shift in services is the simultaneous change in cityscapes to incorporate the new workforce, a workforce that is mobile, transnational and a corporate citizen. Technopark, India’s first IT Park in Kerala was launched in 1990 and is home to 185 companies employing more than 30,000 professionals. Bangalore was the first city in India to witness such transition in its cityscape as a result of the new economy and new workforce. Commonly known as the Silicon Valley of India, the cityscape of Bangalore changed to cater to a new workforce, and some of the technology parks that have been responsible for redefining city skylines are Information Technology Park Ltd, popularly known as ITPL, Cyber Park, Prestige Technology Parks (Prestige Blue Chip Software Park and the Cessna Business Park).


The Newly Emerging Scenario in Kolkata


Kolkata, on the other hand, has been relatively new to this phenomenon. Infinity Think Tank was the first IT project in 2001, which changed the notion of workspace and also work destination in Kolkata. Sector V of Salt Lake was seen as the new business district needing to be landscaped to cater to the emerging workforce of IT related industries. Technopolis, Globsys Crystals, Infinity Benchmark, Infinity Waterside, Millennium City, The Hub, Infinity ( Tower II), Videocon Salarpuria and Bengal Intelligent Park are some of the IT projects housed in Salt Lake, Sector V, Kolkata. Most of these IT projects are skyscrapers and particularly stand out as architecturally different from the four storey apartment blocks of the Salt Lake township. In this way the entry of foreign capital was instrumental to the re-shaping of work and city spaces. These new spaces were justified on the grounds of needing a ‘world-class’ infrastructure to suit the transnational citizen whose requirements were to be met no more than a stone’s throw from their respective workplace. These new workspaces furthermore typically have contractual arrangements with various leisure zones and recreational opportunities for their workers. The new workforce thus has not only replaced the industrial worker but it has also redefined workspace.


Purpose of the Study


The main aim of the proposed study will be to examine how ‘spacing’ technologies are adapted to create New Town in Kolkata and how they impact on the interface between market rights and territorial rights. Studies on special economic zones in India, and the Indian state’s increasing move towards neo-liberal ways of running the economy and society to re-organise the governance of zones, is often marked by the ways of the market and capital, which determine the pattern of rule of law. Under these circumstances, Rajarhaat New Town, which houses one of the largest IT SEZ in Eastern India, IT Parks and residential townships by big real estate players in India, like DLF, Unitech, Ambuja Realty etc. provides an excellent instance of this new paradigm of development where the territorial limits of governance are determined by capital inflows. Rajarhaat or New Town in Kolkata, accessible by only one public transport route from the central part of the city of Kolkata, is a clear example of how ‘spacing’ technologies - in terms of orienting workforce, mobility, accessibility, and architecture - has led to a zone of exclusion through differential mappings of resources, access, and communication within one unit called the city.


The proposed study will examine the role of the virtual economy to map labour-in-transit; primarily through unstructured interviews and in-depth field work in Rajarhaat with migrant construction workers, IT/ ITES workers, BPO workers and drivers of various transport agencies engaged in ferrying drivers from the home to the workplace. The metamorphosis of the labour force in post- industrial townships like Rajarhaat shows the ways in which the virtual economy, the informational economy, manages to erase the dirt and grime of primitive modes of accumulation, be it the methods of land acquisition, the resistance against such efforts of acquisition, land grab menace, crime and mismanagement of funds to allocate land, or the strategies adopted to create New Town. A documentation of the labouring lives of the construction workers who come from various districts in West Bengal, the very nature of certain ‘laboring forms’, and the mobile nature of the work that marks the transit nature of the ‘labour’ and spaces of work will show how this transition is shaped by primitive modes of accumulation where certain segments of the labour force like construction workers, domestic servants, and other peripheral workers of servitude are constantly in transit like the workers in IT/ ITES. The spatial location of the workers across two frames - location and time - is responsible also for a peculiar coexistence of primitive modes of accumulation on the one hand, and virtual economy on the other. The interface and the exchange between the two remains to be explored.


There is a sense of temporariness in the functionality of these spaces - be it the leisure zones, or the IT hubs where the workforce is not only alienated from its product but is not allowed to ‘situate’ itself in the context, compared to the construction workers who stay and work day in and day out to create the imagined world. The New Town is the new site of development where high rise towers are being constructed after forceful acquisition of land from the local community. The big real estate players are busy developing IT Parks, which are self sufficient and therefore can afford to sustain themselves without much public interaction. A study of the spatial technologies of creating columns of high rise residential apartments, IT Parks in Rajarhaat, and the interface of capital and labour will be useful to understanding that the global economy is in the process of becoming – perhaps always. The spatial technologies that are co-adapted by the business giants in various off-shores have a specific tale to tell and Rajarhaat, in its transition from a large rural hinterland with plush green meadows to a municipality area, and then to a place synonymous with ‘new’ spaces of new workforce, will show how notions of a ‘borderless’ world is about creating new spaces of exceptionality and desert zones - a new paradigm of development.


Mapping Themes


Based on the above proposition we plan to undertake two mapping exercises:


a)      Mapping of literature on special zoning of production in India, particularly in West Bengal

b)      Ethnography of an IT town in Kolkata - New Town, Rajarhaat, with connections with Salt Lake Sector V.


These two studies can be presented in their first rough draft form at the forthcoming Transit Labour gathering in Kolkata in early September. The significance of these studies will be multi-dimensional, and they will show some possible directions that mobility studies as well as labour studies can go from their current state.