7 May 2012

The human angle buying an apartment

On a typical drive through Bangalore your line of vision will be littered with enormous billboards, holding out the promise of luxury that would make your life even more heavenly.  It's materialism at it's peak and in tune with our culture, there are two asset classes which are predominantly advertised: Realty and Jewelery. 

Construction has been rife in Bangalore for the past decade. Buying a plot and building your own home has given way to buying an apartment with a gym and swimming pool - never mind that most people have neither the time nor inclination, to swim or use the treadmill. But how many times have you wondered about the people who have built these structures? Migrant labourers, with families in tow, have used bare hands and sheer brawn to put these edifices together. When you visit a construction site, their quarters are relegated to an ill kept corner. There are no proper bathrooms or sanitary arrangements, and their home is made of a tin or aluminum sheets which probably makes it a baking oven during the daytime. When you walk around a prospective apartment, you see children smeared in mud wandering about while both parents dredge up cement in their bare hands to plaster your wall. Hard hats are provided but gloves are too much of a luxury. When you purchase an apartment, have you ever wondered if these people, who built it, were happy? 

Before my tangent gets too entangled with my feelings about how shoddily we treat people who work for us, let me come to the main point of this post. I was thinking about how a simple policy on education of children of construction workers could go a long way. If it was mandatory for construction companies to provide education as part of their worker compensation, at least their children would have a shot at aspiring for something different to do. Perhaps education is too strong a hope; at least literacy then? If the construction boom has been around for a decade, so have these workers and their kids. Imagine the influence even a short time in a structured classroom could have on these children. 

I am not talking about providing K - 12 education. As their parents are migrants it is possible that they don't stay in one place for more than a couple of years and the children experience discontinued education. Thus, school as you and I know it might not work. A different paradigm would have to be adopted. For example, the curriculum could focus on a few subjects that are immediately relevant to them - a language and mathematics. There are going to be children of different ages at different learning levels, thus the numbers and type of teacher required would have to be adapted. A low student-teacher ratio is desirable, as is a teacher who can handle children at multiple levels of learning. It would important to get a good teacher and if each apartment is going to sell for INR1 - 1.5 Crore plus then surely a 25K/ month salary is doable? When you express interest in an apartment, the sales team goes overboard to ensure that you have a ride to the site. Why can't then the teacher be picked up and dropped off? Such small interventions I believe will go a long way in enhancing the quality of education the children will get. 

When you think about it from a consumer-end, what can you do? Sure I can take an extreme principled stand about not buying an apartment from a company that doesn't provide education. But as a single consumer, I hardly have leverage so this would only hurt my financial planning. I really don't have any solution as an individual. But it bothers me nevertheless and I am sorry that I can't do more.